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Hi there!

It seems that somehow you arrived at my personal website, so let me just give you a short Introduction of myself:

I’m Alexander Pieper Co-Founder & Technical Director of Studio Fizbin where I develop Videogames and “Interactive Stuff” for a living since 2011. I studied Applied Computer Science and started Studio Fizbin together with Mareike and Sebastian directly after it. Since then I’ve been developing an Adventure-Game Framework, a history based card-game-table for a museum, multiple child apps, a massive-local-multiplayer-hockey-game, built a massive spaceship-arcade-game controller together with 10 kids, given a bazillion talks, attended lovely game-related events, lectured at different universities, finally beaten Super Castlevania IV, built a lot of different hacky-tech-prototypes, and tinkered a lot.

You want to know more about it? Hang on for a little while till i manage to get my website ready!

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A Game Jam at the MIT Pt.2

And now to the interesting part of my trip – the game jam at the MIT. If you didn’t read Pt.1 of this post you can read it here.

Sunday:
After getting up a bit more tired than usual we got breakfast and were ready to jam! We already knew the topic of the jam and I must say: I was quite unsure about how the jam would turn out. Because: first of all the topic is one that you wouldn’t necessarily think of in context of games.

Rik introducing the topic.
Rik introducing the topic.

So the main topic was Martin Luther and his theses he drafted nearly 500 years ago. But before we could get our hands dirty with drafting out our game ideas of course we had to introduce ourselves to each other. So the people taking part at the jam were shuffled together and played a round of a card game called Buffalo. It’s a easy to grasp game: You draw adjective cards and noun cards related to persons. Then first who comes up with a specific person and convinces the other people that this person exists gets to take the cards. After playing this for 10 minutes, and I must say this is quite hard if you’re in a foreign country and don’t know none of the local known people, we got the task to redesign the game in order to adjust it to our liking. We then had to explain why we came up with the new rules. And all of that in another 10 minutes. This put me under a lot of pressure first – but retrospectively i think that it wasn’t that bad. I got to know a bit the people I was sitting at the table through their opinion on the game and how they would change it. Which is a pretty interesting way to get to know someone I must admit.

After that we got a presentation about martin luther’s life and doings in detail. As I’m not that much of a religious person this was pretty awesome for me because that would give me more insight and Ideas to make a game about. If you also need a refresher on what he did i suggest you read his wiki entry.

After reading the entry at first you may think: “That is an impossible topic to make a fun game about!”. As i said earlier, i also was skeptical in the beginning. But I was reminded of something I tend to forget: If you look closely at a specific topic there is always a core you find interesting which you can turn into a game mechanic with which the topic can be made accessible to other people. And for me it was the translating of text. So one big things martin luther did was translate the bible into german so that the common folk could read & understand it. And that’s a big deal. Because translating information makes you the gate for that information. If you’re part of a small group that understands a text which a lot of people depend on you hold great power there. Thousands or millions of people will read or hear your interpretation of a piece of information. And thinking of that mechanic in the group we came up with a game that is related to martin luther’s work on the translation of the bible. It’s about interpreting (because translation often comes with interpretation) written laws / rules.

First set of cards for our game
First set of cards for our game

The basic concept is this: Every player gets three GOAL cards with goals written on them like “At least one adjective” “No word with less than 3 letters” “Odd number of words” “Use alliteration” and so on. These goals are to kept secret. Now the group gets number of players +1 RULE cards. These cards have a very vague rule written on them like “Blue socks are prohibited” or “You may own guns”. Finally the TOPIC card is drawn. This card defines the topic under which the rules shall be discussed and interpreted. This topic only serves to drive the discussion. Now the first player starts by picking a rule and suggesting an interpretation of that rule for example: I pick the “Blue socks are prohibited” rule and suggest it should read “Blue and short socks should be prohibited”. If i had the “Use alliteration” GOAL card i would get points for this interpretation. But of course my interpretation now is open for discussion by the other players. Each of the player tries to bring in his goals in the interpretation but also trying to not expose his goals so that the other player don’t know how exactly they can screw you in discussions. It was a pretty fun game in the end (way more fun that my vague description seems to describe but hey – you can interpret it as you like 😉 ).

Other games focused on other aspects of the topic of Martin Luther’s life. One game for example was about convincing other people of your idea while not being caught by a priest or even the pope. It had a awesome & funny system of keeping track of your health which you could also improve with beer (of course).

At around 6pm we finished jamming and each group presented their results. This wasn’t my first short jam but again I was amazed on what you can achieve on such a short amount of time.

As this post has already become way longer than i wanted it to become I’ll have to come to an end.

I would like to thank the people at Goethe Insitut Boston for having me and making this awesome experience possible. The same goes for the fine folks of the Game Lab, thanks for having us!

A special “Thank you” goes to Christoph. Thanks for showing us Boston like this. Thanks for organizing everything. Thanks for always making sure we found our way home and had a nice place to sleep. Be sure – that whenever you make it to Berlin, we’ll have drinks on my terrace.

Have a nice weekend everyone!

A Game Jam at the MIT Pt.1

It’s been a busy few weeks (as always). We’re working on the console port of The Inner World, we’re working on contract work, we’re working on the sequel, I’ve been organizing a jam for a client, I’ve been mentoring kids in building cool stuff with garbage and electronics, showed our game at gamescom and in the end… i got the opportunity to go to Boston. And it was amazing:

Thursday evening:
My friend Riad and I arrive at the Airport in Boston and there Christoph is already waiting for us to pick us up. We’re super happy to be taken care of that well, as neither of us has ever been to the states. So the first day is basically being amazed by the city and especially the apartment we had the luck to stay in. We even had access to a rooftop terrace with a beautiful view at the skyline of boston.

