gamesimade

Murmur - Global Game Jam 2013

-Download- (windows only)

The 48-hours-to-make-a-game challenge put on by the Global Game Jam just wrapped up here in Portland, and here’s what the team I was working with produced: Murmur, a “ 2D side-scrolling one-button rhythm-based survival-horror” game. You run away from this monster you’ve created (you are a BIOLOGIST who has a problem with compulsively creating flesh-eating beasts) by tapping the spacebar on the red beats as they pass under your feet. The prompt for the jam was a ~10-second audio recording of a heartbeat, and we tried to reflect that with a rhythm game that represented/induced the same sort of pumping heart of TERROR.

To get away from being, as a fellow Jammer put it, “a one-note guitar hero”, you can also hit optional nodes to direct yourself down alternate paths. The highlight of this is being able to lead the monster to fellow scientists in order to buy yourself time while it chews on their bones.

We designed this choice (among others) to just add some variety and interesting gameplay decisions to an otherwise simple mechanic. We didn’t intend for the fact that it was a “human” powerup to be particularly meaningful. It was really interesting, then, to see people playing Murmur learn that they could do so, initially avoid it, then as the game got harder begin to resort to the sacrifice. There’s some message in there somewhere about people being moral only until it’s inconvenient.

All in all: I’m very pleased with the the scale and focus of this project. There were only three of us (plus one physically absent audiowizard- Mike Skalandunas) and we were able to come up with a core mechanic, design enough variation to keep things interesting, and produce a polished product within 48 hours (a little bit less, even, since we started late).

There was a bit of talk among us to throw in a couple more I’m not a huge fan of the lingering-commitment variety of gamejam. I like my projects wrapped up neat and tidy, which doesn’t allow me to fall into the habit/excuse of “I’ll fix and work on this more this later”. Working within your constraints, setting realistic goals based on available resources, etc etc, I’ll get off the soapbox now. Long story short: I think it’s a polished little nugget and that feels great.

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TANKS FOR ALL THE FISH

My second game jam is over and done! I competed in the Indie Speed Run with Greg Krsak and Eric Goldman. Our theme/element was Agriculture/Aquarium.

As per usual, I tended to bite off more than we could really chew design-wise and we ended up with a top-down game where you command all these little invertebrates and plants (not fish. Fish are jerks.) to expand your aquarium and… well, get to the other ones? The idea was to have to collect the right seeds to grow a spaceship before an interstellar catastrophe befell the planet, but between AI and pathfinding and making it look pretty, the end product is more of a strategic aquarium simulator.

This was the first project I’ve worked with others in writing code! I was dragged kicking and screaming into object-definition madness instead of my usual monolithic huge single file approach. Of course, as soon as my co-coder Greg Krsak left for a wedding, I reverted to my old habits. But I think I learned some important things about how non-me people code (read: how to actually do stuff right instead of fast).

Aesthetically, I’m pleased. Eric Goldman put together some very atmospheric music and I had a lot of fun in drawing and animating the graphics. I haven’t worked in this quick-sketch-but-realistic style before, but it just sort of happened.

Of course, the power went out with an hour and a half left on the clock, right as people were starting to upload their games to the Indie Speed Run website. We got an extension on the honor principle to not work on it for any more time than we had left, so I threw in the music and a splash screen and called it done.

We did the whole thing in Python, which unfortunately means that I can’t really link to an easy thing for people to run and play it. There are tools that’ll spit out an exe but I’m not clear how to use them and I’m about to crash. God, I love game jams.

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I did a board game jam about a week ago and came up with this super-cool competitive collaboration geology god game where you gradually build up the topographical map of an island (on the back of a giant space turtle, of course).

I haven’t really done any board game design before but I’m finding it much more immediately fulfilling than video games: there’s a satisfying tactile sensation plus a nicer social experience.

I’m working on optional rules at the end so you can use the island that you build as the board for Settlers of Catan.

Pyxis -- Mayhem Jam 2014

Link : Pyxis (windows only)

Another weekend, another 48-hour game jam. Only with this one, we actually got it more or less working by the end of Saturday and then got to spend ALL of Sunday basically just working on polish. We got to dicker over the font of the title screen and how many pixels to move things to get them centered. I want to emphasize how usually the time constraint means that just doesn’t happen in jams.

Anyway, it’s not letting me take a screenshot, but it’s basically anti-breakout. You play as Pandora trying to keep the evil bubbles in her box and letting hope out. It’s solid and I’m proud of it.

What we did right :

  • We were a small team. It was originally just me plus Sam Arei on sound/music, but we were fortunate to also pick up Elijah Blackwell who managed the production, aesthetics, and images.
  • After quick but intense deliberation, we decided on a very simple core mechanic: paddles bouncing balls around. I was able to throw together a tech demo within the first couple hours. We had no idea how or if it would be fun, but ran with it anyway.
  • Spending time developing what we had. It started out as only a sorta-interesting graphical toy so I focused on ways to give it a challenging objective. Since we didn’t have a strict idea of what the final form should look like, we had a lot of space to play with different mechanics. Multiple or single blue bubbles, different types of evil bubbles, the best paddle configuration, bounce powerup effects… they were all “hey, let’s try this” and keeping the things that worked.
  • Playtesting. Just a few people who hadn’t seen it before in the last couple hours showed us that we needed to revamp the instruction screen font. Getting people to understand depends on lots of tiny stupid things being just right but are invisible to you since you already know.