My First Ever Global Game Jam 2017!

all ready and excited!

Pittsburgh, Nova Place, 5.30 pm.

Standing beside the registration kiosk with my team, I am nervous and twice as excited about the whole thing. I have never been comfortable with the unfamiliar, but man is this exciting.

Having gone through Building Virtual Worlds at the Entertainment Technology Center, we are no strangers to creating games quickly in two weeks, but this is a different ball game — a mere two days.

“Will our game idea be cool enough? Can it be done? What’s a game jam like?”

Grabbing my “Jammer” pass, I muse over my thoughts and look around. At a glance, I spot about twenty to thirty people scattered around the venue. Honestly, I expected a lot more participants, but I feel strangely relieved. Fewer participants — less pressure.

Turns out, we were just early to the party.

sneak peek: our “Bee Ball” game making waves

“Will our game idea be cool enough?”

spoiler alert: we won best theming award!

We choose a location away from the central area as our den of operations; a comfortable, carpeted box-like space partially separated from the outside by wooden beams that stack horizontally on top of one another. After receiving the theme for this year’s jam at the central area, we waste no time getting back to our pod, stopping only to grab a plate of tomato pasta along the way.

It is time to brainstorm about the possibilities of “Waves“. Taking turns, we describe the ideas we have in our heads and scribble them on the whiteboard:

our very intelligent scribbles
  1. Bat in a cave.
    You control a bat and travel through a dark cave, using sound waves that echo back (echolocation) to figure out the location of obstacles and dodge them.
  2. Rubber ducky in a bathtub.
    Control the water level and wave formation to dodge obstacles.
  3. Drummer beats.
    As a drummer, control the crowd wave and juggle the lead singer on top of them.
  4. Fighting beats.
    Pressing buttons in different orders according to sound beats causes your character to perform different attacks. Two-player game.
  5. Meteor strike.
    Perform actions that accelerate the meteor towards planet Earth and measure the destruction caused by sea waves as points.

Attempting to improve on them, we distilled the core principles behind each idea and infused them into one another; This created “Fighting Beats Ver.2”, incorporating the waves mechanic from “Rubber ducky in a bathtub”, the dangerous obstacle from “Meteor Strike” and the juggling mechanic from “Drummer beats” as the fighting mechanic. Finalizing our decision, “Fighting Beats Ver. 2” won most of our votes, followed closely by “Meteor Strike”.

It is always useful to find the essence of the game and see if it applies to others.

fusions tend to lead to very curious results!

Okay, I’ll be honest. “Fighting Beats Ver. 2” is not the name of the idea. I named it so because it sounds better than saying: “a two player fighting game with waves and balls”. In retrospect, I suppose concepts are like that in theory as well — an amalgamation of ideas.

The next step is to solidify our concept and incorporate a plausible basis for the game: two bears attempt to bounce a dangerous beehive towards the other by pounding on a constantly waving platform.

“Can it be done?”

Day One

Each member of the team has his own predefined roles: Aaron is the game designer, Sunil is the sound designer, Kuk is the artist and I am the programmer. We are, however, not bound by our designated roles.

Prototype fast. That is what I learned from Building Virtual Worlds. I went straight ahead to program the mechanics, using simple cubes and spheres to simulate our discussed mechanics. This is the result:

The red and white bars represent the platform; the white ball is the hive. The platforms move up and down depending on the button pressed, and the goal is to bounce the white ball to the other side.

Testing it out, many things felt wrong. The ball sticks to the platforms and refuses to bounce; the platforms jerk up and down in a weird fashion. It may seem like a disaster, but the prototype shows us a glimmer of its potential to be something enjoyable.  To us, that is gold. We now have a tangible starting point that grounds and guides our discussion.

Improving on the flaws of its predecessor, it is time for our second prototype:

This looks way better. We add flippers on top of each platform and use Unity’s physics to rotate them so that force is applied to the ball instead of just moving up.  We try letting the flippers fly up mid-rotation but shortly removed it as it looks creepy. Below the flippers, the platforms now move in increasing frequency from left to right, generating an unintended charming effect. We are ecstatic about the dancing waves! We think it’s cool. Ah, the power of prototyping and happy accidents.

Yearning for a true jamming experience, I decide to stay overnight at the jam site in my snug sleeping bag. Kuk and Aaron chose to do the same. As I fall into deep slumber, the thought of people forsaking the comfort of their homes to create games is both slightly amusing and inspirational. Amusing because we are sacrificing our weekend to work, inspirational because we are willing to do so for our passion.

The next day, I wake up feeling energized. My sleep was surprisingly wonderful. After taking a quick breakfast of donuts and a much-needed shower at a nearby gym, I was ready for day two.

