Monday, January 28, 2013

Global Game Jam 2013

January 25, 2013. Start of Global Game Jam 2013.

I woke up at 6 PM in our home-office, still a little bit groggy. I think my fever was gone.

Global Game Jam 2013 had already started and I was two cities away from the nearest jam site. What the hell do I do?

The me back in that January 25th would never have thought that I'd bag a Best Art of Manila Game Jam 2013.

Let me backtrack for a moment.

I heard of the Global Game Jams before. I thought it was crazy to try to come up with a game in just two days' worth of time.

But last year I was invited to be a mentor in the Unity Game Jam Manila and I realized, hey, this is pretty fun. I should have participated instead.

So I determined that come 2013, I'll start joining the Global Game Jam.

Boys will be boys

It was the night before the Game Jam. We were bunking in our little home-office as usual.

For some goddamn reason, the whole apartment room started smelling like semen. Seriously man, putang ina, amoy tamod. What the flying fuck??? Is someone jacking off? We're all guys here, but there's this little thing called respect...

But it turned out it was coming from outside the window.

My friends said it was Zonrox. Here in the Philippines we have a bleach brand called Zonrox. And it suspiciously smells like goddamn semen.

Ladies and gentlemen, Exhibit A.

My other theory was that some bored neighbor was masturbating from his window. He probably kept bottles of it, judging from the strength of the smell.

I can't remember if I had my headache before or after that. Anyway I was starting to feel nauseous so I slept early.

The next morning, straight to the toilet I vomited. According to online pregnancy forums, clear and bitter vomit is just normal stomach bile.

I still had a headache so I slept the whole day.

So when I woke up, it was 6 PM, and the Global Game Jam already started.

I was still concerned for my health, so a 48 hour contest sounded risky.

I thought, no way, I want this. Leeroy Jenkins all the way!

You know I heard some people use autosuggestion to actually improve their health, like a placebo but without going through the fake meds.

I like to think Gurren Lagann was a factual story.

Anyway, I packed my stuff and through the graces of public transportation, I was able to hail a cab only after 30 minutes of waiting and overtaking my opponents for the nearest vacant taxi.

Day 1

I arrived about 8 PM I think. The people were just about to the last few pitches. I walked in, bags in tow, looking for the nearest acquaintance.

"Excuse me-- Oh yeah I just got here-- Hey, what's the theme?"

So it was a heartbeat sound.

I looked for the nearest empty table and started setting up.

The first idea I had was a character whose heartbeats physically affect the world around him.

Then I had a visual recollection of this game called Journey, which from a video, I recalled, shows that the way to communicate to your stranger friend was by pulses.

So from there I started my concept on the character.

You can easily see the influence from Journey here.

I like to start with the art even though I already had a rough idea of what gameplay I want.

Usually people would go for using capsules as placeholders for character graphics and refine their mechanics until it's good, then swap in the real graphics.

And that's really how you should do it, because you need to concentrate on refining the gameplay first.

But my brain just doesn't want to work that way, at least, at that moment.

I really need to see the guy in there. He doesn't have to be normal-mapped and everything, but just see his shape, see him walking, really makes me feel focused.

Note: Actually I did not have the time to animate him walking.

I also recalled my past idea of sound locks.

Sound locks are locks that have no tangible keyhole. Instead the lock is adorned with a figurehead of an animal.

You have to play a sound of the other animal it fears so the lock will open.

So a lock of a cat would open upon playing the sound of a dog bark. Subsequently, it would lock upon hearing the sound of a mouse squeak.

The table behind me was of a group of students. This jam site was sponsored by iACADEMY, a local college (actually the college I went to and subsequently dropped out from).

The students were kinda obnoxious. But it was likely a wrong first impression on my part.

In retrospect, I should have introduced myself. But I was not in networking-for-business mode, I was in I-need-to-finish-this-game-in-48-hours mode.

They were also understandably amateurish (well, they were still students). I could overhear them having problems over the simplest things in the Unity game engine. I did my best to stop sighing out loud. I kind-of wanted to help them, but I also needed to concentrate on my game.

I didn't want to come off sounding like a showoff also, considering I'm a one-man team competing in an otherwise roomful of teams who are mostly looking healthy in the members quantity section.

Marnielle Estrada was the only other one-man team in the jam afaik. Hats off to Marnielle for an awesome game! Check it out: Traversal.

Just being there working alone, I felt I was being obnoxious.

It made me feel like kind-of insecure, and it probably did affect my productivity in some way.

To their credit, that team behind me received the "Best Technology" award. This is their game:

My ego is saying "Ha! One time I finished a multiplayer mecha game in under 10 hours". But well, now that, is being obnoxious.

Back on the game.

For some reason, I recalled this Unity game called Silence in the Mist. A really, really beautiful looking game with minimalistic graphics.

Screenshots from Silence in the Mist

I thought I'd follow in its footsteps and make the world of the game similar to that.

For some arbitrary reason, I thought of making the trees pulsate with life every time you emit a heartbeat near one. I just thought it made sense.

So over time, I thought of the idea that your character went into this gray, lifeless world, and use his ability of emitting heartbeats to bring back life and color.

I only realized now, the trees look like cherry blossoms and the scenery reminds me of old Japanese films. The character is even wearing a straw hat, which I really put there on a whim, and didn't really have any significance.

I, using the expression loosely, called it a day at 5 AM. I got my character walking, a camera system in place, and the pulsing heartbeat visuals.

But what exactly do you do with the heartbeat ability you have?

I was wrestling with the sound lock idea. How do you play sounds other than a heartbeat? I thought that your character would absorb other animals' sounds.

