Sweet Delicious Jam

There is this good old saying that states that “time flies when you are having fun”. It is indeed true, no questions there – except that much of the explanation is probably also my current work with my Master Thesis. Either way, time has flown by so incredibly fast that it has been around 4 full months since my last post (which I think is a new record), and – on top of that – around 3 months since the event I am going to describe: My trip to the Nordic Game Jam 2013, and the thoughts, experiences and results I brought back with me.

As you might remember, I touched upon the subject of game jams back in September last year, but it turned out to be quite a different experience than what I had anticipated back then. First and foremost because I chose the actual biggest Game Jam there is as my first round, as well as going with a group in which I had not really known any of the members for more than a day in advance. Both of those subjects is something I will get back to later, as the most important thing about any game jam is the actual game made there.

Dinner for Two – The Project Itself
As with all things game jam, there is normally given a kind of restriction or guideline that “should” be followed – not that everyone did it. This round brought in the rather odd one called “Grotesque”. No further details were given. As such, the game my group and I ended up making was called “Dinner For Two” – a far from innocent story of an elderly couple having dinner, and things escalating quite quickly for reasons that would be slightly spoiling to state here.

The game turned out to be something that closely resembles a sort of “tank wars”-type of game, with the two players throwing objects at each other. These objects can be thrown in 3 different upwards directions (left, center and right). Each of the players has a “power bar” that rises towards the max, and is reset after each throw, thus defining the power of the given throw. The objects will, furthermore, bounce off walls, and get – temporarily – stuck in the ceiling, opening up for the risk of hitting yourself, or simply allowing for some rather cool throws.

Since the actual hand-in at the jam, I took a renewed look at the game, fixed up some minor errors, optimized a few things, and cleaned up here and there, with the goal of making it as good as possible – and yet resembling the state it was in within the time-frame of the jam as well. The plan was, originally, to have an additional feature – which was, sadly, also one of the things that made the gameplay stand out – that involved dead babies (yes, you read it right – remember the “grotesque”-theme), coming from the center of the ceiling and dropping down when a player was below.

Seeing as we were “slightly” sleep-deprived and shared an extensive love for memes and internal references, the game background got a bit out of control – to say the least. In all fairness, it only gave it more flavour and joy, when it was being played after being awake for 35+ hours.

It is only fitting to provide a link to the game now, so here you have it: Dinner for Two. Bring a friend, and enjoy!

The Risks and Pitfalls:
To get back to the actual experience of the jam, I did experience a good deal – and got to see the classic pitfalls, which is likely to happen for most people. They are all fairly simple, but I find it necessary to toss a few words at them. I am fairly certain they can be useful, if you do not know what to expect.

  • Optimism: Figuring out a concept of a game, fully design it, program it and everything in 48 hours total takes some planning, especially when there are tons of great ideas. Darlings will have to be killed, things will have to be left out, and compromises will be made. Our original idea was nowhere near the final product.
  • Unknown Group: Working with people you have never worked with before can be tricky, difficult and rough, as you do not know the strengths and weaknesses, and how they generally work. It is a huge risk, but the social aspect makes up for a ton of it. On the other hand, trying to work with people you already know, but never tried to work with, could also be a fun and interesting way to go about it. It did not really turn out to be problem for us, but it does have a connection to the next point…
  • Roles and Skills: Seeing as groups are usually made up of around 4 people, the various skills needed to make a game should be covered. On top of that, that you can do a certain role, does not necessarily mean that you want to do it. It might be a luxury-problem, but it can be a bit disheartening to be shoehorned into a specific role because you are the only one with the given skills. This is, however, something that can be solved at the group creation, but to tie this point back with the previous one, most people most likely prefer to work with people who share their passions and they can relate and communicate with.
  • Sleep: Not much needs to be said here, really. Being really tired changes people – yourself included. It is important not to lose your cool, give up or otherwise, and extra attention has to be given, for the good of the teamwork. In might potentially also be a good idea to plan out when to end the day and meet up again from the start, if you do plan to get proper sleep underway. On a personal note, I managed to get a horrible eye infection because of rubbing my eyes way too much out of sleep deprivation, which just kept getting worse.

Last Words, and Future Game Jams:
As a first experience for a game jam, I figured that there was two major things I want to do differently for the next time I am going to properly participate in a game jam. First of all, have a group sorted right away, with people I already know, where people know their roles and will be doing exactly what they want to do. This is not meant to be something against what I experienced, but simply because it is something I really want to try out, to see how it goes.

As the second thing, I found NGJ to be … too big, at least for a first-timer. It would certainly be fun to try again, but I would certainly love to try a jam of a much smaller scope and size, just to see how that changes things. In relation to the arranged group, I am fairly sure that I would find it more comfortable to be prepared group-wise in a larger jam, rather than a smaller one.

As a final note – besides the above pretty picture of me actually being focused – the most important thing of it all has to be: MY GOODNESS, IT WAS SO FUN AND AWESOME! I am very glad I attended, and will certainly be taking part in more jamming in the future – the exact details will be figured out eventually.

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