Day Two

After showing prototype two to Sunil, he said, “This is awesome! Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s make it so that the platform moves according to sound beats as well.”

I turned to face him, “Like a visualizer?”

“Like a visualizer,” he said.

Whenever we have a new idea, we always try to prototype it first to see how it feels. No one says it’s not viable until we feel it’s not. And so we did the visualizer:

The effect is cool and it adds variation to the movement of the platforms. However, we aren’t too sure if it adds to the gameplay, so we decide to leave it there and see if it feels better later on. Sitting at a white rectangular table with our laptops beneath our fingers, we continue jamming.

“The left bar doesn’t move as much as the right bar,” Aaron said, looking at his computer screen. “See? This might not be good for game balance.” He is right. Since the bears are situated at the opposite ends of the screen, an asymmetric movement of the platforms will induce an unfairly divergent experience between each player. A discussion for a new wave mechanic ensued. After trying out several concepts, we decide on — a pulse wave:

“Wait a minute, where did the bears come from?” As we complete the implementation of the pulse wave, Aaron has already integrated Kuk’s 3D assets into the game, along with several UI updates. Playing our current prototype, we are pleased with the new mechanic and how the game is starting to look. It feels right. More importantly, it feels fun.

We proceed to playtest the game with a few friends. From the feedback, we improve the wave’s physics interaction with the hive. We playtest it again and make even more changes. Playtesters adored the cute bears, so we enlarge them. We also move the beats mechanic to a purely visual one as we feel that it interferes with the gameplay. We then playtest again, reducing the cooldown of the wave this time. We playtest again, and again, tweaking the game repeatedly based on invaluable feedback. Somewhere along the way, we gave the bears accessories that include shades and jackets to reflect the musical feel of the game. They look weirdly cool.

Last Day

Sleep isn’t so good this time, but I am nevertheless excited about the final version of our game. After a morning of debugging, integrating and slight tweaking, we are proud to present: Bee Ball, winner of the best theming award at the Pittsburgh Global Game Jam.

This game exceeded my expectations on all fronts. I am thankful for my teammates: Aaron Albert, Sunil Nayak and Kuk Kim, for giving me a wonderful and memorable game jam experience.

What’s a game jam like?

A lot of hard work and passion with equal amounts of fun and satisfaction. It was gratifying to watch people enjoy your game. During the showcase, I distinctly remember seeing two boys have so much fun that they came back to play it a second time. It made me smile. I will never forget that.

Project linky.






image credits:

5 Replies to “My First Ever Global Game Jam 2017!”

  1. Firstly, Congratulations for winning the best theming award at the game jam. It was great to read about the process and the detailed description of the two days at the jam. It was fun to see all your small prototypes and how it led to a successful end product. There were two things in the article that stood out for me. First, “Amusing because we are sacrificing our weekend to work, inspirational because we are willing to do so for our passion.” – this because I can totally relate to this. Secondly, when you say “No one says it’s not viable until we feel it’s not.” – It’s a great attitude to have and trying everything before ruling it out is something that has helped me in the past too!

  2. This is a really detailed summary of your game jam experience. After reading this article, it reminds a lot of the rules and thoughts from the Game Design reading assignment, and it is amazing they really worked for you guys. One particular thing is that you did apply the essence of the game to others. It reminds the way how Valve did to rebuild Half-Life. I am also attached to it because sometimes I focus too much on one single idea and try to develop it to perfect. Most of the time, It doesn’t work well at the end. Your ways are practical and give me a lot of inspirations for my future development.
    I really appreciate that you shared your method. Thank!

  3. Really cool to have some insight into your design process. You guys definitely followed the iterative process and it shows. Your mechanics got better and better over the course of your iterations and lead to a really cool idea that had a solid theme and feeling. Staying overnight at a game jam is definitely a fun thing. Your policy of trying before you make a final decision on a mechanic is a really great idea and led you to include the ideas that really sold your game.

  4. I really appreciate that you can share your experience in game jam, which really gives me a lot of useful tips that I can apply in my development. One thing that really impresses me a lot is that you mentioned that “find the essence of the game and see if it applies to others.”. During brainstorming, I usually have many ideas and always try to develop one single idea to perfect but without too much care on applying the essence to others. This is a really good piece I got from this reading.

  5. Best theming! I think you guys are definitely the best-theming winner. And your game is really fun, which is really hard to achieve within just 2 days. It’s not hard to make a high graphic quality game or a complex game in 2 days, but make a game that is fun is not that easy. And the way you doing prototype is really well and it really works. I have to say you guys did a good job in time management, while our team didn’t do it well. But the interesting thing is that we really have fun in the Jam!

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