ProcJam is an online game jam which is all about procedural generation. It is organized by Michael Cook, who is an awesome researcher and who accidentally inspired me to choose a particular topic for my thesis. Since I am now all about computational creativity in games, I couldn’t miss this event.
The tagline that is supposed to guide people through this relaxed 1-week long game jam says “make something that makes something”. Participants were to create a game or a tool that would make use of any procedural generation algorithm. No other theme, no constraints.
For me, it was yet another chance to try something new. I didn’t have much time and the week was rough, so I ended up implementing in Unity3D a depth first search algorithm for labyrinth generation. Very simple and the result is not very exciting, but still it is a new experience.
My inner game designer is not happy with the game and refuses to call it such. There is no winning condition, just endlessly generated labyrinths of increasing size. The controls are not very responsive and the ball player annoyingly bumps into walls. The labyrinth itself is not very suitable for a labyrinth game: of course, it is a proper labyrinth with no loops and closed rooms, but going through it is very straightforward and poses no challenges. Maybe it would be better if the labyrinth weren’t visible from above.
It would be cool to add collectables, or enemies, or both. Or to make it first-person and add a possibility to leave marks on walls. Or inverting the labyrinth and moving the ball on top of the walls. Or tilting the board instead of controlling the ball. Or making the labyrinth transformable with walls appearing and disappearing here and there. Or adding portals (I like portals). So many options, so little time…
As for the jam experience… I find it more difficult to be completely on my own. I like constraints: a particular place where you have to be, a theme, a team, a strict time frame. I like to be all in the project, without juggling it with studies, theater rehearsals, home errands and other very important things. I really want to participate in Ludum Dare, but I need to think how to organize my life around those dates (like finding a local event place and saying no to everything else).
So, quantum game jam, hah? It was borderline awesome!
Apparently, it is not so impossible to make a game in such a limited period of time, even without much of experience. Game Jams are said to be 48 hours in general, but ours started very late on Friday, and we had to postpone actual work till Saturday morning because everyone was too tired. And the deadline was at 15 sharp on Sunday.
We had four people on the team, only myself being capable of making things in Unity. So I became the coder (all bugs are on me). My awesome friends Nicola and Ir did graphic design and other things. Much of which was discarded in the process due to the communication or technical problems… Mikko the quantum physicist was basically designing the game around our initial idea and coming up with quantum ideas. And bringing us chocolates. What would we do without him?
We wasted some of the time due to the lack of experience, but still managed to finish the game. Well, what exactly do I mean by finishing?
The game has a story and motivation.
It has instructions.
It has a gameplay with specific mechanics. The jam theme was “Quantum Rules”, so we have some of those.
It has pretty design.
It has nice sound.
There is a goal and clear win and lose conditions. And an ending.
Of course, it has bugs. And sure, it is my fault. Just like sprite animations Nicola spent so much time on, but we couldn’t use because I didn’t know the process and there was no time to learn. But still, come on, first game jam ever, the second finished game. It is finished and it is a win!
The gamejam version with source and executable files can be found on the official page.
Here is the video of the game.
As I mentioned, the game has bugs, some of them are quite critical, some of them are said to be features while they are really not. I am now working on the post-jam patched version of the game. Here is the list of things I want to fix, change or implement, in order of priority.
Quantum timer doesn’t show decreasing probability. This is quite bizarre, because inside Unity it works, but freezes in the build. I have to go through the scripts and make sure there is nothing fishy.
Particles don’t fall. At first we didn’t think about it. I started with classic tetris mechanics, this is where it comes from. Then we decided that it doesn’t make much sense in combination with color/shape “quantum” uncertainty, since in tetris color doesn’t matter. And so we added match-3 logic. At which point particles should start always falling instead of hanging in the air. There was not enough time, of course.
Collision bug. Like in tetris, when pieces reach the upper border, you lose. It worked until some moment in the development, now it is very much broken and crazy things happen.
Slower particle elimination. I mean, now they just pop. I actually have a piece of code that adds a delay so you can see what is going on there. But it caused some very crazy bugs we couldn’t ignore, so I commented it for later testing.
Random level initialization. Yep, the one we have there is very much predefined. I couldn’t make the GameObjects to instantiate properly and there wasn’t much time, so I just placed things in the level manually. Anything for finishing the game.
UI things and sounds. Minor adjustments like slow music change, in-game text messages (hurry up, you still can save her!), bonus sounds, pause, reset, proper exit (are you sure you want to leave Mu here?).
At some points I was thinking that we really lack a producer who could go and check what exactly everyone’s doing, stop them and tell what is necessary to do right now. But probably next time we can do it better ourselves. It is important to ask yourself and each other what is the most crucial part of the work and what are the priorities. What must we do and what can we go without if we don’t have enough time? I had to say no many times, because I knew that I won’t be able to implement this particular thing in a reasonable time. I had to remind people, that we don’t need perfect, we need something right now. But otherwise my team was perfect and I could just dive into coding (and even get help when my brain stopped working).
Stick to the minimum, especially when it comes to coding or trying new things. There will be no time to get all those awesome ideas done and tested. Take one, maximum two and build around them.
Dirty hacks and playable game are better than clean code and an unfinished thing. Do whatever it takes.
Have all the tools ready. You don’t want to spend precious time installing software. Especially if it is video recording/editting app and you have one hour left to make the demo and upload all the things.
Everyone should do what they can do best. If you have an all-rounder, it’s better if he/she fills a gap and doesn’t try to do everything else as well. Multitasking isn’t very efficient.
It was a great test for our newly formed team. We decided to continue making games together. Three of us have all the basic skills that are needed to make a game and nothing can stop us. =)
There was another takeaway from the conference that I haven’t mentioned.
I signed up for my first game jam!
For some reason I always thought that (a) you need a team ready (b) you need to be super good. I was wrong. Apparently, you can come without a team or great gamedev experience (if any). Maybe those beliefs are not entirely incorrect and one gets more out of a game jam this way. But you need to start somewhere. And a small game jam for 30 people tops sounds like a perfect occasion to expand your comfort zone.
However, I did what I usually do when I don’t know what to do and what to expect.
I googled “how to game jam”.
Apparently, one of the biggest problems is making the game small enough and cutting off all the brilliant ideas that you came up with. I am not new to this. I actually consider myself to be rather good with abandoning anything that cannot be achieved.
Another thing that got my attention is the impact of adding music and sounds to the game. They say that perceived quality of a game with sounds is much higher than of one without. It makes sense to me, and I intend to allocate some jamming time to basic sound design. Right after having the very first working toy prototype.
And, of course, the point is having fun. I am bringing two of my great nerd friends with me, and the place is a cool science museum, so I don’t think we will have any problems with fun. =)
I am going to post quite a bit on twitter and instagram in the process. You can follow me there if you are interested.
And the investment (yes, even student tickets are quite pricey) was worth it. Starting with lunch snacks and unlimited free coffee, and continuing with lots of interesting and highly inspiring talks by awesome people from around the world and the industry. Obviously, there wasn’t any networking for me there (not yet). What I got is a better understanding of what is going on, who are those awesome people who make things to go on (apparently they are not gods, they are just awesome people who do things), what I can become and where I want to go.
I would say, 2 days well spent.
Ability to communicate is one of the most valuable qualities for a game developer.