Good question! A Game Jam is an event where people get together and make a game in a very short time frame. The Global Game Jam is a huge meta-event where lots of Game Jams all kick off at the same time all over the world, and everyone has 48 hours to form teams and create their own fully playable game. That’s a full game in 48 hours. What’s most surprising is not that anyone can achieve this seemingly impossible task, but that the games they produce can be so original, innovative and enjoyable too. The Global Game Jam is one of the purest, most inherently “good” things to happen in gaming, and it happens every year. Every year we cover the Scottish Game Jam, and every year its bigger and better than the one before.
This year the Scottish Game Jam expanded to include Edinburgh and Dundee as well as the huge event in Glasgow. Scotland has always been a home for great games developers, and this year it was great to see people all over Scotland participating. Sadly I will only be able to review the Glasgow games here, but hopefully we can talk about the games from the other venues soon.
CalmDownTom covered the Glasgow part of the Scottish Game Jam and I was lucky enough to be asked to judge the entries. Now many others have already written (good old Phil!) about the Glasgow Game Jam, but instead of retreading old ground I’m going to focus solely on the games. 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. Sadly, I didn’t get the time to tell everyone what they did well, what they could improve, and how amazing I thought every single person was for contributing to something so awesome. So lets try to do that now. I’m going to try to review everything!
The theme of the Game Jam this year was a heartbeat. It was given to the teams as a sound file that the organisers played. The first Global Game Jam conveyed its theme in text, then last year it was an image and this year it was a sound. This lead one Jammer to inquire if next years theme would be something even more esoteric: a smell possibly.
I can’t make a game. Most people can’t, but these people did. Let me tell you about the amazing games they made, what I thought of them and how I judged them and then afterwards you can even play them yourself. How great is that!
Cardiac Arrest (play it)
I really enjoyed this title but found it fiendishly tough. Cardiac Arrest played well and was responsive and absorbing. You killed enemy invaders of the heart with two different types of projectile that you could switch between, and moving between the heart chambers reversed your controls. It balanced frustration and risk/reward well.
The Veiny, Triumphant Beast (play it)
It has a rude name! Tee hee! Double entendres aside, this was a clever game that used the flow of blood as a gameplay mechanic. You were floating through veins and arteries and as such had to time your movements with the pulsing blood. Great bright colours and a weird but cute protagonist helped make this accessible fun.
Heart Decisions (play it)
One of the most old school games at the Jam, Heart Decisions felt like it was made by hardcore gamers. Lots of great explosions and fiery animation helped make this shooter enjoyable. The addition of twin stick aiming (which the dev team said they might add) would make this a real contender as it’s a slice of classic gameplay. The way the team interpreted the theme to make the kind of game they loved was great too.
Codis Impetum: Heart Attack (play it)
One of the most technically impressive games at the jam, Codis Impetum had almost as many great ideas as all the other games put together. With multiple mini games that were all fun in their own right combined with GPS support that would make you run around (in real life) to unlock the games, Codis Impetum was very impressive. It sought to make your heart beat faster by making you run, but the team was nice enough to replace the GPS system with QR codes so that the judges didn’t need to run around (even though I personally would probably have benefitted from some exercise). The presentation was great too, highly polished with some lovely artwork.
With a complex system of interacting meters for life, energy and oil, this game featured a very literal heart, albeit one with a mechanical component. Clockwork also featured a number of minigmes, with one notable part using the heartbeat of the clockwork heart in a sort of rhythm action game. Combining this high concept with some charming and weird visuals Clockwork was a mishmash of management and minigames that was fun, and with some balancing and polish could really shine.
The Unseen Evil (play it)
What a great idea! You try and find the vampire at a Victorian (?) party by listening for the heartbeats of the attendees. You place garlic or a cross to see who moves away, but don’t act too suspicious or the vampire will murder everyone! One of my personal favourite games at the Jam and the one that I wanted to go back and play again the most. I want this on my iPad guys!
Fade (play it)
Brilliantly creepy! Fade was a horror game with a Tim Burton influence and the hand drawn visuals looked great. Filled with nightmare imagery, like ghosts coming from mirrors and long arms reaching from below the bed, Fade was a hit with the judges. I didn’t get a chance to play at the time, but gladly now I can go back and experience the horror (and so can you!)
Desperation (play it)
This team was too modest. While I played their game, impressed and absorbed, they kept telling me how they could have done better! Desperation involves following the sound of a heartbeat through a maze to find the voice that is mocking and laughing at you. It’s a tense race against time with incredibly creepy audio and I wanted to play it over and over till I finished it.
Space Wraith (video)
This was probably the most successful game at the Jam for achieving its goal: to scare the shit out of the judges! It was a game that I personally short-listed as the overall winner and its design was water tight. The goal of the game was simple: find the code for the door (a four button combination), get to the door and use the code to escape. Oh, and if you run out of time you get the fucking terrifying experience of being murdered by some slender-inspired monstrosity.
