CalmDownTom at The Scottish Game Jam 2014
Every year I try to find a different way to write about the Game Jam. One year I tried to review every game that was there. Before that, I tried to write a diary that chronicled the dramas, emotions, tragedy and triumph of the jam. This year, I didn’t know where to start. There’s already a great piece here by Martyn McLaughlin, so I suggest you all start there. Oh, and make sure to read this too by jamming vet Dave Sharp.
You’re back? Ok, so I thought I would try to give you a flavour of the Game Jam. The tasty bites. I know I will miss some people out, and I won’t mention an amazing game then regret it later, but if you’ll forgive me for all the omissions, let me show you just a few reasons why the Glasgow Game Jam (and the Global Game Jam) was a truly wondrous thing.
First of all, here’s a great time lapse video by Daniel Livingstone that illustrates the sheer frenetic energy of the jam.
This is how it all started. The calm before the noms (cake noms).
This year we had support from a huge number of developers, press outlets and publishers, and one of them was Messhoff who supported our Nidhogg tournament. Indeed there was a whole arcade this year full of unique indie titles, giving the hard working developers something to play on their down time. Nidhogg was a particular highlight though, with the 2D fighter drawing big crowds as CalmDownTom ran a 64 player elimination tournament. Highlights included a tense seven minute match with organiser Romana Khan seeing off a plucky young challenger, and a big helping of sibling rivalry as organizer David Farrell defeated HIS OWN BROTHER to qualify for the semi final. Here’s some raw footage of the final match. What you don’t see here is the huge crowd which gathered behind the two finalists.
As is fitting for the gentlemanly fencing game, chivalry and sportsmanship were in abundance as both finalists offered the choice of prize to their rival. In the end the winner Zeeshan took away the Rome Total War 2 collectors edition from Creative Assembly, while the runner up Daniel took the Helghast bust from Guerilla Games.
With the insanity of the tournament over, the serious job of making games could continue.
The theme for this year was suitable wanky, and in truth it probably inhibited rather than inspired the creativity of the jammers. In previous years, a relatively open-ended theme has allowed the teams to interpret a simple image, word or sound in their own way. This year, the somewhat pretentious choice of quote left most jammers with a perplexed look on their faces. Still, within a few hours the debates amongst teams started to crystallize into solid game concepts, and walking through the hall was like swimming through a sea of ideas.
One of the great things about spending time at a Game Jam is that you see every part of the game design process in concatenated form. Design of the player avatar. Prototyping the first build. Play testing to adjust the difficulty level. Crying when you realise your Mac Book has died and you have no back up build of your game (this happened).
And every part is fascinating. For me, the music and art is particularly magical. I understand the difficulty and complexity of programming; I tried to code games myself and was terrible, so I realize what a momentous task programmers have to create a working game engine in 48 hours. I understand the process though; I could do it myself if I had a lot of time and patience, I just wouldn’t do it very well. The artists and musicians though operate in a space I can’t even conceptualize; art and music just seems to come from the air like magic. I know they spent years perfecting their skills, but with no real understanding of the process, I am in a perpetual state of wonderment. At every Game Jam I attend, I love to sneak a peak at the sketches, glance over the shoulder of the musician slouched over her keyboard, or skulk around while an animator is making an unbearably cute 2D lion claw the air.
Meeting the judges was great, and this year there were a lot of them, but they were probably needed as this was the biggest Jam to date. Getting round all the games was still a rush, but the games I got to play were all very impressive. Even those which weren’t finished showed promise and had some great ideas. I hope all the teams that started a game will finish it in the coming weeks, or at least use what they produced and learned in a future project.
I did feel bad for some of the teams. In particular, this lovely looking project on Vita needed a couple more hours to be finished and polished, but confusion with the judging times meant they had to show their game prematurely.
Now I’ll tell you a bit about the games that stood out the most for me. I apologise for all the ones I miss here!
One of the most popular games overall, and one of the winning games, Prism Saga was impressive because it felt like the basics of a good game were already in place. It was well designed and hard to put down. A worthy winner. Play here
This curiously titled bacteria simulator had a nice twist ending, solid art design and some lovely sound effects. It was strong enough to qualify for the final round of judging. Play here
Seek and Destroy
A clever idea with some inspiration from Worms and enjoyable world deformation. This just missed out from going through to the second round of judging. Play here
A worthy overall winner, this card game was clever and compelling. With a strong link to the theme of the Jam and a great sense of humour, we’re hoping we’ll be able to pay money for it soon! See more here.
The Candy Cat Saga (Oculus Rift)
Not the only Oculus game, and not the only game with “Candy” in the title! Although we didn’t get to try the asynchronous multiplayer (where one person shines a laser pointer and the other plays as a cat chasing it), this was nonetheless a technically impressive effort. The art assets looked better than most Oculus games I’ve played and the concept was clever. Play here.
Selfie : The Video Game
This was my favourite game. I enjoyed the irreverent humour, it played well and looked gorgeous, and how can you not love that face? Play here.
This was probably the best realisation of the theme of the Jam this year. It also made you wear a funny hat. Play here.
Candy Brimstone Saga
Another clever Oculus title, with one player serving as a guardian angel for the other. Oh, and the winner of the “most terrifying unicorns” award too! See more here.
While the judges got the name of this award winning game wrong, it was easy enough to describe. “The awesome multiplayer one where you go round and round”. This game had real depth and even during the short time we played we got better at it. Well, Ben got better at killing me. I loved this. Play here.
I confess I didn’t fully understand the rules of this game till the designer explained them to me, but this was a really original game idea that used the theme as inspiration to do something new. Play here.
Probably the most fun I had with any game, I loved how this team kept their game simple, balanced the difficulty well and demoed it on four different devices! A basic but brilliant game that I would buy right now if I could!
A deceptively simple game with lots of potential for mastery (which none of the judges achieved), Ross Mills once again crafted a brilliant board game we all would have played for far longer if we could. See more here.
One of the prettiest games we played (and a game that just lost out on the Best Art prize), this game combined a charming art style with a good central gameplay mechanic. You had to blend two colours to get past barriers, making this the first educational game I’ve played and enjoyed since….. well…. ever! Play here.
So those were some of my Game Jam 2014 highlights. I could write a thousand words more and still get no closer to expressing just how exciting, inspiring and fun a Game Jam can be.
Writing about games is easy. Talking about games is easy. Making games is hard. I have nothing but respect for these jammers, whether their game was a big success or a small one, I am in awe of them all.
Check the official wrap up video below on Vimeo.