Game Jam

You have a handful of people, few resources and 48 hours, and you’re about to develop a game. What do you do? Game Jams have existed for almost as long as home computers — take a bunch of enthusiasts, put them together and let the creative and technical juices flow. Recently, the Global Game Jam held three meetings in Scotland, in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Linlithgow, with the results shown at events in the three cities in the past two weeks. With these conditions, what can people do, what kind of approach do you take, and is there potentially another Surgeon Simulator in there (first prototyped at the Global Game Jam in 2013)?

Curvish: The Polished Skeleton
Calum Sinclair/Alexander Horowitz/Ahmad Nursalim

A community choice winner at both the Glasgow and Edinburgh showings, Curvish was one of the few games that looked like something you might see on Steam or Xbox Live today. The key was small scope — Curvish is a puzzle-platformer where you move around and rotate a circular world in order to collect coloured trinkets in a specific order; one mistake is too many. A puzzle game the easy option for a simple game, but the key to Curvish’s success was that it set about implementing one achievable goal and polishing it, a stark contrast to some of the others with their frequent crashes and strange glitches.

After initially grappling with the controls (being played on keyboard does few favours to precise platforming), the careful thought that’s gone into the level design is quickly apparent. There are some devious challenges here, with multiple possible ways to reach the goal, and once the seven levels are exhausted you want more. Puzzle games may be the simplest and most obvious type of game to develop on limited resources, but it still needs to be developed well. It is.

Dance Dance Ritual: The Developing Idea
Stefan-Iulian Robea/Michael Man et al

Think of game jams and you think of simple games centred around one idea that needs some work in order to come together. Games like Dance Dance Ritual, in other words. What sets it apart from most of the others, however, is that the team are looking to take the game forwards. With one eye on their next showing, at Dare to be Digital in June, they canvassed opinions from almost everyone who played their game, jotted down in an ominously large note book. Even an eventual commercial release wasn’t ruled out entirely, though admittedly it’s not really in the plans.

Part Just Dance and part bizarre simplistic fighting game, the first part of the game consists of basic pattern matching using the analogue stick and triggers, before all hell breaks loose and players have to swat each other to death with items from the ritual bonfire. Quite where the connection lies isn’t clear, and the second part was usually abandoned as the crowd got bored, but there’s the basics of a good game in there, impressive considering the limited time, and even some basic customisation options. With further development on the cards, it will be interesting to see how Dance Dance Ritual evolves.

Bloody Toys: A Game for its Own Sake
Phil Harris et al

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For some, game jams exist purely for the joy and sport of the thing. Such is the case for the developers of Bloody Toys, a basic top-down arena fighter developed in a BASIC derivative. In essence, a descendant of the the simple-but-limited programming language taught to school children and used on ’80s stalwarts such as the BBC Micro and Commodore 64. Of course, in 2016, there are much easier ways of making a game than in a 50-year-old language with only rudimentary graphics and sound, but where’s the fun in that? But don’t go thinking it’s all old-school. Twitch integration allows the online audience to eliminate a player of their choice to add to the chaos.

Once you sit down, the technology is forgotten. The developers, game jam veterans, know what can be done and what shows well, and Bloody Toys tended to have a big crowd of players and observers around. Make patters on the floor and push your opponents into them to collect points — it sounds like something out of Mario Party, plays like it too, and that’s no mean feat. Doubly so when you consider what’s underneath.

Thanks to IGDA Scotland and Global Game Jam, as well as to the developers for taking the time to talk about their games.