Hell’s Hospital (play it)
To give you an idea of how much fun we had with Hell’s Hospital, we played it again at home as soon as its developers put the source code up online. Using a well animated 2D sprite in an engaging 3D world filled with fire and end-of-the-world imagery, Hell’s hospital was a fun race game, an indictment of fast food and a commentary on the NHS all at once. It was also a kick-ass Mario Kart-style racing game. Amazingly, this game was playable (and polished) on the Saturday afternoon of the Game Jam!
Dead Man (play it)
The Game Jam often sees some seriously weird games, but it also produces some weird sights too, and there were few sites weirder than a confused and exasperated jammer playing Dead Man for the first time.
Utilising the tilt sensor in the iPad, Dead Man involved crossing a road (Frogger-stlye) by turning the iPad upside down and back again. Crucially, each time you did this your little avatar would move a fraction of an inch. To get him to move quickly enough to avoid the traffic you had to shake the iPad like a maniac, and while the game was intended to raise the heart rate of the player, it was those who watched that had the most intense experience as they wondered when the iPad would slip like a giant bar of soap and embed itself in a nearby wall.
Pulse (play it)
The team behind Pulse were Game Jam virgins so this effort was impressive. It was a simple game but one that worked well. Pulse involved matching similarly coloured blood cells. It was a bright and colourful game. The developers aimed to make something casual without too much stress or challenge that relaxed the player, like popping bubble rap. The result was a simple game that was accessible and that they can add to in the future.
Cell Swarm (play it)
Sadly I didn’t get a chance to play this one but it looks nice! The other judges enjoyed it a lot. The developers say, “Your bloodstream is being infiltrated. Take control of your white blood cells and swarm together to fight off dangerous bacteria. Highly recommended to play with a gamepad (Xbox 360 preferred) for a fully immersive experience, try it to find out!”
Lub Vs Dub (play it)
The overall winner of the Game Jam in Glasgow (and a ridiculously solid, polished and complete entry) Lub Vs Dub is one of those ideas that is simple to understand but holds great depth. A triumph of game design, it’s fun and accessible and after each game (whether you win or lose) you want only one thing: a rematch. It’s a two player game on iPad where both players face each other and their two characters race on a heart rate monitor. We hope to see on the App Store soon!
Creep (play now)
Creep seems to be inspired by Slender and the Saw movies as much as the theme of the Game Jam.
One of the few titles to use a first person perspective, it’s an effective horror game that sets out challenges in each rooms for you to figure out before you can progress. The focus is on atmosphere and its an unsettling title with some nice touches. Creep shows potential, and could be expanded and worked into a promising indie title. With games like Slender and Thirty Flights of Loving showing how experimental first person perspective narrative games can be successful, Creep could become a big success story in the future too.
Procyon (play it)
Procyon split the judges, but I thought it was a potential overall winner and loved it. Taking place on a strange alien planet, the game is rich in descriptive text that’s well written and sets the scene. The experience lies somewhere between an adventure game and a multiple-choice story book. As you navigate a top-down map you will have encounters. The decisions you make during each of these feeds into the ending you will receive, with multiple possible endings to your own personal story.
LEGITIMATE BUSINESS SIMULATOR 2013 (play it)
The tongue-in-cheek title reflects a sense of humour present throughout this game.
A darkly comic game, LEGITIMATE BUSINESS SIMULATOR involves carving out organs for cash. You use your mouse to carefully (but quickly) remove organs for money. A number of power ups and unlockable items in the shop round the game out and the whole absurd theme of the game makes it impossible to play without an evil grin on your face.
Malpractice (More Info)
Sadly, Malparactice is one of the few games you can’t play, but that’s because it’s a boardgame. Surprising everyone last year, Ross Mills came to the Glasgow Game Jam and created a boardgame that was so compulsively challenging and brilliantly designed that it was chosen as best game. This year saw his triumphant return and he created a brilliant boardgame all about fighting infections in the human body. Suffice it to say, when I received messages from friends saying “I’m Trying to win Ross’s game but I have AIDS in the neck” I knew he was up to his old tricks. Ross even had some help from a talented artist in his team this year to make his game cards even better.
One of the great things about the Game Jam is the variety of games you get to see, and seeing a boardgame, with all its lovely tactile pieces and printed artwork adds greatly to the spectacle of the event.
This simple 2D game was an addicting little title that involved collecting items while dodging enemies. Although it had some small balancing and technical issues it was a great achievement nonetheless, with some notably nice background images and a clever story.
The concept of transforming from a human to a cyborg was intriguing and with a bit more work this game could be an involving game with a clever central story idea.
So that was the Scottish Game Jam, or at least the Glasgow portion of it. The Dundee and Edinburgh Jams will hopefully be featured soon as upcoming IGDA showcases of the best of all three events will give us a chance to play and cover those entries to.
All that remains to be said is well done everyone! It was an honour to judge and a privilege to go back and play all these titles for this feature. Please, stop wasting time on CalmDownTom now. Go play these games now! We’ll still be here when you get back.
A summary of all the Games from the Glasgow Game Jam can be found here
And here’s what the whole thing looked like when it was in full swing!