This year we attended the Global Game Jam with the Albuquerque chapter of the IGDA. It was the second game jam we’ve attended but the first global one. Last summer our local IGDA held a game jam in the same format as the global one, but just locals. I’ll talk a little bit about the differences I felt between the smaller venue and the larger one. But I want to spend more time talking about some of the lessons we learned about the process of building a game in 48 hours between the two sessions, and what we learned about this particular game as we were developing it.
One of the things that stuck out to me doing the global version was that it doesn’t feel all that much different than the local version. We really only interact with the people at our location. It’s too bad because there were ustreams set up, apparently, but people only really watched some streaming dogs (from what I knew). I’m not sure how to achieve a more global feel. There was one point where we heard a weird horn coming in through the speakers and went to investigate and discovered that we were watching Iceland. More of that would have been pretty entertaining, but also distracting from the task at hand, no doubt! I wonder if it would make any sense to allow people to work across country borders? The time limits would be strange, but the open source community does it often enough it might not be impossible to consider.
Despite all the differences I didn’t notice there was one I did notice a great deal. That is that in both cases the global and local version, our ideas (from each group) were well contained, and by the end familiar. This is great because even though people are working on different projects, we can feed off each other for ideas and there’s a lot of similarity that comes out in the various projects (but also different perspectives on the concept).
When there’s a global group to look at you suddenly discover other cells which have come up with a completely different sort of convergence. It’s a bit of the best of both worlds, you get used to seeing and thinking about what the people around you are working on, but when you go look at the global submissions it’s more than a little surprising what other directions are discovered. I imagine for the organizers looking for great ideas coming out (and I’d love to see a summarization of some of the best, most original) it is a well-spring of thought.
The more interesting differences between the two sessions for us were in the game itself. For the two of us, there was no difference in how the 48 hours played out: Friday mostly planning, Saturday work to death, Sunday cleanup race to the finish. Except this time we had the experience of hind sight. We came in with two very important personal constraints. The first was that we were going to use Unity instead of Pygame which we did last time. We both know XNA and other systems (like Ogre and Crystalspace) but Unity’s editor is simply one of the best. It makes things very simple to get working quickly, and we wanted to spend time thinking about the game and not how to make some code work (I’ve got a day job for that :).
When we were doing pygame, we spent most of Saturday building an engine. The 3-layer parallax motion system I was trying to develop did not work out (and probably wouldn’t have the way I was thinking of it) and we ended up going with a more “Double Dragon” style system on Sunday. Compared with Unity, we had the basic game working on Saturday morning. In fact, we had the basic game, walking around the room, working on Friday night after we spent a few hours throwing the models together. We finished up the Eye, the first camera (in the lamp) and the mechanism for clicking on the lamp and the picture to determine whether you’d win or not, but more on the design (and subsequent evolution) later.
The other constraint that we went in with was to not do physics. Despite that Unity makes it fairly easy to get physics working, there is still so much tweaking that’s involved in getting the numbers to work out, especially in terms of friction and collision response that it either requires being too careful with measuring to “act right” or spending too much time twiddling numbers until it “looks to act right”. Although I was personally tempted several times to just turn on physics (let you move the furniture around, bump into the desk, etc) it made proving out the mechanism much easier. Instead of having to detect some complicated motion which is “bad” we simply defined moving using the right mouse button as “bad” and there was no question.
But for a more advanced design, perhaps having such subtle movement in the presence of the Eye would be an interesting twist. What if instead of having to explicitly turn the lamp away from the portrait, a player could instead vacuum up against the desk and bump it cause the lamp to fall. This sort of complexity may be an interesting take in the future, but first to discuss the evolution from the start. The game we finished on Saturday morning (and uploaded to the site) was the simplest possible concept: Either turn the lamp before moving the portrait and win, or turn the portrait without first turning the lamp and lose. The point of the game was to use the eye to learn that the camera was in the lamp and thus realize that you must turn the lamp first to clear the portait.
While this was useful, it’s really not an interesting game. So we went to lunch to discuss what it would take to make it better. We had a few thoughts. One was to install multiple cameras, so that we would have cameras watching cameras and more of a puzzle to determine how to move objects while off camera so as to clear the space. To make it interesting (and because we skipped physics) we made it so that when you moved one object with a camera in it, it might point at another object with a camera, thus increasing the challenge. You’d have to move object A (which is pointing at B), move object B (which is pointing at C), move object A back (since it is currently also pointing at C), and finally move object C to clear the goal. This is what we ended up with (although there’s a D).
One of the other thoughts we decided to discard was requiring that you close the door. We thought perhaps that while the door was open the eye should be fully on. You’d have to first close the door before you could start moving stuff. However, once you closed the door you had 5 minutes (chosen based on one of the achievements) to solve the puzzle. In the end we decided the puzzle was hard enough as is.
There was one other decision which seemed somewhat minor, but ended up, I think, becoming fundamental to the possible future of this game. That is that originally before you could win the game by finding the safe behind the picture you had to clean the room of every stain. However, due to the mechanism for moving some stains couldn’t be reached until you solved the puzzle with the Eye. It doesn’t really line up with the motif, but it makes the business of finding the stains much more interesting. It’s safe to clean them (after all that is your cover story) but to get to some stains you have to move furniture which sets off the alarm. Silly, but effective.
Well at some point, I thought that it didn’t make sense to have to find every stain because the main point was to get the treasure from the safe (also I couldn’t find some of the spots that John put in and got annoyed and disabled the condition check so that I could test the win condition :). We thought it would be a nice bonus to see who while finding the treasure could also clean the most spots. However, after seeing the way people played, nobody really cared much about the treasure, they only cared about finding all the spots to clean and cleaning the room. Our organizer said it was like “OCD”, he *had* to find all the spots.
After talking some, we thought really the whole concept of Extreme Maid Cleaning service was much more entertaining than just stealing while cleaning. Forget the treasure altogether. Instead you’re supposed to clean the place without setting off alarms or traps (we’d always pictured having traps at some point.. .like trying to break into the Pentagon, Mission Impossible style). But what kind of insane place would require the maid service to work around traps? Well a super villain hideout of course! They need janitorial staff too don’t they? They can’t really risk turning off all the alarms and traps just to clean things. That’s exactly when that jerk James Bond would come in dressed like a maid and pretend to clean everything with all the traps disabled (perish the thought… someone pretending to be a maid). So better for the super villain to be safe and leave the traps and alarms on, requiring the maid to have to work her way around them.
Who do you call when your average maid service just doesn’t cut it (and keeps getting killed by your Robot Sentry’s)? You call Extreme Maid Services (or Ninja Maids… or … something)!