Do you want to try it now? – The Scottish Game Jam 2012
“Yeah I want to try it! What are the controls? So I press A to jump? Alright. What happens when I kill all of these guys in black suits that look like bankers? I turn into what? A phoenix?!? Sweet. Why do I shoot syringes? Of course, because I’m a scientist! So now I turn into a….. WOW! That is cool. EAT FIREBALLS BANKERS! What was that, handsome-but-tired programmer? They’re not bankers? They are to me!”
And that just about sums up the childish enthusiasm I felt when I attended the 2012 Scottish Game Jam. There are already a number of excellent pieces written about the Game Jam that showcase the atmosphere and excitement of the event and profile the big personalties and industry superstars that attended. They are written with more erudition than I can manage, so I will compensate with what I hope is infectious enthusiasm. To quote Shakespeare: I fucking loved the Scottish Game Jam!
Instead of retreading old ground, I’m going to take a different approach. One of the only drawbacks of competing at a Game Jam is you don’t have time to actually play the other Jammers games. As I judge, I was lucky enough to play almost everything. Now you can do the same. I will now take you through the good and the great of the Scottish Game Jam and I don’t need to TELL you that the Game Jam was amazing. I can SHOW you, because at the end of this article is a link to where you can go and actually PLAY all these games. How amazing is that?
Whether you attended the event or not, these are games you need to know about, because one day they will be the first entry on the CV of the next Molyneux, Miyamoto or Muzyka.
Before we start you may ask, “Why did they ask you Tom?”. Well, I was kindly invited by organiser Romana Khan to help judge the competition and CDT provided many of the prizes that were given away throughout the competition, often to weary programmers. Passed out by the sprightly Jon Sykes we saw some of our favourite games leave us, but they couldn’t have found more deserving homes. As well as judging and sponsoring, a huge number of the CalmDownTom team were competing (Gnarles, Pandash, Lapsed Gamer, Aeacus) and I had help with our coverage of the event from site regulars including Noodles and my ever reliable number 2 Eresin.
The theme of the Game Jam this year was Ouroboros, which some competitors even managed to say correctly. The snake-eating-its-own-tale proved to be a fantastic overall theme and was hugely inspirational to everyone in attendance. While many went for literal interpretations of the theme and had games that featured snakes, many others choose to interpret much more metaphorically and as a result a great deal of variety was on display.
Enough prevarication, lets get to the games!
The team with by far the best hats of the whole Game Jam created a sidescroller called A Serpents Tales. This bright side scroller had some lovely pastel visuals and nice animation and was crucially a lot of fun to play.
Atum’s Razor had one of the cleverest names in the competition, but was in essence an addictive little touch screen score-based game. Running on a tablet, the team behind this game made us compete with the other judges and as such we had great fun trying to beat each other – a nice little way of getting the judges on your side! Well done Pandash and Aeacus.
Divine Moments of Truth was an absolutely gorgeous game, heavily influenced by excessive drug use. Ostensibly some kind of morality tale about drug addiction, I think it was just an excuse to make some amazing, trippy visuals… which is fine by me! Depicting the game world as a disk that the player runs around was a stroke of genius.
Game Over – weP-weP was a startlingly original game where you played out a typical side scrolling shooter game, but in reverse. Programatically as well as logically challenging to create, this game had a built method of measuring its own success – play back a gameplay video in reverse and see if it looks like a regular side scrolling shooter. It does! This is the one game you NEED to try to fully appreciate.
If difficult and frustrating, but ultimately rewarding games are your thing, check out Graveyard Baby Hospital. Using both sticks on the controller to move separate avatars, it was a tense, stressful game – and that was the point. A grim but affecting premise helped make this game one of the judges favourites and saw it short-listed as a potential prize winner.
I was very sad that I didn’t get a chance to play Multi-User Deathtrap at the judging stage. I played earlier and saw a bunch of designers who wanted to make the player suffer as much as possible. This game is brutally but intentionally horrible. See how long you last!
Many of the teams at the Game Jam contain veterans of previous competitions or industry professionals, but the team that made Eternal Elements had little previous experience. Despite this, I loved their positive attitudes and the team was buoyant throughout, helping each other and working hard together. I also loved their elements-themed musical soundtrack, with a different track for fire, water, earth and air.
With CDT site members Lapsed Gamer and Gnarles, this team had to work hard to make sure they didn’t disappoint! With a brilliant, bleak atmosphere generated by the eerie music and gorgeously hand-animated visuals, Past Life tread the fine line between reflective art and solid gameplay. The highly repected judge Colin McDonald told one of the team members, “Seeing your work on this game reminded me of what it felt like when I was working on Lemmings”. Mind = blown!
