Note: Before you continue reading, a tiny word of warning. I am exhausted. I have zero expectations of myself for the next two days, other than sleeping. Additionally, I am avoiding my ADD meds as well so I can sleep. I'm also not going to bother proofreading, or editing this, so the following may be a bit off.

Note2: I've never fucking posted to TAY before, so I hope I tagged it correctly.

This year I took part in my first ever game jam, as a part of the 2014 Global Game Jam.

The Seattle jam site was hosted by AIE. We were able to make use of all their computers, clog their internets, and being an art school, they had licenses for expensive softwares. The staff was very nice, and helpful, and even brought in free bottled water for everyone there.

We ended up having over 100 people at the jam, and we released 18… games… More on that later.

Expectations & Limitations

For those who don't know what a game jam is, I'm going to do what every great artist does, and steal.

What is a Game Jam?

The goal is to come together and make a video game, or non-digital game like a board game or card game. Participants rapidly prototype game designs and hopefully inject new ideas to help grow the game industry. We share a common theme and constraints. We ask participants to create a game from beginning to end in a prescribed time (maximum of 48 hours). The brief time span is meant to help encourage creative thinking to result in small but innovative and experimental games.

What is the Global Game Jam?

The GGJ brings together talented individuals from within your community. It is a unique opportunity for people to push their skills and challenge their way of working. Participants work concurrently with developers around the globe; we rally around a central theme, and then have 48 hours to create a game. It's our hope that we will see some very experimental realized prototypes that you can continue to work on after the jam. Many games developed in previous Game Jams have become fully realized games. The GGJ is open source, hardware & software agnostic and all projects are protected under a Creative Commons license. We encourage people to try out new ideas and push themselves, within reason. We also strongly encourage participants to remember to eat and sleep, to stay at their best!

-Global Game Jam FAQ

Going into the jam, I really didn't know what to expect. I've never been able to get my head around programing, and visual arts are not my forte. I'm a writer, and a designer.

I've been writing stories since forever, I've gotten paid for some of my silly words, but most people can write. So I wasn't sure if my skills in it would be wanted by any teams.

I've also been designing games and worlds for years, be it pen and paper games I've run where I was never satisfied with the given rulesets, or jotting down ideas about changing and expanding pre-existing games. On top of that, I've been designing a video game based upon a pre-established IP, but working in a vacuum doesn't help you learn, or properly gauge your own skills. So again, I wasn't sure if I'd had enough experience in design to be of use to a team.

But that was part of the reason I was going. This was to be equal parts fun, educational, and meeting other locals passionate about video game development.

So long as I could make my passion for art and creativity clear to people, I figured I'd be able to be of use.

Initiation & Presentation

The structure of the jam is simple. Register, watch key notes, learn this year's theme & diversifiers, listen to concept pitches, join a team, work work WORK.

This year's keynote (which you can view here) featured Richard Lemarchand, Kaho Abe and Jenova Chen.

This year's theme was:

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."

(you can see this year's diversifiers here, and previous themes here)

I figured my chance to make myself desirable for a team would be now.

The first thing the theme made me think of was how people with issues (addiction, prejudice, depression, etc) view the world through their own special lense. My mind then jumped Bowen's System Theories (I suggest this book by Roberta M. Gilbert, if you'd like to know more about that), and then my basic understandings of brain development and plasticity. An idea sparked.

I came to an idea for a social rpg all based upon brain development, and allowing the player to see how a person's development is strongly influenced by their upbringing. Additionally, the player character would be visually randomly generated, and sexuallly ambiguous, allowing the player to infer, or even project, the sex of the character for themselves.

The game would start with a randomly generated childhood presented to the player. The player character's parents could be alcoholics, homophobic, physically abusive, distant with their child, close and supportive, etc. This would then define the dialog tree's that the player would be able to choose from later in the game.

The game play would then take place in a summer camp. A place for many children where they begin to develop who they are as a person. The authority figures you've come to understand rule over you are gone, many or all your friends may be elsewhere. This is where many people pushed their unsual boundaries, and learned what made them them, even if they didn't realize it.

The player character would be interacting with the other children at the camp, with their own randomly generated issues. The player's choices in how they interact with the other children will influence how the children treat the player, and in the background, begin to shift the player's dialog tree options.

So for example, the player character could have been raised by racists. Upon interacting with a black child at the camp, the player character would have options that would reinforce the racism they had been taught, show uncertainty in the things they had been made to believe, or begin rebelling against the baggage they had placed upon them.

If the player were to continue the cycle of racism placed upon them, any children who held attributes that conflicted with that, would begin to avoid the player character, possibly become aggressive towards them, etc. The inverse would be true if they were to rebel against what they had been taught all their lives.

All these choices would be influencing a sort of "alignment" system in the background. A representation of how the player character will grow to be.

After the summer camp ends, the game play is over. We would jump to the player character's adulthood, where they have now had their own children, and passed on their own baggage to them. This would then allow the player to play a New Game +, where instead of having entirely randomly generated childhood upbringings, now having ones they have had an influence in.

