Two Weeks, Two Jams: Global Game Jam 2016 and Take Care Jam

critical making, game jams

I’ve been meaning to write for some time now about Global Game Jam 2016 and the Take Care Jam, two jams that took place one weekend after the other (which is why I guess why I haven’t managed to write about them yet, what with the jams and the work I had to catch up on afterwards). I thought that GGJ would be an exhausting all-nighter pulling event (because it usually is) and that I would then decompress at the low-key, care-focused Take Care Jam, but that turned out not to be the case.

I arrived at Global Game Jam on Friday in time to engineer our now-traditional Game Jam Blanket Fort (ever since Pixelles Montreal ran TeaCade, we are in love with comfy time-out spots at our community events – GAMERella had a pretty excellent one, TAG’s GGJ16 location had one, and so would the Take Care Jam, as it turns out). During GAMERella, my goal is to work with a new jammer and help them have a positive first jam experience. Global Game Jam is my more selfish jam – I like to work with people that I already know and trust.

So! There were plenty of people that I knew at the jam, but it seemed like many of them were about to agglomerate into one large group. At a jam, my preference is to work in a team of three or less – maximum four. I find that it’s easier to stay within a manageable scope and to quickly find mutual game making interests. So, after some quick decision-making, I ended up working with Dietrich “Squinky” Squinkifer for the jam.

THE GAME: “Most Sincere Greetings, Esteemed One”

[You can also read Squinky’s introductory writeup about the game here.]

We scoped with a laser-focus (see what I did there?) – having a two-person team meant choosing our priorities very carefully. Exploring the jam’s theme (“Ritual”) through some quick brainstorming maps and settled on exploring the awkwardness of greetings. We chose to use as much theatricality and physicality in the game as we could, and so we hit on a game where players would be instructed to perform different greetings with one another. We made an aluminum-foil gong as a button using a Makey-Makey and had players wear the Muse headset to help set our stage. Combined with Squinky’s JavaScript/JSON/web dev skills and the Tracery library (link) to create procedurally-generated instructions, how could we miss?

By the end of the first night (we closed up shop at around midnight, having started to jam in earnest around, let’s say…6:30PM?), we basically had a working version of our game…From there, we just kept adding, polishing and giggling to ourselves about all the excellent procedurally-generated content that we were building, and doing our best to put our best foot forward on all of the items that it was possible for us to share on our game’s global game jam page: a gameplay video, a dashing team portrait, a github repository of our code, screenshots from the game, etc.

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The great thing about this jam is that I went home to sleep both nights and didn’t feel any time pressure. I really enjoyed working with Squinky – we share similar senses of humour and they are a great jam partner. They’ve also got mad skills – both for making games and cookies! Our game even won an award for our prop-use.

The Take Care Jam, hosted by the Atwater Library in the context of Shanly Dixon’s Cyberviolence Against Women research, and planned and run by Stephanie Fisher and Kara Stone, is proof (much like my experience with Squinky at GGJ) that you don’t have to do a long crunch-filled jam for people to end up with interesting prototypes and ideas by the end. The weekend was filled with food breaks, multiple yoga sessions, and people just chatting and spending time with one another. We still made great things.

My team, which consisted of Nicole Pacampara and Amanda Tom (two people I was very happy to get the chance to finally work on a project with) along with honorary teammate Squinky (who fixed everything for us at the end with their mad skills and who I have already had the pleasure of working with) worked on a project about taking care of ourselves and of other people. The basic idea is that with a password-protected google form (you can see it here but I won’t tell you the password — you can ask for it if you like though – we just didn’t want people to add mean things) that creates a google spreadsheet. Using the spreadsheet as our database, we pull a random entry and display it on the Take Care Teller, which is like a fortune teller except it gives you an encouraging message or advice.

Here’s the current prototype of the Take Care Teller, hosted on Nicole’s site.

As you may have read by now, I’m learning Processing, and the amazing thing about this jam for me was realizing the literacy that learning Processing is giving me in other coding languages, too, just because there are lots of things that carry over. So, I was able to read most of our code that weekend (although I couldn’t have written it — that’ll come later, I hope).

At the end of the jam, after presenting our work to each other, we planted seeds from the Atwater Seed library (Guybrush the cat has knocked mine over already, but I will replant once he’s gone to his forever-home with Squinky — which will be soon!).

So, more on Processing soon…I’ve learned to do weird video googly-doos and plan to finish the book in the next two weeks!

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Apple Rumble Available Online!

adventures in gaming, game jams

Hi all,

I’ve been very busy over at Tweed Couch Games with Allison and Zach (we have some sweet dev blogging going on over there), but I wanted to take a moment to remember this game.

So, I never did put this game up online, mostly because it was just a ridiculous bit of fun that I had thrown together on my own during a jam…But then I realized that this year’s pre-jam was coming up, and that the THIRD COHORT (wow, I can’t even believe that the Pixelles Incubator is in its third year!) of the Pixelles are having their showcase this week, so I decided to put up Apple Rumble on itch.io.

You can totally play it now!

