Game Jam 2014

As I mentioned in a past post, I went to the Caracas Game Jam, part of the Global Game Jam.

The whole experience was just wonderful and I can say, without doubt, that I’m proud of the work I did. This is the memoir of such event.

This year, the Game Jam was hosted at Wayra and I saw some familiar faces around: guests, participants and organizers. The event was a success even before beginning, with the capacity for 80 participants filled a week before the Jam! Most of them stayed the whole weekend, others (like me) went every night home to sleep and take a bath.

I was eager to hear this year’s theme and as soon as it was announced, my head started working trying to come up with a nice idea. It was the phrase: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

My initial approaches were like this. First, I pictured a game where the player’s status affected the world it played in, while at the same time the player’s status could be affected by both the world and his decisions. The game originally had a life-like feeling and the world changing was just the reflection of the player’s status. The second idea was an exploration/puzzle game where the player could play as 3 different characters, each with their own abilities and disadvantages. It had inspiration from Thomas Was Alone, but with a twist: the game would change depending of the current character to portray its view about the world. It’s pretty simple, given a certain issue, many people could have different points of view about it; maybe for an engineer, the obstacle seems like an unreachable mountain while looking not so big for an athlete; or a puzzle looking dazzling for a toddler while seeming like a breeze for a grownup. I imagined a very lifeful world, constantly changing.

Originally, I was going to work along with other 3 friends from work, one of which knew some other people. The group started with around 10 people and the brainstorming session was fruitful. However, by the end of the night we hardly had a concrete idea to work with, just a vague common ground, and I decided to split up, as we were a pretty big group for such a small game. I joined forces with 2 other friends from work and together we started developing our own idea, what would later be called: Pike & Boulder. The team name was Macho Papaya and it was composed of three programmers with the following roles: a coder (me), a game designer and artist (I also helped with part of the game design), and a producer.

machopapayateam-gj2014
Team Macho Papaya

The idea for P&B was from this premise: “How would being fat or skinny change our perception of the world?”

I did some work Friday night, trying to play with the field of view of the camera in Unity and by Saturday morning, we already starting to develop around that idea. A fat person would see everything thinner; big boxes would look like something he could lift or move, while small splaces would seem extremely little for its body. Likewise, a skinny person would see everything bigger. We came up with two characters working together to continue their journey; for technical and time reasons, we implemented a character swap system where only 1 character would be present at a time, instead of a partner system common in video games (such as Resident Evil or the Lego games, for example).

The two characters are Jack Pike (the slimy) and Mike Boulder (the big fella). As we were mainly programmers and had no real artists in the group, we decided to work with geometric figures. The result being a game visually similar to Minecraft. The theme of the game was then two spelunkers exploring a cave, helping each other, with an 8-bit style.

A screenshot featuring Jack Pike (the thin partner). Isn’t that.. HEISENBERG??

We played a lot with Unity (free license) and created an 8-bit flashlight and some cool effects with the native system particle. The change of field of view was done changing the aspect ratio of the camera (as Unity’s field of view relates to the height of the camera, while we only cared for the width) and using a linear interpolation function, the transition between both views was smooth.

Regarding the game mechanics, I wanted to preserve as few actions as possible; first because of the time restraints, second because I wanted to work with something simple. The game features these actions:

  • Walk: pretty standard, huh? The walking speed varies according to the character. In the case of Jack Pike (the slim character), his contexture allows him to reach very narrow spaces.
  • Swap: change from one character to another.
  • Jump: again, varies according to the character, being prominently more useful with Jack Pike than Mike Boulder.
  • Use: activates a wall switch that opens a door.
  • Bomb: destroys an ore mine, adding gold coins to the user’s score. This feature was unique to Mike Boulder.
  • Push: move big boxes by colliding with it. Prominently more useful with Mike Boulder than Jack Pike.

Another feature is a head flashlight that lights up the scenario (it’s a mine, after all). This was more of a visual option than an useful mechanic for the game; however, I did intended to make it necessary to progress in certain pitch-black areas that were never developed. One passive mechanic was that certain areas disabled the player’s ability to swap character, as it would be unnatural to change into big Mike Boulder while being in a narrow space. We did use it to convey some sense of logical narrative in the game, as in one point the player advances with the thin character but enters an area where he couldn’t change (as his partner would technically still be waiting in the last room).

By Sunday’s afternoon, all the mechanics and visual gimmicks were fully developed and the demo level was built around an hour before the submission deadline. Because we never tested the dynamics of the game, only the mechanics, the creation of the test level was a little of a nightmare, as the deadline quickly approached. The main difficulty was the camera, it can become a nuisance when the flow gets interrupted by the camera colliding with the walls.

Oh, by the way, I forgot to put an option to quit the game, hehe.

After submitting the game, the whole Jammers reunited to check what others came up. A total of 18 games were made this year at the Caracas Game Jam and many showed nice ideas. Specifically, there was this game where you control some kind of child with no emotions that can find and use masks empowered with a certain emotion and that feature some mechanic (like freezing moving platforms). The game’s name is Ecamotion and here’s its Game Jam site.

This is me, presenting our game. Photo by @pctroll

For the complete list of games from the Caracas Game Jam, check here. And for Macho Papaya’s Pike & Boulder, check here for the site and here for the demo, gameplay instructions at the bottom of the post (The demo is Windows only and support only for 16:9 y 16:10 screens, because reasons .. and time constraints).

I’m glad to have been part of the Jam and I hope to check-in again in the future. Not only did I share a space with other fellow gamemakers and appeared

It was a really great experience that showed myself what I am able to do in just 48 hours and is fueling my desires to work in some prototypes this year, maybe something cool comes up!

Finally, I’ll like to thank Ciro Durán for his commitment to the jams, the (spanish) podcast Menos Charla, Más Juegos for a brief interview that the team from my work was invited to (plus, we talked in the Game Jam Radio) and to the rest of the cast as well!

(Also, a special thanks to my girlfriend, who supported and encouraged me to participate in the event. Thank you! :D)

Jam On!

P.S.:

I’ll update the post later with an updated demo and more screenshots!

Also, the instructions to play the game (the demo’s currently missing most of them):

  • Move: WASD or the arrow keys.
  • Jump: Space
  • Swap character: Left or Right Control.
  • Turn Flashlight On/Off: F key
  • Bomb: B key (when prompted)
  • Use: E key (when prompted)
  • Focus camera:  Right mouse button (focuses camera to the character’s north).

Leave a Reply