Islands! A game jam post mortem

A couple weeks ago I corralled a few of my friends into gathering around a dining room table for 48 hours in an attempt to make a game. We took a random prompt from previous Ludum Dare contests and ended up with the prompt ‘Islands’.  We ended up on a game about trying to get home without letting your torch die in the unforgiving frozen wastes.

It's a cold, desolate word.

It’s a cold, desolate word.

Things that went well:

-We kept it simple.  You can only move forward, move the camera with your mouse, and crouch. I chose a toon shaded look to ensure that little to no time was spent unwrapping and texturing.

-Solid aesthetic. As there weren’t a lot of assets I got to spend a decent amount of time on the character and making him cold and miserable. One of the other guys does a lot of sound design and put together a really great soundscape that makes you feel the need to pull your coat over yourself.

-Food.  I cooked up a few dishes and a gallon of thai tea prior, there was also a good Costco run prior, we were not lacking for food.

-Experience with the tools. Prior to the jam we had all agreed on some basic tools that we would be using. I was the only one with Unity experience so I sat down with each person and ran over the basics of the programs, and how they would be communicating with the rest of hte game.

-Good people.  I enjoyed everyone I worked with, it was a lot of fun. This is very important.


Things that went not as well:

-Networking. We ended up at a place with not the best internet. Originally we were gonna use GIT, but somewhere along the way that fell by the wayside, we tried using Google Drive, and that was a disaster and messed up Unity’s exporting capabilities. We ended up sneakernetting it and building it on one computer.

-Lack of planning. We could have spent another hour or  2 on the planning phase. The levels got a bit rambly, some mechanics that were built weren’t implemented. There was a bit too much ‘punishing’ the player, without messaging them why. Proper naming convention (or lack there of) hurt us in certain spots as well.  I don’t know the difference between New_Scene and The_New_Scene, and The_Only_Scene.



We have another one on the calender for the upcoming Ludum Dare at the end of August.  Next time maybe we won’t aim for ‘miserable’ as the player experience.  It’s hard to tell if you succeeded or not.

A Goodbye to ‘What If’

My programming education is a hodgepodge of constant trial and error, frequent visits to stackoverflow as well as the unity forums, with a framework of the occasional OpenCourseWare programming class. So naturally I lack the broad cognitive overview that one gains through attaining a bachelors in computer science at a 4 year.

Generally I attempt to get any system I want to exist, up and running as soon as possible. I’m really just trying to get everything talking and shambling about on bare bones, it’s not pretty. Once it’s ambulatory I worry about the scalability and make sure I actually like the design (from the game perspective.) After a time, my shambling bag of bones gets prettied but then it starts to bloat uncontrollably and can no longer move. Whenever this happens, I do a deep dive into the internet and figure out what ‘core programming principle’ I didn’t know about this time  The most recent instance of this was on my move to truly understanding object oriented.

I am lucky to have some friends who are proper programmers that are willing to look at my code and tell me what I am doing hideously wrong. This last offense was from swelling ranks of if statement blocks. When combat starts, what skills will he be using? What if the opponent is holding a bludgeoning weapon? The bludgeon defense skill of course! What if our gladiator is using a sword? The sword attack skill of course! What if our gladiator is holding an ax? The ax skill of course!  . . .You can see how this can get out of hand quite quickly.

While the conversion isn’t complete, there are still a few ‘what if blocks’ hiding, awaiting their end. It will be done. I will no longer have think about what if I am wielding a chainsaw, that’s the chainsaws job.

Tangled Hair Breakdown

A really interesting look at the design process of an engineering intensive project, like Rapunzel’s hair in the movie Tangled.  The bloopers at the end are more akin to my experiences with physics driven cloth and air. Glad it isn’t only me.

Talking of game instances


The above is perhaps my favorite of the talks offered by the GDC vault.  It talks in a very interesting way about the player freedom, emergent gameplay and instances of games.  At minute 40 my favorite part of the talk begins when he discusses a specific instance of the game of Go, played in the late 1940’s.  This game is chronicled in Yasunari Kawabata’s novel “The Master of Go”, or Mejin in Japanese. He discusses the varied layers of meaning that become ascribed to the game.  If you have the time, it’s well worth a watch.