That's how game jams start for me. It sets in a few seconds after the theme is announced. For Global Game Jam 16 the theme was 'Ritual'. In trying to think of an idea under pressure I go blank. I like to think of myself as creative in the ideas department, so drawing a blank feels a lot like failing to me. Hence the (unarguably unnecessary) panic.
I start how I always start by writing down the theme and any associated words I can think of. Maybe my brain will pick up on something.
Panic. Still nothing. Wow, isn't the pub loud? And there's so many people here too, all talking, all trying to come up with ideas. Why are you talking to me when I'm trying to think!? I start to feel very uncomfortable and have to leave.
On the cold walk home Pipsi and I discuss a bunch of ideas. Seems like getting out of the noise and into the cold helps the little grey cells. We sort of settle on an Rick Dangerous-esque (google it if you're too young) 2d platformer where the gameplay rules change depending on the idols you carry. The idea being that the followers of each god had to follow certain rites, and you, in stealing the idol, have to follow those rites too.
The ideas for rites we had on the walk ranged from making the player jump every few seconds to having to constantly wash their hands when passing water sources in the game. Carry several idols and you've got quite a complex set of behaviours to follow, somewhat akin to patting your head while rubbing your tummy.
Cool, let's go with that idea. Panic subsides. A bit. Now we have to make the damn thing.
"Idol Hands - Rite Here, Rite Now" - is a double pun title, a Brighton reference (by way of Fatboy Slim), and also a sideways reference to a film I really like called Idle Hands.
I find getting the title sorted early helps set the tone for the whole thing.
One of the key aspects of game jamming is being able to de-scope when you inevitably run out of time. It doesn't matter how long the game jam is, you will still run out of time because as you work on it you'll think of more things you'd like to add.
I made a list of every feature, every idea, every technical and art task, and put them in priority order. Trello is my tool of choice for TODO lists, it gives me just enough structure without imposing any specific workflow.
If you read that last bit and think I'm some sort of organisation freak, you couldn't be more wrong. I use it because it is my tendency to be disorganised. Being disorganised is a good way to end in total failure instead of partial success - it's an all or nothing strategy.
Instead of jumping into the meaty interesting part of the idea I try and get the basics out of the way first. Again, it's a tendency I have to fight. I like to go where the interesting stuff is, but the truth is that the interesting part is of infinite length. If you start there then when the deadline approaches the lack of basics will come back bite you in the arse.
What are the basics?
With all that done I have less tasks hanging over me. I won't be constantly distracted by thoughts of "I really should have created a repo" or "I haven't done the title screen yet".
Being a perfectionist will get you nowhere in a game jam. The idea is to have something that shows what you had in mind, not to have a perfect game with no flaws.
Most of the way through the jam there were serious control issues with the player. They were nothing to do with the interesting game mechanics we had in mind, so spending a lot of time fixing it would have meant less time on the interesting stuff.
How do you deal with that? Well, I kept on implementing the features to show off the idea and only fixed control issues that broke those ideas. That way I was only fixing the necessary - even though I could see more flaws.
For those control flaws that were unfixable, the game mechanic was dropped (variable jump height, calculating falling distance, a bunch of others). Ouch! It's no easy thing to do. In your head you've an idea of what the final game will be, and dropping an aspect of it feels like failure. But you have to be pragmatic. If you can't fix an issue within a reasonable time, drop the feature. If you've time at the end you can come back to it, or sometimes you'll fix the problem while working on something else.
So try and get a little bit of everything in. When you have you can loop back over it and add a little bit more to each.
Enforced concentration isn't easy, especially when you're tired. At several points I wanted to just chuck it all in the bin and give up. What's the point of it all? Why am I even doing this?
When that happens I try and find a simple task to do. A quick win. Any quick win. Sometimes it's enough to get me back into the flow. And if not, then I need a break.
Breaks are special. It's easy to write them off as "not doing any work" and something to avoid, but actually they let my subconscious do its fair share of the work. It also gives me a chance to defocus and look at the wider picture. Am I focussing on the right thing? Have I gone off track?
I'd expected the deadline to be 5pm and budgeted time accordingly. Then we found out we needed to start uploading at 3pm. Uh oh! The loss of 2 hours could have been devastating.... except the whole approach we'd taken was geared towards running out of time. So the loss of 2 hours meant we'd deliver less than we'd hoped, but that was always going to be the case. We'd still have something.
Started with placeholder art from Rick Dangerous to get the feel we were after...
The game started to feel like a real game when Pipsi's artwork went in...
And the final look...
Although Mr Noyj wasn't able to be present for the jam, we sent him the theme when it was announced on the off chance. He responded with some options from his back catalogue, one of which features in the game.
Very! It lacks content and some of the cooler ideas we had, but it's self contained and demonstrates what we had in mind. It looks and plays like a real game. I can't be disappointed with that!
When it comes to games I'm very it's-my-way-or-the-highway. I have real trouble getting behind other peoples ideas. It's a failing I've come to accept, but I'd hoped I'd do a little better this jam. No such luck. My psyche was all "it's all about me, me, me!". Thanks psyche.
I really need to pick one role. Either be the programmer or be the game designer. Being both means less time for either, and it shows in Idol Hands. There's neither as much content or as much of the more interesting mechanics as I'd have liked. Multiple roles multiplies pressure and reduces time.
Like at the end of every other game jam, I swear that I won't put myself through the pain again. So, uh, see you at the next one?
Many thanks to Jo for organising the Brighton chapter of the Global Game Jam and herding us many cats that attended, and thanks to the Global Game Jam for existing :)
Many thank to Amy for this shot of me presenting the game. Pipsi is hiding in this picture too...