Project Strawberry Tart had some lovely 2.5D gameplay. I tried to play this but it quickly became obvious that this teams playtester made it look easy! This was one tricky game (and yet another in a series of games that seemed to hate the player), but I think if I had kept playing I would have improved. Would it be a happy ending though?
The crafty team behind Recurrence tried to sway me by naming the central character after me. Did it win them extra favour? Probably! It didn’t need to though, this was another 2.5D game with some really polished visuals and really cute 3D characters. The cars that race into the foreground are a nice effect too.
Bonus points for positive thinking go to the team that made Ring of Fire – Chapter One: Beginning of the End for creating not just a new game but the first part in a SERIES of games. Travelling through time to fight progressively more developed civilisations is such a great idea.
I could probably write an awful lot about Shplem, and that’s because it feels like a commercial game. A good one. In other words, it was so well made and polished that it felt like it was ready for review. Astounding. A worthy winner of the best art prize (and a contender in all other categories), this is one game that I won’t describe, because it would be wasting time that would be better spent playing the game!
As I judged the Scottish Game Jam I was lucky enough to have help from the senior multiplayer designer of the Killzone series (Ally Hebson of Guerilla Games) and Scottish Games programming legend Dave Thomson (of Ludometrics) to help me judge the technical aspects of what we saw. When I turned to them and asked, “Does Space Scape seem as technically impressive to you as it does to me?”, The answer was a resounding YES. To impress these guys you have to do something special, and Facebook integration, online score boards and a game created (almost) from scratch did the trick. A worthy winner of the “Best Tech” award. Truly impressive.
As an example of how a minimalistic art style can still look great, just check out Struct. With simple, clear visuals and a gameplay mechanic based on colour mixing and matching, it was simple to learn but fun from the start. The lovely, ambient audio was a high point and pulled the player into a hypnotic state that someone a bit wanky might call “flow”. In other words it was a big, sweet spoonful of fun.
A friend of mine commented that no other judge was going to get a look in when it came to talking about Taffy’s Sweet Bunny Dreams. I am a bunny owner, and as such I was all over this. I am also a fan of bright colours and chocolate, and that’s just as well because this game is a colourful, saccharine-induced hallucination of a game. Nominated for “Best Art”, I loved how unreservedly this game assaulted your eyeballs. Not subtle, but very sweet.
The Game Jam is not about winning or prizes, but I was a little sad that The World Serpent didn’t get any nominations. I loved this effort from a tiny two man team. The central gameplay, that involved avoiding enemies and growing your space snake long enough to circle a planet, was probably the best gameplay mechanic I saw over the whole weekend. The delicate balance of risk and reward was great, and it was designed in such a way that the final moments of the game would be the most challenging as the player attempted to circle the deadly planet, just one touch away from instant death. The end of each play sessions has only a hairs width between complete success and utter failure. That’s great game design.
Two separate teams mentioned R-Type during the Game Jam, and I think each time someone did that I unconsciously added two points to their final scores. One of my favourite side scrollers was used as the inspiration for Your own worst enemy?. This game was both lots of fun and also had the best twist of any game I played at the Game Jam. No, wait….. The best twist of any game I have played this year. Look, you don’t want any spoilers so just go play it. Its great fun in its own right, and the ending is……
And after all those amazing videogames, what won the final prize: Best Game Design? A boardgame, that’s whats. Sadly enough, Outbreak is the only game you CAN’T play right now, and thats too bad. I said it at the award cermoney and I’ll say it again; its the best boardgame I have ever played. The only way I can show you what a good job Ross Mills did is to post the faces of the people that played it, and tell you this story. Some friends of mine played the game. They went home and talked about the game. They then got up early on a Sunday to play the game again. Then they asked to buy the game. I feel so lucky to be one of the first to play it. If Outbreak doesn’t sell a thousand copies, I’ll buy a thousand and give it to everyone I know.
And that was the Global Game Jam. I would list everyone that made it a success, but I am too frightened that I might forget someone. For those games I haven’t mentioned here I am so sorry… but its not the end! The Games Jam is only a beginning. Where these games go next we don’t know, but there’s a good chance they’ll be back. In the coming months and years we hope that CalmDownTom is reviewing them. Until then, go play them! This judge has been lucky enough to see some amazing people make some amazing games. Now you can experience them too! In other words, what I’m asking you is….. Do you want to try it now?
Play the games from The Scottish Game Jam here
You can listen to the CalmDownTom – We’ve Been Playin’ Game Jam Special podcast to hear how the Game Jam went. Sorry about the bad audio at the start, but it gets better about 20 mins in when the excellent Brian Baglow pops up.