My Global Game Jam 2018 Post-Mortem

"Rob" a character from a prototype interactive story made during Global Game Jam 2018. Illustration by Cathal Duane.

In my previous post, written before the 10th annual Global Game Jam, I mentioned my aims, expectations and excitement about the jam. In this post, I’ve written about the game I worked on at the jam as well as the main struggles faced by the team. More great lessons from just one single weekend!

Assembling a team

I aimed to make something very small in scope and simple to make. Making things with friends is more fun so I wanted to get a team together. James Ward, a friend with the twinned brain powers of wildly creative imagination and laser beam focus, was on board for the jam. We got in touch with Cathal Duane, another friend who was also up for jamming. Cathal has honed his illustration skills so sharply that he can distil a complexity of concepts, emotions, narrative and humour into a single image. Neither James or Cathal had ever participated in a game jam before, and unfortunately, both of them would have limited time over the weekend to actually work on it. As it’s just a bit of fun I was happy with that. Our first struggles – limited time for jamming and our game artist would be working remotely. We needed a clear and solid plan.

Friday evening – Day 1

On Friday, James and I went to the jam site. We had to figure out exactly what we wanted to make by chatting, thinking, walking and talking, writing down our ideas into a single document and refining that document into something that made sense. Neither of us paid any attention to the theme. We have been chatting during the week and notions about what we would like to attempt. Definitely something small and simple. Preferably something that has a bit of weight to it. We figured out that we wanted an interactive story. The main concept was that the player is confronted by characters and unfolds a story through those interactions. Enter our second struggle – we did not have a Writer on the team!

James would be too busy with his current project over the global game jam weekend to be able to contribute anything else, and we needed Cathal to focus on art while I focus on code. So we set about working on the design document for some hours. It needed to be clear and concise. It was used to both to explain the concept to Cathal and to recruit Ciara O’Brien, a friend whose opinion we trust and respect who is also working on her writing skills. It was a big ask though – pitching the notion of volunteering a whole weekend of work on no-notice. Understandably, Ciara was already busy with life things and away for the weekend and couldn’t commit, though chatting with her about the game was fun in and of itself.

So, potentially without a writer for our writing-heavy game idea, we continued working under the premise that sometime in the future we may be able to make this prototype work. Having figured out exactly what we wanted the game to be; the feelings in the game and the practical steps towards making it, we ended our first day of the global game jam. We had a document that explained the concept clearly enough that someone else, somewhere else would be able to read the document and understand what we were after. While being a nice reference point, the process of making that document had solidified the game concept in my mind at least, along with the tasks that I needed to perform to make it real. The new aim of the game jam was to make a super short version of the game with single character interaction that has all the elements we want in it. Some setup code in place and I was off home to sleep.

Saturday – Day 2

I got up, showered, ate a decent breakfast and went to the jam site to work. I set up in a different room than the previous night as some folks were still asleep in the back. Headphones on, I got to coding in Godot Engine listening to a podcast, music, or star trek engine room noise. If you’ve not tried that yet give it a go! There’s this whole genre of atmospheric tracks on YouTube that listeners use to help with going to sleep or studying that centre around fictional settings. I sometimes go to Quarks, but I concentrate best in engine rooms, apparently. Anyway, I worked quite late and benefited from the generosity of another jammer who had purchased pizza for everyone on-site.

Sunday – Day 3

Having returned home in the wee hours of the morning and got in some more sleep. Prepared for the last day I made a mental note of the things I needed to complete. Having spent most of the time familiarizing myself with Godot in the previous days I realized a bit too late that I had done some fundamental things that inhibited progression. So on the last day, I rewrote the way I structured the game to be able to benefit better form transition animations and adding extra scenes. This prototype is severely impaired by a lack of writing or interaction but will serve me and the team as a basis for the project in the future. Our game design document has a solid experience planned out, which will require some careful treatment in order to deliver a game we think would be worth playing. For now, it will live on the idea shelf.

In Conclusion

I had fun! Having worked out a game concept on game design document that we were happy with as well as clearly defining the roles of everyone on the first day I was able to focus on action for the rest of the jam. That meant coding whatever needed coding and learning Godot as I went. Comparing the results of the jam – the prototype – with the plan I am very underwhelmed. The resulting prototype is missing the core of the game – writing. Had we been able to get a writer and had the other team members been able to spend more time available to jam the outcome would be a lot more refined. But, now that we have our game design document as well as something to riff on we have the seed of potential for a tidy, short interactive story to grow from. Comparing my expectations listed from the last post to the actual experience of the jam I am delighted to have participated. It’s fun to work with other people, and I enjoyed checking in the #ggj18 hashtag on twitter and official discord channel while I jammed to share in the experience.

Useful links

Global game jam
Reflections prototype (global game jam hosted version)
darrenkearney on Github
Godot Engine
Godot Docs
Magictools – a curated list of game development resources

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