Sunday, February 3, 2013

Global Game Jam 5 (2013)

This is Ben Heard, I’m joining the Dirigiballers to help with programming on Tumbleweed Express. You can learn more about me at I wanted jump in and write a blog entry to introduce myself, and also to write about Global Game Jam 2013. This event was both my first chance to work with some of the Dirigiballers as well as my first game jam experience.

Global Game Jam

If you’re on the fence about going to a game jam, I definitely recommend trying it out because It is both fun and free! I’m not sure if I’ve ever had as much fun at a free event that lasted all weekend as I did attending the Global Game Jam. Everyone at the event was really friendly, which included a solid turnout of members from IGDA DC.

The weekend was not only really fun, but also an intensive learning experience. I went in with a limited knowledge of Unity, and came out feeling like I could make anything. I was surprised at just how easy it is to rapidly develop using Unity and how effectively my knowledge of C# plugged right in. The software is fast, powerful, but also seems deep and extensible.

Day 1

After an initial design brainstorm, we locked in on an idea that would become “Roboheart”, based on the 'heartbeat' theme for the weekend. The game is puzzle based, and the basic idea consists of one robot trying to throw his robot heart to another in a space station. While in the air, the player can activate the heart by clicking the mouse. Activating the heart emits a ‘pulse’, which is an expanding circle like a radar pulse. If the player clicks again while the pulse is over a powerup (or multiple powerups), the powerup is consumed and its effects immediately applied. For example, the main powerups are force vectors, which, when activated, move the heart in the direction the vector is pointing. We had a lot of ideas for powerups, but it turned out the force vectors create a wide variety of potential challenges, so we focused on puzzles with these, as well as an one that reverses the gravity for the heart. After deciding on the basic idea, we broke out to work on our parts.

RoboHeart Pulse!

It was pretty surreal the first night to go to bed at 4am after crunching out the initial mechanics. I layed out my sleeping pad and bag under the flourescent lights of the computer lab, hiding my head under an unused table to help block the light, put in my earplugs, and grabbed some sleep while a few others continued to clack away on keyboards.

Day 2

GGJ 2013 Dirigiballers
Waking up a few hours later, it was straight back to coding, which was like a dream. Matt was up when I went to sleep, and he was up when I got up, except now he was wrapped in a blanket. Getting the latest build from our SVN server,  I started to see the art assets that Jake and Andy had been working on integrating into the game, and what a difference it made! All of a sudden the game, which so far was just numbers and events, starts to have colors and art out of the blue! How cool is that. I think that was the coolest part of the game jam - everyone working at their parts, and the whole game coming together, feeling some ownership of something you could never have done alone.

Day 3

We had scoped our project well, and were ahead of schedule, so we were able to dedicate most of our third day to testing and polish (menus, sound, etc). The presentations on Sunday were really fun, it was great to see what everyone else had been working on alongside us.

The most popular game of the weekend was called Heartline. It is a two player co-op local multiplayer sidescroller puzzle game. The player holding the heart has special abilities, but can pass it to the other to help get both players through obstacles. The nature of the puzzles reminded me of Portal 2 co-op. The game featured simple, but effective, 2d art.

The game that really stood out to me, though, was called Heartdropper. The main mechanic was that tweets to @heartdropper made powerups drop in-game. The main programmer on this project said he used the Twitter API to read tweets and store them in a MySql database using PHP. The game the then read the tweets from the database to create the powerups in the game. I'm definitely interested in seeing where they take this.

The weekend was a blast and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in making games - this is definitely a great place to start. The main point of the even is to set aside a weekend to collaborate, learn, manage, structure time, and produce something as well generally promoting the craft. I’ll definitely be attending the Global Game Jam next year and I’m already wondering: what game will come out of it next?

Roboheart will be available on the app store in the next couple of weeks if you have an iPad, or you can play the game online with the Unity player at:
Unity Player Version

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