game jams.

Games I have thrown together over very short periods of time.

Global Game Jam 2015: The Friendly Labyrinth

My first game jam! I showed up to this event intending to be a floater for other projects. I was put in a room with a bunch of other floaters and solo flyers, and in a fun bit of chaos, we brainstormed some crazy ideas and formed a few impromptu groups.

The concept for our game was a two-player head-to-head maze-runner which, in a rather aggressive twist, would have power-ups that wouldn't actually help your player, but only hinder the other one. Oh, and for a timer, there would be... an animation of someone's head being crushed. (Yeah. I did a bit of a double-take when this was pitched to me, and then I immediately announced that I was in.)

So in the aesthetic we eventually decided on, the game starts out with an innocent-looking title screen, where leaves blow in the breeze and some lovely music plays. Then comes character selection, wherein you choose your player and also your player's best friend. Then you are jarringly thrust into a hellish cavern and forced to run through endless mazes, while your friend's head has been placed in a giant hydraulic crushing device, and the other player is doing everything they can to hasten your friend's demise.

It was fun explaining this to our sound floater, who gave us a lilting folksy tune for the title, a frantic riffing theme for the action, and some nice squishy sound effects for the, uh, endgame.

I was a little worried going into this that I wasn't quite experienced enough in either game programming or game art to be able to contribute much of either. But as it turned out, I ended up doing a fair bit of both.

The collaboration part was complete chaos. Everyone kind of worked on everything, and for version control, we used the ever-reliable shared-folder-in-Dropbox method. I will make a gentle understatement and advise against this.

This jam was also entertaining because, choosing to go for the full hectic experience, I stayed at the venue for the entire weekend and got almost no sleep. On Sunday morning, I was stumbling around and checking out other teams' games, laughing deliriously at the most faintly amusing elements. Fun!

Last time I checked, this game was still buggy as hell and might not even work, but that truly doesn't matter to me because at the end of that weekend, for the first time, I felt like a game developer.

TOJam 10: Overthrow of the Goat

This took place a few months after my first jam. Pleasingly, I'd kept in touch with the folks on the Friendly Labyrinth team, and reunited with a couple of them to form a team for this one.

The game was conceived as a hack-and-slash storm-the-castle type, where the players just cut a path through massive waves of enemies. Easy enough, right?

We ended up with a four-room castle, spawn points that vomit large numbers of enemies, and heroes with swords that do a powerful attack if swung at a certain rhythm. We really wanted a boss fight but didn't really have time for the concept or the execution, so instead we just put a ton more enemies in the final room.

As before, I did both environmental art and programming. Our main art guy was only there for the first half of the jam, so we have some beautiful crisp graphics in the game, and a bunch of sketchier ones where I clumsily attempted to follow his style. We enlisted a sound floater, who gave us some effects and a catchy chiptune theme that was seriously stuck in my head for months afterward. If you're a sound person, consider signing up as a floater at a jam because damn, they are in hot demand!

LOWREZJAM 2016: ParaHacker

LOWREZJAM was a completely online jam. When I read the challenge for this one, I just had to participate: the game has to fit completely in a 64×64 pixel grid. Tiny!

The concept for this one I stole shamelessly from the Commodore 64 game Paradroid, possibly one of the greatest games for that platform. This takes the hacking minigame from Paradroid, and adds a twist in the form of a two-player option.

I actually wrote it for two players because that was easier, but eventually decided I would need a one-player version if I wanted people to play it. That meant I'd have to write an AI for the computer player, a task I dreaded. To my surprise though, when I finally came to that part, I had it done in about ten minutes. Turns out there aren't a lot of decisions to make in this game, so training the computer was easy.

I also used a new technology (for me): I wrote it entirely in Javascript using the HTML5 canvas API. The graphics were dead simple and I even had time to add some frills like an options menu, player handicaps and a nice little colour selection on the title screen.

The jam had over 400 submissions, with a lot of different and cool ideas. A week or two later, I got a message from a very prolific YouTuber who had played every game from the jam for a minute each, and given a little review. This, of course, is amazing; here's part 26(!) which contains my humble entry.

TOJam 11: Tower of SMACK!

You know, the kind of smack where you hit people in the face. Except in this game, you do it with fluorescent clubs and hammers.

This was the first game jam I did completely solo. It was still a great challenge, and still really motivating to do this surrounded by other people, but not quite as fun and chaotic as doing it in a group.

I also had to make some other sacrifices: the game is completely without sound, and when it came to character art, I decided I could budget only 8 pixels square for the player sprites. That said, the budget worked and I was pretty happy with the characters. The title screen is nice, and I'm also fairly proud of the TOJam goat's appearance...

In retrospect, gameplay-wise, Tower is basically a cross between Nidhogg and N. I'm ok with that; those are two of my favourite platformers. Its main weakness is that it can't really decide if it's a co-op game, a competitive game, or a single-player game, which is a bit confusing. But it's still a fun toy; I spent a lot of playtest time just jumping and wallsliding around. And in the final hour of the jam I even managed to squeeze in an ending of sorts. Not bad at all.