Global Game Jam 2012 Melbourne – game making in 48 hours with 107 brains, 107 potential zombies.
I don’t usually have the feeling that the rest of the day will be a hell of a blast when I’m backing out of a ditch with a half naked man on a tractor laughing at me. On the 27th of January however, I just knew that I was going to be happier than every Larry I’ve ever met.
I was going to participate in Global Game Jam for that weekend. In 48 hours, I would meet people I never knew, form a team, and create a video game. I have never done anything like this before. I haven’t even completed a game before; I once tried to make an urban fantasy RPG on RPGMaker when I was 14 and got as far as having an almost-impressive looking pixel gallery before the computer exploded. Learned my lesson on backups then, but never tried to create another game again.
I didn’t know what to expect. Figured it would be vaguely like a cosplay competition – hectic, competitive, stressful, but friendly and cooperative, with an end result that would leave people wondering, “you did that over the weekend, really?” Sure, cosplayers usually don’t have a time limit, but things don’t get real until the last 48 hours. I also never entered cosplay competitions. The most I participated was helping with the energy drinks run. Oh, except for table flipping. Rumour has it that happened at GGJ in the past.
So believe me when I say I was nervous. Can’t code or program, I only managed to do one single 3D model (in Maya) in my entire life (and all I can remember from it was that “medioval”, which isn’t a word), and I may actually be amusical. I just had to turn up with a massive chest of art supplies, enough dry shampoo to make a small camel sparkle, and a tent. Worst case scenario I could hide in the tent and pretend the shampoo powder was “high art”, right?
There was an orientation lecture, and Will Wright was a speaker. I was locked out of it along with Kotaku’s Mark (a joy to talk to). I don’t know if I will ever have this monologue running through my mind ever again, “OH MY GOSH THOSE PEOPLE WRITING AWESOME ARTICLES I LOVE ARE ACTUALLY REAL I WONDER IF THERE’S A SECRET HANDSHAKE BEING TAUGHT IN THE LECTURE OH MY GOSH HOW AM I GOING TO FORM A TEAM NOW CAN I GOOGLE THE SECRET HANDSHAKE OMG THAT IS SERRELS.” The mental coherence didn’t start with a personal highlight. I felt like Father Dougal.
When I could finally get into the building, most people already seemed to have teams already. I approached a smallish three-member team: Alex, Bianca and Campbell; they were incredibly welcoming and lovely. I joined as artist, combo-breaking the alphabetically neat name list.
The 2012 global theme was Ouroboros, the mythology serpent that dies and is reborn by eating its own tail. The team already had some ideas on concept, all of which was brilliant. At this stage I have noticed how game designers really do think differently from people like myself –whereas I am more aware of the peripheral flavours of a creation, they were all about working out the skeletal, the core mechanisms of the game. I decided to keep quiet about my “you play as an angry snake that slings yourself towards the ladders of fortress who stole your eggs.”
We explored a circular motioned game that’s self-replicating with each mirror image, a slowly expanding branching explorative game, a platformer that takes place inside a snake’s body, a game with the goal of being a creature wanting to be eaten to survive to the next generation while picking up new abilities along the way, one that involved lots of circles that I didn’t entirely comprehend, and a platform puzzle in which a shadow replicates the player’s movement in every new round where you have to proceed without crashing into the shadow. Many of the ideas required a notebook to comprehend, a dangerous notebook that made an attempt on Bianca’s eye.
Some other groups were more physical in terms of brain storming. Harry’s massive team of 15 bounced an Idea Ball around on the grass – hats off to those folks, considering it’s summer time in Australia.
Pizza happened, and I finally got to meet Katie Williams who is as incredible in real life as I’ve always known her, and half of the GameTaco team who didn’t quite look like their twitter avatars. I tried to explain our platform shadow game concept to the group without pen and paper, and it was rather confusing. When I thought I was finally about to make sense of it, I found out the concept was changing again.
“Oh,” I said.
The final idea was a merge of the circular motion and the shadow, in which the player controls a character that goes around in a circular motion until a single button is pressed, and the character would flip the mirror image at the point of press and take on a new route of circular motion mirroring the first. Within five seconds of starting, a shadow would appear and chase the character via the route already created, but going with the shortest distance toward the player rather than a complete replication. Upon clashing with the shadow, it would be game over. We decided that the flavour of this game would be a fish in pond.
My team wished to do the coding in Blender. I completely handed off that side of things, and took on the art. We decided on 2D hand drawn art scanned in quite early on, as I’ve never felt competent with digital art; most of my Photoshop experience was to over-saturate pictures solely to annoy photography purists. That and I’ve put my face accidentally through the screen too many times and there’re massive cracks on it.