My Experience at the Critical Hit Pre-Jam: Concordia Edition

adventures in gaming, critical hit, game jams, indie

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With the Critical Hit Pre-Jam: Dawson Edition (not the official title, but how I’ve been thinking about it) slated for this weekend, I thought I’d take a little bit of time to talk about what the Pre-Jam that happened at Concordia on March 1st and 2nd was like.

This was the first time in a while that I decided to strike it out on my own without my Game of the Year teammates, Nick and Jana. I haven’t made a game completely on my own in some time (August, I think), but I felt like I needed to stretch my “programmer” wings a little bit, if only with Construct 2, which is what I decided to make my game in.

Before the jam happened, I attended narF’s excellent Construct 2 workshop and made a Flappy Bird clone that introduced me to all the basics. I was also lucky enough at the jam itself to have three Construct 2 veterans on-hand: narF, Alicia, and Charlotte, who all gave me a variety of excellent advice over the weekend.

The theme of the jam was “hybrid,” and of course my brainstorm went immediately off the rails when I started to think about the meaning of my own last name, Marcotte. “Marcottage” is, according to Wiktionary (I know, I know, it’s an excellent source), in botany, “a process of plant propagation where soil is tied onto a branch stripped of a ring of bark.” The next logical connection for me was, naturally, apples.

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So, the strains of apples that we have around today are kept pure by grafting branches from older apple trees onto young trees. These grafted branches have very little chance to develop resistances to pests and other diseases. Unfortunately, that means that apples get hit with a lot of pesticides.

You know where I’m headed next, right?

Mutated apples. (I guess that it just goes to show that there are an infinite amount of places that you can take a jam theme.)

I thought, “What if the apples were bombarded with so much pesticide that some day something went horribly wrong, and the apples mutated? What if they then duked it out in my fridge?”

My Pre-Jam game, “Apple Rumble”, was born. It is probably the first and only fighting game involving apples as the main characters.

I decided to start with two characters, Granny Smith and Red Delicious. I decided to give them the ability to double-jump, defend themselves by growing protective leaf shields, move left and right, charge into each other, and bite each other. I also decided that while I wanted to show them getting increasingly physically damaged, since I was making everything for the game, including music and art and sound effects, I didn’t have the time to animate them getting more and more damaged. Instead, next to their health bars, I animated a small portrait of them getting increasingly damaged.

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Scale was really important to me, because I really did want to have a finished game by the end of the weekend where I had made all the assets myself. Eventually I want to make more arenas, but I limited myself to one for the jam. For this version, I’ve made a fake character selection screen with other contenders such as “Crabapple,” “McIntosh” and “Fuji” that I’d like to learn to program and implement for real.

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I got straight to work in Construct 2. Now, normally, I advocate going home to sleep during game jams, but this time I surprised myself. Somehow, I ended up working through the night. I guess that I was overcome by some kind of programmer’s adrenaline (at least, this is what narF called it when I mentioned it to him). I worked until about 5:30 in the morning, finishing the game (except for debugging and polishing). I slept until 8, had breakfast with my parents, and came back to the jam around 11 or so to polish and debug. Thankfully, people at the Dawson Jam won’t have this temptation, since the space will only be open until 9. Go home and sleep!

I also decided to work alone because it’s been so long since I have, but I think that a jam is a great place to get to know people. Working in a team also means that you can focus on one aspect of the game and make it really excellent, or focus on a new skill that you want to learn. For anyone who does feel like working alone, or for anyone else who is curious, the programs that I used for this game are:
Construct 2, which has a free version and is easy to learn, very intuitive. The free version has some limitations.
PyxelEdit, 8$, a great little program for pixel art with onion skinning and sprite sheet exporting.
TuxGuitar, free, a fun program for writing music that lets you place notes on a music sheet and then preview them with jam-appropriate midi-sounding instruments.
Audacity, also free, and when combined with FreeSound.Org or other similar sites, a very powerful tool for making sound effects quickly.

What was great about the Pre-Jam was that everyone seemed really ready to push the limits of their skills and to push into new and interesting design territory. One very interesting game combined physical cards with QR codes on them with an iPad that was set up to interact with them. The iPad kept track of the positions of the players’ resources on the screen as well as their health.

Another game involved having two players work together on the same controller in order to make different monster types to feed to another monster.

I was also especially fascinated by the game that narF and Hamish decided to make in collaboration with everyone else that was at the jam. It was a crowd-sourced Twine-based game. Twine is a free software that’s pretty easy to pick up that is really useful for creating interactive fiction. Throughout the weekend, narF and Hamish asked jammers to play their game, and once they reached the “end” (the game branches), to continue from where that ending left off. Sometimes this meant describing a character, or what would happen next in a pre-existing situation. Sometimes this meant placing objects within the world. I was lucky enough to introduce a perfectly ripe avocado into the game and describe the sheriff in the game as “not looking like Clint Eastwood at all.” I thought this was a great way to engage with other jammers and that it produced a really unique result — and that if narF or anyone else wanted to repeat the experiment, it would continue to produce unique results every time.

I hope to have Apple Rumble up soon for play, but meanwhile, enjoy these screenshots.

The upcoming jam theme is Cataclysm, and I think that it’s a very interesting theme. I’m a bit sad that I won’t be jamming with all of the excellent people that are sure to be at Dawson this weekend. Have fun, make games!