We made a 5 games in 5 days, and made each in less than 8 hours.
We found ourselves in a bit of a slump after releasing our last game, Quadropus Rampage. Our design ideas were getting too blown out and unwieldy, and our focus was drifting around like a balloon in windy weather. We got our design and game dev chops at game jams, and so decided that the best remedy for our ennui would be to get right back to basics.
AND WITH GUSTO.
I set aside 5 theme ideas in a special google doc, blocked Seth from ever seeing them, and on Monday morning announced the first one via twitter. The task was set and the audience (small as it may be) had their seats.
Over the course of 5 days we did indeed make 5 games. 3 of them turned out splendidly, 2 did not. This is what we learned: Screw space, Wear socks, and Bulge the envelope.
1) Screw space.
We began the jam with the intent to brush off the rust that had covered us as we worked on our now-dead project, code named Captain!. Captain was to be an epic space adventure of some sort, and we worked on it for three weeks before finally deciding to throw it into a dirty garbage can.
| YEP THIS IS A MISTAKE. |
No matter how we prodded and poked at the bloated beast we could not get it to feel fun. The design of it shifted from a branching dialogue, choose your own adventure-esque game to a sturdier combat focused game to one in which you endlessly run between planets while strapped to a massive space beast, specific to your race.
Space, it seemed, was a horrid theme, a near perfect starting point for making a bad game, at least the way we make games. Looking back at the Butterscotch Jam and the two horrid games that came from it, we noticed further evidence as to why.
"Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it." - Michelangelo
On Day 2 of the Butterscotch Jam the theme was "Death just didn't have the courage to tell him". The game spawned from it was an interactive story that stunk to high heaven.
On Day 4 of the Butterscotch Jam the theme was "Obsession." Strikingly, though we were at first filled with ideas, all of them proved to be completely antifun in nature. The game that escaped from our hands that day involved elementals blowing each other up with bombs over a piece of teleporting steak. Not only was it completely void of the daily theme, it sucked harder than a vacuum in a tornado.
What do Space, Obsession, and that converted Chuck Norris joke have in common? They're all abstract in nature. Space is most distinct as the formless void between all things. Obsession, an incredibly unfun problem to have, takes so many forms that solidifying it is harder than riding a greased pig with jetpacks for hooves. And that modified Chuck Norris joke? Without Chuck it's a question of who is being told what and why death is anxious about it, which leaves too many questions unanswered for a solid gaming foundation.
Our game development methodology is akin to sculpting. We set ourselves with a theme and then chisel away at the excess parts of it to find the game hiding beneath its surface. The themes of Space, Obsession, and Death of this jam muddled our vision such that we produced a pile of rubble from the stone we were given.
We're not yet at Michelangelo level.
The games that turned out well were based on the themes of this gif, Synesthesia/Sensory Deprivation, and Parasite & Host. These stand in absolute contrast to those which created crappy games*, as they are all solid things or experiences. Moreover, each one of them took less than 45 minutes to brainstorm the general idea and mechanic for.
A truly powerful theme is one that produces a clear vision, so choosing a theme for a gaming project that involves a fuzzy concept like JUSTICE, TRUTH, EVIL, or any similarly unwieldy topics is a recipe for disaster.
2) Wear socks.
The day before the jam I went to an outdoor potluck with some friends. I would never have gone had I known that a swarm of anklebiting insectoids had also been invited.
I had 50+ bites on each one of my feet. The itching was so absurdly irritating that I did not sleep for more than two hours between Monday night and Wednesday night. I was irritated, in pain, and extremely sleep deprived. Wednesday's game, which turned out lovely, saw me staring at the screen for an hour or two and generally avoiding the creation of art assets as much as possible. I also nearly bit Seth.
If there is one thing we can suggest to people embarking on a great, challenging road, it is to take care of yourself during the process. My lack of sleep for three days and general irritability on those days could've severely cut into our jamming output, had I not been well supported by Seth, my friends in town, and my girlfriend (thanks for keeping me alive, Diana). Each one of the people in my network helped to hold me afloat while I floundered, and often times picked up the slack I was generating.
We've now been our own indie studio here in St. Louis for over 9 months - roughly baby gestation time - and have found that this maxim holds true for our larger adventure as well. After nearly burning out during Towelfight's creation, we've reshuffled our work days and built in time to keep ourselves healthy.
Which leads us to this : the idea that during a 48 hour game jam you should not sleep is contrary to every ounce of science on the subject.
Sleep deprivation basically breaks your brain and the creative process. While you're in manic mode, which most of us hit during jams, you'll be soaring higher than a weather balloon full of THC. And that's excellent. You should ride it for as long as the creative energy lasts. But once it starts to fade, go get a solid 8 hours of sleep. Your project will turn out all the greater for it and you'll be more likely to get back into that mode for the next 16 hour stretch.
3) Bulge the envelope.
There is no room for pushing things here.
We had a very, very limited time frame to create something new. On Wednesday, the day I CAN'T SEE SHIT was created, we were about to embark on a forked path to experimental death. Seth hadn't yet experimented with Game Maker Studio's built in physics engine (which is sexy, by the way), and though I knew this I pushed to also make use of the new shaders capability in our engine, which he was similarly unfamiliar with.
Luckily, Seth pushed back and pointed out something we realized to be a keystone in our jamming philosophy. Jams are great for experimenting, but those experiments must be handled in a very controlled fashion. Just like any good science, you control as many variables as possible while modifying another, otherwise any changes you observe may not actually be the result of that which you modified.
Had we fumbled with the shaders as well as the physics engine, it's likely that we wouldn't have been able to fully flesh out just the mechanical concept for our game that day. I CAN'T SEE SHIT probably would've looked more like a PoS and given us nothing to build from in the future.
Since we kept the changes in scope, I CAN'T SEE SHIT gave us a fruitful, slightly experimental concept with which we plan on creating a fully fleshed out PC game. Now is the time to push the technical envelope, not during the jamming stage.
Did the jam WORK!?
Yes. Not only did we learn a boatload about how to work better, we found our next two games.
Extreme Slothcycling - Android and iOS
We've decided to take Extreme Slothcycling to its designable limit in the coming months. The endless runner genre is a bit tired at this point, and we think there's a hellofoalotof juice left in it that people have, for reasons unknown, completely neglected. You can expect an outrageous running adventure that eclipses Quadropus Rampage for its absurdity and addictive tendencies.
I CAN'T SEE SHIT - PC, Mac
I can't see shit was extremely fun to build and, we think, has within it a unique mechanic that hasn't been fully explored by anyone just yet. So, in a new method of working, we're going to jointly develop I CAN'T SEE SHIT for the PC and Mac markets, with an upcoming goal of submitting to the Indie Games Festival.
If you've got any thoughts on our findings feel free to drop them below or hit us up on twitter @bscotchshenani
*"those which created crappy games"
Note where I am placing responsibility for the outcome of each day. It may be a point of disagreement to some, that we simply had off days on each of these themes, but looking back on all our jamming and game development experience it does appear that the base theme for a game is the largest determinant of its inherent fun-ness and overall success, provided the people working on it are roughly competent with its execution. This also supports some prior psychological research I've done, and I'd be happy to discuss it further, firstname.lastname@example.org
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