Monday, July 15, 2013

Life - Game Jam

Life - Game Jam

I remember my first concert call pretty well.  It was 18 hours long, it was the first time I'd been doing a job (and being paid!) where I was surrounded by a lot of similar people and skillsets.  You know up until that point I had pushed buttons on a register, delivered boxes, hung lights or wired cables among two or three other people, but your first concert call, that's a pretty crazy day.  You show up and sit at a plastic table 20 minutes early, surrounded by 100+ people, everyone is checking gear, tying up laces, strapping themselves into harnesses.  I was nervously adjusting the tightness on my hardhat, hoping that it wasn't too shiny so that people would know I'd only worn it once before.

12, grueling, box-pushing, steel lifting and bolting hours later, my arms were worn down, I could barely feel my shoulders, my feet hurt to stand on and I was bleary eyed.  The call-steward came over to me and said "Hey, we're trimming down to about a dozen guys for another 4 hours, we saw you work pretty hard, do you want to do the extra call?"  My chest swelled with pride, someone noticed!  Of course I wanted to work that extra 4 hours.  It turned out to be an extra 6 hours, but they flew by.  Six and a half hours later, I was catching the morning train home, curled up on a seat while dawn broke across the horizon.  You have that moment when your body is bone weary, exhausted.  Where every thought hurts to consider, your motions are on autopilot, your feet drag and your head bobs just a little too much.  Your eyes are never more than half open.  But somehow, in your chest is this feeling of pride.  You were part of a huge team, you accomplished something, you got to see in immediacy this kind of interesting creation and know that you were one of the people that made it happen.

We did our first game jam this weekend.  Just about ten years after my first concert call, and I'm almost a decade older than that first call, but I am happy to report the feeling is just the same, if not even better.

We competed in the game Jam here in Vancouver.  A game jam is when a group of developers, programmers, artists, composers, voice actors, writers, gather for a specified amount of time together into teams to try and make a game.  This one was 48 hours, and we were told we had one condition, to make a game with a strong female protagonist, whatever that meant to us.

The jam was founded by Kim Voll, a scathing rebuke from an earlier in the year idea that games with women as the leads don't sell well.  I'm proud to say that this weekend, 150 developers in Vancouver, and more around the world set out to change that perception.

48 Hours is not a lot of time to make a game.  Certainly none of us had embarked upon this kind of thing before...well ever.  Our team was myself on background art, writing and audio, Noah did sprite art, Izzy did character animations and the character art, as well as designed the level, while Mike and Adam coded the entire project.  We are incredibly proud of our work, I will preface that by saying the design is insanely rough, and we could've used another 4 hours to polish everything up.

But it's a game.

It's a game with a female lead, in this case as a nod to one of my literary heroes William Gibson, her name is Cayce.

I actually wrote out a rough draft and posted the story just prior to this post, that's what appears in title slides (I know!  Such dated design) during the introduction sequence of the game.  We made it with an engine we were familiar with, but a toolset we'd never used before.  Mike and Adam were looking up reference material all over the internet about programming with it, Izzy used a new animation program he'd never touched before, and I had a new sprite program.

The games that came out of the jam were awesome.  They were, like ours to varying degrees of polish and refinement.  Some had stock images or art, and were instead focused on addressing a story or sometimes something even as meta as feminism in games.  Others like ours, featured a woman in a non-traditional gaming role, a central character with opportunities to explore new ground and new ideas.  Some were games that could've been played as dalliances for ten minutes on the internet, others were prototypes for much more complicated narratives or concepts.  Some games had teams that were single people or duos, others were as a large as a dozen.

Regardless we made games, all weekend, in the company of our peers.  Peers who ranged from professionals, to students, to people who had never even considered making a game before, but wanted to try.  One of the real triumphs of the weekend was the number of female developers in the room.  In an industry where we often throw around the number of 10-1, or around 10-15% female, we were perhaps looking at 1/3.  An amazing turnout.

If you are interested in playing what we made, I have put up a link here.  It downloads as a zip file, needs to be unzipped and runs as an .exe.  The game is designed for mobile or touch controls ultimately, and only uses the mouse.

As an aside, possibly because only finished the game in the last 30 minutes and had almost no playtesting time, we only then realized that we'd made the game so hard none of us have yet beaten it.  We know it 'Can' be beaten, because we have the debug tools to prove it, but none of us have legitimately completed the game yet.  So there's that.  If you can prove me wrong though I'll get you something nice.

Working with these boys has been some of the most fun, most engaging, and most challenging experiences I've had since moving to Vancouver.  The camaraderie we had all weekend, along with the synergy of work, jokes, laughs and wickedness was amazing.

If we ever have some time, I suspect our team will try to find a moment to clean up and polish the game, and maybe add the two more levels we had planned to complete.  It was a great experience, and I feel really good about being part of this community as well as the theatre community.  I'm still incredibly bone weary, 48 hours was no joke to try and work through, with little enough sleep as it was.  But my spirit is soaring, and my creative hunger feels like it's finally waking up to the challenges I'm placing in front of myself.

Onward friends, life waits.


The other submissions to the jam are available here:

I highly recommend Bounce Through Life and Wolny as being completely stand out.