What do strawberries, traffic and games have in common?
That’s right, they’re all varieties of jam.
I’m quite sure that this joke very nearly worked on some people.
This past weekend, the boys at QCF Design took part in the Global Game Jam, an IGDA-organised event which has been running since 2009. All over the world, people gathered to create games centred around a particular theme, armed with nothing more than a humble 48 hours to consider, conceive and complete their creations.
Many of you have probably heard about the GGJ at some point, or even participated. If you’re pretty familiar with the Jam itself, I’ll waste no further time in showing off our submissions: The Last Fleet (Game Jam Page) and Lextinction. More details on these projects and the Jam follow after the jump.
More about the Jam
First off, anybody not familiar with how harrowing it is to hack creativity and raw production together in a mere 48 hours will probably be surprised to see how unrefined most of the entrants are. Tutorials are sparse and generally limited to caffeine-fueled rants in some sort of readme file. Bugs frolick in the open, unchallenged and uninhibited save for the occasional half-hearted attempt at squashing them with hack-job fixer code that often creates more trouble than it resolves. This kinda comes with the territory, because the Jam is all about focusing on innovation and spontaneity. It reminds us that one of the most important tools in any game developer’s arsenal is the ability to simply MAKE something — whatever it is — and see if it’s fun to play.
Situations like the Jam are also amazing demonstrations of game dev camaraderie. Participants don’t work in isolation: rather, they’re encouraged to gather at pre-ordained venues to spontaneously form teams, socialise in that unique zombie-like fashion which comes with a lack of sleep and playtest the ideas of other people. When you’re sitting in a country like South Africa (where the local dev scene is still very small) this is a rare and exciting opportunity to hang out with other people who also have a passion for the craft.
At the Cape Town leg of the jam (sponsored and organised by the University of Cape Town) , about 35 eager devs of all levels were in attendance, and we had the temporary benefit of working with Luke Viljoen, a great artist from fellow SA dev company Tasty Poison Games (creators of the upcoming Pocket RPG). That is why, for example, The Last Fleet actually looks like a spectacular rainbow of colourful joy instead of dog puke soup.
More about the games
This year’s Global Game Jam went with the theme of “Extinction”, and between the members of the QCF Design squad (and the partners we picked up at the Jam itself), we managed to make two entries:
Lextinction is probably our best shot at creating a game that honoured the competition’s theme. While “Extinction” is, on the surface, a pretty easy concept to form a simple game around (aka. make a game where you kill everything forever), few candidate ideas made the theme feel like anything more than the RESULT of a game session rather than the CORE of it.
Lextinction challenged this idea: by playing around with various words, making them “breed” and altering their genetic code, players got to see first-hand the “extinction” of various letters of the alphabet: as words started going through the generations (and “older” words began dying off) the tendency to inbreed would invariably mean that some letters would die off permanently, with no way to get them back.
The core idea of Lextinction was to try form a particularly desired word by the end of the game session, with the goal being more or less up to the player: perhaps the last word in existence would have a great variety of letters, or it would just happen to be a real word, or maybe it would only be an exercise in seeing what sort of random nonsense got created when the program was left to its own devices. The result was rather sandbox-ish, but served as a springboard for a lot of ideas that could be put in if the game was returned to after the competition.
The Last Fleet
The Last Fleet was a considerably more conventional approach towards game creation, though we’re quite proud of the fun that we managed to put into it. It was a lightweight tactical management thingy which saw humanity’s last hope rushing through the cosmos in a spaceship that’s on the run from a Nasty Cloud of Doom.
Various resources such as time, fuel, population and an ever-important supply of blue cheese all served a unique role in dealing with the game’s challenges, which were presented in the form of the dark cloud’s menacing advance as well as randomly-generated crisis events to hamper the player’s progress (unless, of course, they decided to pay the attached cheese penalty). We like to think that most of the game’s decisions were meaningful, and that player tactics could change radically while hopping from planet to planet depending on various situation modifiers.
Despite the game requiring a fair bit more balance work to be considered truly effective, we think that it delivers in terms of fun. More importantly, it leaves the player with a valuable message: there’s no problem in existence that is truly too massive to overcome, as long as you have sufficient cheese to throw at it.