Posted by Matthew Vella on Feb 1, 2012

Global Game Jam – Wollongong 2012

What’s Global Game Jam?

Imagine this: you grab a bunch of video game programers, designers, developers and such, then lock them in a room together for 48 hours. Then, you split them up into teams and tell them they have 2 days to make a video game and it has to be based on a particular theme. Meanwhile in hundreds of locations around the world countless people are working on their own games with the same theme, competing with each other to make the best game possible within the same tiny time period. Sounds insane right? Well that’s the Global Game Jam, and it’s the ultimate way for an indie developer to test their game-making skills. This year the game jam was held between January 27 through to January 29, and marked the first time a game jam was ever held at the NSW Wollongong campus, and us here at Capsule Computers headed over to check it out.

What’s the 2012 Theme?

This year for GGJ (that’s Global Game Jam for short, try and keep up will ya?) shook things up by instead of making the theme a particular word, participants were provided with the following image:

See that badboy? That’s called the Ouroborosan ancient Greek symbol of a snake eating itself, representing the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The best part is nobody was told what the image means, meaning some will get it and some won’t, providing endless possibilities and one of the biggest challenges yet  in GGJ history!

So How’d It Go Down?

It’s a major struggle to put this experience into words. The Wollongong Game Jam campus while small with only about 30 participating developers, was filled with an incredibly large amount of frantic energy. Once the theme was announced on that Friday afternoon and the teams were formed, everybody rushed to their whiteboards armed with markers and inspiration.

These teams ranged from very experienced jammers to rookies, from people with lots of experience working together, to complete strangers. Some were well-rested and well-prepared, while others were on as little as only 3 hours sleep. Now that’s dedication! Awesome food ranging from chicken & lasagne, to pizza to even subway sandwiches were provided to keep participants motivated as they raced against the clock. At all times the intensity filled the air and yes…it did smell like nobody left their computers for 48 hours!

How Good Can A 48 Hour Game Be Anyways?

Pretty damn good I tell you! The competitive atmosphere was totally justified, as everybody was up against some damn good games. It’s really incredible what hard work and motivation can end up doing as every game turned out to be really impressive!

Contagion is a fine example of creativity. Josh Farquhar was an army of one, making him the smallest team on the campus, and to make matters worse he had very little art skills at hand. This however did not stop him from making a unique, well-made and addictive title. In Contagion players play either against AI or with up to four players as cells in a biological organism, trying to infect each other to gain total domination in this single-button game. With power ups, AI and solid gameplay, Contagion was surprisingly a strong highlight for the event – especially since it was made as a solo project!

After much debate, winner of Best Overall Game went to Growth, a game that stuck true to the theme well by basing it’s gameplay about the life and death of a tree you must take care of, and upon it’s death it can sprout life to a newer and more stronger tree. While gameplay appears simple, much technical depth is involved underneath as there are consequences for all your actions. Too much rain can cause a flood, too much wind can blow away your soil, and too much heat can set your tree on fire. The more you play the game the more you begin to care for the tree and want to nurture it. With some polish, Growth has the potential to become a really addictive iPhone title. What’s mind blowing is that this team of 4 consists of one artist and 3 computer science students who are just in their first year. Check out the game in action here!

The Life and Times of Pepper Jack for me was the biggest surprise, scoring the title for Best Sound as well as getting notable mentions for Best Graphics & Best Game as well. Featuring enchanting character design and a unique dark-yet-cute concept, this game played in the likes of infinite runner titles such as Zombie Runaway or Temple Run. Players control Pepper Jack as he lives his life from cradle to the grave, while trying to avoid distractions that will simply waste his time. The goal of the game is to live a fulfilling life and get to the end (which is death) without living a boring life. Having too many distractions will kill Jack before his time, so avoiding these is crucial. Once you complete your life, your life is judged by the ‘life experience’ orbs you collect of three types – neutral, morally good and morally bad. Aside from it’s creative concept, interesting design and fun gameplay, The Life and Times of Pepper Jack wowed judges mostly with it’s interesting and unique choice sound – a ticking clock that sped up the closer you are to death. This choice proves both simple, creative and effective and fits the theme of the game perfectly. Check out the game in action here!

In Onion Head, players take control of Onion Head – a cute character with an Onion for a Head who loves flowers for some reason. Giant flowers are randomly generated and it’s your job to climb up their stalks to retrieve seed pods in order to plant more flowers in this fun platformer. Consisting of a team of two and an interesting take on the theme, Onion Head’s simple yet fun concept was a joy to play – with hilarious sound effects!

Not to be confused with the Metal Gear Solid title, Snake Eater stood out as the clear winner for Best Graphics, and also scored a notable mention for Best Overall Game. This experienced team of 5 known as Black Wolf Games have entered in multiple competitions of this nature in the past and came in with the advantage of already knowing how to work efficiently together as a team. Snake Eater takes the classic mobile game Snake and gives it a twist – instead of eating food, your eating other snakes. To top it off it’s not grid-based either, making the experience completely fresh and new. Against up to 3 friends or AI, this fun, competitive title is filled with impressive creativity and polish. If the team consider giving this game a bit of extra work & content like online play in the future, Snake Eater could be a pretty fun Steam or XBLA title worthy of a proper release as it is smothered in potential. Check out the game in action here!

While Toob Racer didn’t win any awards, it still remained a strong competitor and stood as one of the crowd favourites. Featuring 3D graphics, Toob Racer contains F-Zero styled  futuristic gameplay, with two players controlling spaceships racing each other in a tube. Players dodge obstacles and collect power ups as they infinitely race with no finish line. Instead of reaching the end, the winner is decided by who reaches terminal velocity first. Toob Racer successfully achieves the feeling of fast-paced gameplay and proved to be a really fun experience. Check out the game in action here!

This space-themed title you see above I can’t really say much about other than it’s developers appeared pretty disheartened at their presentation, and the official listing has this game named as ‘The Game‘. While I’m unaware of the details, I hear this team unfortunately had a few dilemmas throughout their creative journey. I can only hope these guys don’t give up and take the game jam as a learning experience to push on and improve their skills!

Snakes and Orbs is a prime example of all the drama a team can unfortunately come across whilst making a game in 48 hours. I really felt sorry for these guys as 24 hours into the event they changed game engines from Unity to Flash, so they had to start all over again from scratch! The final result while a little incomplete, did show the foundations of a quality game where you play as a Snake that can fly, trying to eat orbs to make it grow on a 2D plane in a platformer-styled fashion. Based on their result however, Im sure if they had the full 48 hours to work on their title in Flash, Im confident that Snakes and Orbs would’ve been a pretty fun title to play.

While Super Soul Smash wasn’t perfect in execution, it’s concept is both unique and intelligent and with a bit of work could result in a very quality browser-based game. Taking advantage of a retro 8-bit theme, this interesting Facebook game has you saving the souls of your friends and family from evil demons who want to suck them up. Note when I’m saying your friends and family, I really do mean YOURS! That’s right, this Facebook game is meant to take pictures from your friends list and puts them in the game. Pretty cool huh?

While GGJ may be a competition, more importantly it’s a valuable learning experience. As all participants would tell you, the things they learn during these 48 hours have helped gain them ‘level up’ as game developers, teaching them valuable skills through experience. If you’re a game developer, seriously look into participating in a Global Game Jam in the future and put your programming and designing skills to the test!

Find out what the IGDA is up to here.

And be sure to check out the Game Jam entries, free to download and play. They’re worth a look.

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