Simoroshka & games

Mar
15

How I failed my first Global Game Jam

The most important thing about failures is that you learn from you mistakes. And you get a more accurate vision of reality and how things work. So it doesn’t make sense to put memories about failures aside without first reflecting on them.

Why I failed? Well, when there is no game that you can share and maybe even mention in your portfolio, and when you had no fun whatsoever, I consider a game jam failed. It was stressful and result sucks. What else there is to say? Let’s better go to the details and my learnings.

Clinching to an idea

When the theme was announced, I instantly knew what I have to do. “Ritual” was exactly what our autumn game idea was about, it fit perfectly, it already had the design document and all logic written down, and it was certainly, definitely going to be THE chance to make it happen. Because game jams are great and powerful. I didn’t change my mind when I haven’t got any artists on my team. “It is the game I want to make and if needed, I will make it alone”. Oh how wrong I was.

You need to be flexible. If there is not enough resources, maybe you should put your perfect idea aside and join another team and have fun doing something crazy. The point is not making the game, the point is making something, learning new things and having fun.

Making a content driven game

Let’s face it, point-and-click puzzle games are not good for game jams. It is not the sort of game where you can quickly make a prototype and then just improve it. Every logical connection has to be programmed separately, every object drawn in a certain way and placed carefully, every puzzle has to be programmed from scratch. It is also very easy to make a point-and-click unplayable if your visual clues are not refined enough. Graphics were paramount, and they don’t come quick.

Next time, if I am alone or in a small team, I’d rather focus on a mechanics-driven game. Or just something very small, but fun.

Not using an engine

I never made a point-and-click adventure before. But I thought: “okay, I’ve done Grow Christmas in javascript, it was easy, I can reuse code, it will be faster than trying to use Unity for this, or an entirely new tool”. As a result, I was trapped with trivialities of programming interface, scene changes, causalities and other things that would be much easier with a proper tool. There was no time left to improve interactions, puzzles, animations and graphics, and the game-feel in general. In other words, there was no time left to do things I actually enjoy.

From now on I am going to make use of engines, tools, and libraries. Using what you know might make life easier, but learning new things during a game jam is also the positive part of the experience. Tools should be appropriate for your goals.

Stressing too much

The world is not going to end if you don’t make a perfect game in time. But I felt like that and translated this message to my 1.5 team-mates. I also could not sleep properly and exhausted myself completely. Looking back I know that it was not worth it. I love making games, and there is no reason to make it feel like cramming before an exam. Takes the fun out and reduces creativity and productivity.

This is it. Live and learn, that’s gotta be my life motto.

The game can be actually tried to play here. Despite us cutting at least one-third of the original idea, the end can be reached. Although it can be quite impossible with the impressionistic graphics like that.

Feb
23

I am back

I have been silent. The winter wasn’t that easy on me. Let me make a recap of what was going on.

C++ wasn’t that difficult to pick up again. After all, it was my first programming language and I used it for quite a while during my undergraduate studies. The most difficult part was to find the right IDE, install a proper compiler and learn how to use external libraries. Never before a working “Hello World” program was that exciting and rewarding! I experimented with SDL graphic outputs, tried out a couple of tutorials, wrote a flocking simulation, and got a very useful code review from a good friend.

blurred flock 2

I participated in Global Game Jam and made way too many mistakes for one weekend. So I have no project to show. But maybe I will write about this experience later. Reflecting always helps to learn from your own mistakes, and sometimes you learn more from bad experiences than from good ones.

I am volunteering in media team at the local IGDA branch (one of the biggest ones, and probably the coolest). I like being useful instead of just trying to casually hang out and feeling out of place. I am not very good at networking, but I have my ways of connecting with people. Like actually doing things together.

Also, I am trying to write my master’s thesis, which is coming along way too slowly and which I have to submit in 7 weeks or so. The topic is quite interesting, I am just not a fan of academic writing. And I thought that I might try something different to boost my work and to give this blog a bit of life back.

Soon(ish) I am going to write a post about co-creative game design, using the materials for my first chapter.
And if there will be time and inspiration, I’ll also tell why I think my first GGJ was a failure.

Oct
10

So we decided to make another game

After the game jam three of us decided that since we had so much fun and the result happened to be great, we need to continue making games together. Well, we failed. And then we didn’t. Let me explain.

The first week

We have an awesome idea that includes time travel, surrealism, and a strong psychological element. We enthusiastically discuss it for half a day, trying to make sense of each other’s visions of the end result. It is going to be so great! We seem to lack only one thing – a solid story, without which the desired game is impossible. But we are eager to come up with one during the next week. And as soon as we have the story we will be able to start working on the game itself and test all the crazy mechanics we came up with.

The second week

We don’t have a story and it seems that none of us is able to create a good enough one for this undoubtedly awesome game idea. For some reason I almost expected this to happen. We were too ambitious, we luck certain skills, and we put ourselves into a situation where failure was most likely.
It is easy to get discouraged and drop everything when you encounter a problem like this. But we want to make games! Maybe that great idea was untimely, maybe we need to start small. We must try and make at least something.
So we decide to take a little piece of what we initially wanted to create, a tiny bit of all the complex mechanics, something very easy and well explored by other games. Like point and click puzzle games. Like room escape games.

The third week

We’ve done some research on room escape puzzles. Most of them are horrible and unplayable, but some of them are very inspirational. We concentrate on those (keeping in mind the horrible ones to avoid the mistakes), we play them, we try to understand how they work. Ir runs pen and paper game design analysis. She comes up with a story. I study a new game engine. We have drafts. And sound recording plans.

I think now we are moving somewhere. I think we are going to make it. And it makes me very happy.

I will most likely post updates every couple of weeks or so.

Shaman draft

PS The games that inspired us are made by Rusty Lake. They know how to make good room escape games (although quite creepy at times).