This idea was entirely grandiose. As I went up to present it, I began to realize how extensive this would have to be, having an insane amount of dialog options to choose from, and being able to have the game shift between this gigantic table system.

It was big. Too big. But it was still a very creative and good idea. A game that would be commenting on society, but allowing the player to have a hand in what those specific comments would be.

In the end, people seemed to like my idea, but with the scope of what it would take to make the thing, people didn't want to jump on board. I'm actually glad of that fact, though. There's no way I would have been able to do enough writing with the time constraint, and I ended up being much more comfortable being in a non-directorial role for my first jam.

I'm holding onto the idea though, and am planning to see if I can flesh it out more. Hopefully it'll come to something in the future.

Immediately after me, my future team leader presented his idea.

His pitch, as best as I can remember, was about a platform puzzle game in which the player shifts through colors to interact with the world. The twist was that every dimension would be visible to you at once, in a sort of 'kaleidoscope' manner into the background. You would end up being able to interact with the foreground, while seeing the other dimensions in the background, so you know when to shift to them to be able to progress through the level. Each dimension would have its own visual and audio style, and shift between them smoothly.

I immediately loved this idea. Games like The Unfinished Swan, Antichamber, Braid, and Portal came to mind.

We started discussing his idea, and I had found my team for the jam.

The Team & The Game

It's worth mentioning that during the presentation period, the AIE organizer let everyone know that out of everyone there, we had about 8 artists. Not everyone had shown up yet, but the artist to programmer ratio was unbalanced to say the least. Oh, and they were all already on teams.

Our team started out as three people, including myself. Piers, the person who came up with the idea, as well as a programmer, and Jon, a composer. During our brainstorming we ended up gaining two more programmers, Richard and Nate. Our plan was to use very simplistic art from some of the programmers, as we didn't think we'd be able to grab an artist.

Lo and behold, we ended up getting two amazing artists who showed up late. Dan and Mac. On the last day we even ended up getting another, Cayla. From thinking we'd have no artists, to three.

Our game idea ebbed and flowed, as it slowly began to evolve into a full fledged game.

Our amazing artists began to give us great concepts, which evolved into adorable animations, backgrounds, and items. Our programmers began building tools for level creation, how to make multiple layers of play work seamlessly, and get scripts and inputs to do what we wanted them to do. Our musician busted out a crazy soundtrack, transitions and sound effects. While I worked on level designs, and slowly began to learn how to build 2D levels in Unity.

We made amazing progress. The team was so incredibly talented and creative, every single one of them. It was so great to work with them all, and we're planning on sticking together for future games.

The final stretch & Presentation

And here's where the jam bit us in the ass.

On the final day, we had planned on pushing out testable builds to people remotely, so we wouldn't have to take up our time doing extensive playtesting. The key word here being "planned". One of the programmers even has his brother and a friend come in to do in person playtesting for us.

But everything kept breaking. We ended up never being able to get to a point where we needed people to test it so we could fine tune. However, Richard's brother, Brian, did end up helping me with level design, so that I could focus on refining my understand and useage of Unity, and actually putting levels together (I only ended up finishing a rough first level, and an unfinished second level. More on that in a bit).

By 5pm on the 26th, we had to stop working, and we ended up having to upload a broken an unplayable build of our game, Pandamensional.

We ended up presenting a partly playable build to the other developers at the jam. I was so proud of what everyone had done in such a tiny amount of time, and see so much more potential in our ideas, and am really hoping we can polish the game up over time.

There were some other games presented by the other teams that really stuck out to me. Maybe I'll write something up about them later.

What I walked away with

This was a gigantic learning experience for me. From seeing the hurdles and limitations the programmers had to deal with, to the progression the artists were able to make in the time we had, and our lunch conversations about game development, and the indie game industry.

I finally got to click about in Unity, and actually figure out what the hell I was doing. While I do feel like I was somewhat dead weight for the team, only getting 1 & ½ levels completed, I went from looking at Unity and thinking I was staring at Japanese, to actually being able to get things into levels pretty damn fast. I'm planning on getting more familiar with Unity, and finishing up the first two levels, and hopefully reaching our goal of 9 levels at some point.

I got to see into the game development world first hand, instead of simply reading about it. Which I feel will help me greatly with the game I'm currently developing.

I also got to meet 7 absurdly talented and friendly people, and will hopefully have the opportunity to work with them in the future.

I've never had so much fun learning before. That's the honest truth. Educational high points for me have been watching Reading Rainbow, Bill Nye The Science Guy, and Good Eats. Those experiences were fun. Another high point was learning metalsmithing, which while fun, I found more zen and 'void fulfilling', as a whole. Even though I felt I didn't do enough during the jam, and I felt quite stupid trying to grasp Unity, and Git, I had fun every second of it.

Now, with my eyelids heavy, and my body telling me that I'm about to die from exhaustion, I'm gonna try to sleep some more.

Everyone is creative

If you were a part of the GGJ this year, I wanna hear about your experience! Tell me where you participated, what you did, what your teammates did, what you ended up making. I believe that everyone is creative, and I love seeing other's creativity shine, so share your jam projects with me here in the comments!