So hilarious as it may be, the artists behind me were going hardcore drawing complicated looking machines on Photoshop. I was sprawling across the floor playing with crayons and felt tips. That guy was free-handing straight lines. Straight lines. With a tablet. Oh the envy, the envy!
I carried a spray bottle filled with methylates alcohol used as a solvent for the alcohol markers. Up until that night it worked perfectly – then on the dot it turned out that the paper of my choice was too expensive and too good for this. The pigments went colourfast and stuck.
I spent the next hour trying to gently talk, coerce, bribe, and threaten my picture to function with increasing applications of alcohol. During that time, I met two PhD students of La Trobe University’s computer science, both of whom came in with many bags of life bar replenishing nourishments and a flying remote controlled hovering thing. They were here to work on their project on a Friday night, and even they described the participants as “insanely dedicated”. I took that as compliment.
Some people would try to stay up and Falcon Charge through as much as they possibly could, while others would pace themselves. When I came back, Campbell was already in bed, finished his portion of the work. Alex soon retired too, while Bianca worked on whatever that needed tweaking as she was ahead of the schedule too. I know nothing about programming, but by this point I suspect that I was in a team of geniuses solely because I’ve never ever known of any situations where people were ahead of their plans, from floor hovering to particle colliding.
I was also getting increasingly manic, and the world became a far more hilarious place than it had rights to. There were suggestions that I may have inhaled a bit much spirit – turned out 350mL was already used. It was already tomorrow, and people still tapped on. That was a good time for me to catch some zeds too.
The tent could stay in the car, for now.
Six hours of sleep later, I was back. The entire work lab looked far more alert than they had the right to be, and the Melbourne IGDA organiser Giselle‘s two daughters freelanced on QA from room to room. My team already made a playable prototype.
I had finished the major background and moved onto individual overlaying pictures. The whirlpool I worked on started to look more and more like a blueberry doughnut. The six year old girl came to me and said, “Hey that is just like a whirlpool.” That compliment made me wanting weep the golden tears of relief.
“You know what would be cool? If it’s a two player game that you get to race down to the bottom of the whirlpool,” the girl said. “And you can win by going faster and faster with the right direction, but you can also slow down the other person by swimming the other way around them and pull them out.”
It would be cool. I can see that in the not-so-distant future these girls would participate in the jams and kick some major behind.
The art was blooming all around me. A series of art with drills was fascinating. One of the games had a spherical planet with multiple rings surrounding it, so pristinely beautiful it could’ve been from a polished game. Turned out the artist was an actual animator who worked on real animation projects. People like that actually exists.
Coffee was consumed, then fruits (except that melon that no one had any ideas on what to do with), then curry in buckets. The next thing I know, it was dark outside already.
The group nearest to me had the sound bite going. “Purgatory!”, it screamed. It was oddly comforting. A few computers away, another group had implemented a clip of an ear-piercing scream. It was less comforting and kept me awake.
I took a tour in the other rooms. Harry’s team, the Mouthbirthers, created a multilevel puzzle game that was no longer called Mouthbirth. After trying a few levels, I was even more convinced that everyone in the game jam must’ve got the brains made with rainbows and cupcakes. I simply could not comprehend how anyone would manage such a well thought out puzzle game in such a short period of time. Then the problem became figuring out how to uncrash someone’s prototype, and I decided to leave right then.
The room emptied out at a quicker rate than the day before. Then I had an unexpected visitor – Katie’s boyfriend. I was amazed by their dedication, consider as the media, they could well gone to the happy dreamland.
Turned out it wasn’t quite the case. Katie had already retired for her article. The companion however, was there to stay. He had been sucked into Global Game Jam like a hapless lollipop in the way of a Katamari.
Time flew by. A group went into a long and enlightened discussion about the Breath of Fire series, and I was just awake and sensible enough to not rip off all my clothes and jump in screaming “ONE OF US”.
My scanner gave way before I did, to pay me back for calling it various names over its tendency to spend ages calibrating. I took it as the cue to find a nice couch, settle down, and live happily ever after.
On my way to bed, a Mouthbirther was perkier than Pinky Pie on cocaine, doing an oddly sped up Numa dance that turned out was the Clap Game. They already finished their game. I made a mental note to look for their brains on EBay so I could upgrade mine with it.
(Next part, did anyone woke up and found pages of codes opening up a portal to another universe? More importantly, did I find out the name of our game? Part 2 tomorrow!)