Your character's color would change to reflect it. Absorbing a meow sound from a blue cat would turn your character blue, absorbing a bark sound from a red dog would turn you red.

How do you absorb and how do you release? It felt like it's veering away from the heartbeat theme.

My internal brainstorming was going nowhere. So I slept.

I, being the free spirit I am who does not plan ahead, did not bring any means to sleep comfortably.

Get the spare t-shirts, bundle them up like a pillow on the floor, BAM. There's your bed. End of problem.

Even while trying to sleep I can hear people judging my choice of bedding.

Day 2

By Saturday afternoon, I did the Barber's Knock puzzle, which took the whole day.

It's that distinctive "tap-ta-ta-tap-tap tap tap" melody of knocking you probably already know.

The reason why it's "Barber's Knock" is because I read in a novel that it was called that way. I didn't know it had a name.

Apparently, a lot of people too. I tried Googling for more info and the best I saw was only one forum post that was asking about it. Apparently it came from the phrase "shave and a haircut, two bits!"

No one got the reference though. I guess that makes the game hipster.

In code, I used the Listener/Observer design pattern, to let objects know of incoming heartbeats the player made. The objects are quite literally, listeners.

By night I started on the sound locks, or rather, a sound gate. I just went with the standard idea I had, a cat blocking your path, wherein you need to play its opposing sound for it to stand aside.

I couldn't think of a really nice looking dog (his bark would be the "key") but I did see a really cute drawing of a small cat, so on a whim, I made a small cat whose meow opens the gate.

I probably should have used a dog instead. A dog would have been easily associated with a cat, rather than a cat with another cat.

My idea then, was that pulsing a heartbeat on an animal will bring it to life, which will then follow you around.

After that, whenever you pulse heartbeats, your animal friend will meow or bark to the tune of the beat you did.

I had the sound gate working by 4 AM I think.

I then turned my attention on the really glaring problem of what the whole place will be and how you will achieve your goal.

So the goal was to bring the world back to life. My simple idea was to have a tower at the end of the level where you do something and a shining, blinding light you activate will finally brings things to life.

Something like that. Journey had a mountain you went to, so I thought mine would be a tower.

My idea then was the player needs to search the place for three animals and bring them to the tower. With all of them there, the tower rumbles with some mechanism and activates a pillar of light of some sort, and the game ends.

The three animals would be the cat, a wolf, and an owl.

Getting to the wolf would be puzzles based on driving away sheep with the use of the wolf's howl.

I thought of the standard see-saw puzzle where you need to put things at one end to tip the platform to where you want it, but it was kinda weird to explain it in story. Why would there be sheep in a see-saw platform anyway.

I also thought of raised platforms that act as levers. This is pretty standard puzzle fare on many 3d games.

I then thought of a Sokoban style puzzle where you push flocks of sheep so you can find a way to the exit. I spent too much time on that when in the end I decided the see-saw platform was more intuitive.

All of the ideas were pretty generic puzzles that don't really take a lot of advantage of the sound mechanic, it was basically conforming the sound idea to already existing game ideas (i.e. the see-saw physics puzzle, switch-platforms, or the Sokoban puzzle).

Then the owl was mainly on the idea of illuminating the darkness. It was a pretty standard puzzle: you walk on a platform of square tiles. There is usually only one path of tiles that are walkable but since it is pitch black, you can't tell which tile is a hole and which isn't.

The idea then was to manipulate light so you can see the path, usually for a limited time, which then you had to commit to memory as you walk through the path in pitch black again.

So I thought the owl, while having a hoot, will also illuminate the path with its eyes like a pair of spotlights.

It was again, a pretty generic puzzle but I had little time left so I had to settle with that.

It was already Sunday of something like 5 or 6 AM, and I had only settled on the concept of it.

Things didn't look very good. I called it a day.

Day 3

When I woke up at 10 AM or something, I thought, why don't I just sleep through the rest of it? I felt defeated.

Inside my head I can already hear the critics and the I-told-you-so's. I can already imagine my friends berating me.

Somehow I felt that I had to prove to myself that I was better than that. There are people whose greatest critics are their own selves.

I knew I had to drop some a lot of features. That much was clear. (That's also how it goes in work when the reality of deadlines loom on your face.)

So in the end, I just made the tower and basically when you went inside it, the game ends.

But I couldn't resist adding another puzzle so I put in a big fire bowl inside that you had to activate by sending continual heartbeats. Doing it enough would cause the whole tower to gain color and, at its peak, some flash of light would activate whatever power was sleeping in that tower.


Play tests proved that the game sorely needs a tutorial level. I purposefully decided against a help/instructions screen explaining the finer details because I want the game to naturally teach you as you play.

It seems to me people don't want to bother reading walls of text instructions anyway.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to deliver that "natural teaching" part. In this regard, I consider my game in its current state then to be a definite failure.

Maybe I should have made a tutorial level instead of the ending?

Yes, this was my genius plan to compensate for the lack of content. I got quite a few laughs from the audience at this, so it was probably worth it.

I also realized not everyone is keen on the rhythm puzzles (i.e. the speed of the heartbeat, the Barber's knock puzzle), so it was something I wanted to revise.

I probably could have seen it coming if I had people play-testing the game early and often. I had totally disregarded the "inspect and adapt" mantra of Scrum.

Someone actually had mistaken me for a student. Haha, seriously? How old do you think I am from this image?

Unexpectedly, I was awarded "Best Art" for the game.

I guess they liked the cats.

So that was my first Global Game Jam experience. Expect me in all future Global Game Jams as well! I'll make sure to take more photos next time.

Check out my game in the Global Gam Jam website:

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