Skyline Drinks

Friday:
This day got busier than we thought. First we went shopping quickly and had breakfast. After that we went to visit the Boston Indie Game Collective. As we’re also working on germanys first indie collective called “Saftladen“, we’re more than happy to talk to other fellow indies to discuss the challenges we have to face. After that we went to the MIT where Rik showed us the Gamelab. It’s really an awesome place with awesome people trying to teach gamedesign. After the quick tour we we’re invited in a gamedesign class and interviewed about our relationship to boardgames and how we grew up with them (if we did). It was interesting to think about that again how we played as kids and how that maybe influenced the way we design & develop games today.

Rik’s office

After the tour we went for a little walk together with Jana & Friedrich and explored the West End of Boston a bit. We walked over the Charles River and had a look at the public garden. I must say this was really nice as walking through all the different parts of Boston & Cambridge really had a big variety of architectural styles to offer.

Friedrich says hi

After that we had dinner and ended of course, on our terrace again for drinks.

Saturday:
We went to visit the Boston Festival of Indie Games. The Festival had two floors: the first served as the boardgame showcase while the second served as the digital game showcase. I must say, although in the first place I was more interested in the digital showcase, the boardgames really amazed me. There was such a variety of interesting prototypes to play. My favorite was one where you had to build spiders nets using rubber bands. Your goal was to try to trap as many insects as you can by just throwing them at your net. This game was designed by one of the members of the Game Makers Guild, a very nice group of board game designers.

Rubber Band Spider Net

The digital showcase on the other hand had also it’s gems hidden between all the more prototype like games. On the one hand there were very professional games like The Flame In The Flood and Perception which both were created by ex AAA-Devs from Irrational. But for me the most interesting game was Ape Out from Gabe Cuzillo which won two awards at the FIG-Award Ceremony: Audience Choice and Compelling Game Loop. And i totally agree. It had a feeling of Hotline Miami with it, but as it always showed you the whole map when you died, it gave you a nice sense of how far you progressed and what you should try differently. Sadly i didn’t take much pictures of the game themselves as I was busy checking them all out.

As a summary i must say: The FIG is unlike any festival i have seen till now, because it includes a wide variety of games regarding to their “polished” status. A lot of them were very experimental and lacked good looking graphics, but on the other hand that gave some of the more experimental games the chance to be played by a big crowd. On of my surprise hits was a game called Lightning. It has a very distinct art style and the gameplay is weird – but in a good way. It’s a 4 player top down arena shooter where you have to tap the shoot button in a specific manner to guide the lightning bolt coming out of your ship. I think there is still a lot of polish to do on exactly that mechanic, but as i played and watched people playing i think there could be a little gem hidden inside that loop.

I think i have to stop this wall of text from getting any bigger – so stay tuned for part 2 of my boston trip report next sunday!

Cheers!

Thoughts on a HealthyJam™

The last 2 weeks have been pretty busy for me as I was mentoring / organizing / producing a workshop for a german kids TV station where we worked on 4 game prototypes in 9 days. These 9 days have been exciting and hyper productive and as a logical consequence of that also exhausting. That’s when I really realized that having a HealthyJam™ maybe the best way to have a jam at all. And that thought led to this (finally a new) Blog post!

What is a HealthyJam™ ?

We’re talking about a variation of the regular GameJam. A GameJam is an event where people gather and form teams (or not) to develop a small game in a fixed amount of time. Usual time frames are 24h, 48h or 7 days. There are hundreds of events where you can have jams with a lot of other people simultaneously like 7DRL, LudumDare, 0hJam, CastleJam, LystGameJam, BerlinMiniJam and many many more!

All these Jams share a max time frame for the final product, like for example 7 days to create a rougelike. Now this is a max time of 7 * 24h = 268h but of course you usually will spent less time than that working on your game as you need also time to eat, sleep, use the bathroom and so on. But still – there is a lot of potential to reduce the time spent on such mundane tasks in favor of the game. And that’s exactly where the HealthyJam™ comes into play.

The basic concept is pretty easy: Do not (and i mean it) work more than about 8h on your project per day. This rule becomes exponentially more important with each day the jam takes place. If you have a 2 day jam and work an extra 3-4 hours on the first day, that may not be that much of a problem, but: you shall never underestimate the energy that developing fun games takes from your mind & body so keeping that extra 3-4 hours per day for a week? Well I don’t think that’s a good idea.

Why should I embrace the HealthyJam™ ?

I actually don’t know if you should embrace it and use it as your only JamStyle, but – I urge you to at least try the HealthyJam™. Keeping a fixed time schedule for each day and strictly avoiding putting more than 1-2 hours of extra work per day in your game will keep your mind fresh and body rested. Of course this will cut your time for some extra features on your game, but will also force you to focus on the core features and polish them. Because usually implementing a new feature (stable!) will take more time than putting a bit more polish on your core feature of your game. Also having a fixed daily routine like breakfast at XX, than jam till XX (4h), go out for lunch and jam again till XX(4h) helps you to have some sort of time planning already done by the circumstances. For me that helps a lot to keep a clear goal for each step.

So back to the workshop I mentioned earlier: Working nine days with a flexible timetable would of course lead to working open end for 9 days straight. That would have totally exhausted us by day 3 or 4 which would have ruined the following days. So I had a very rigid timetable for each day: Breakfast at 8am, start jamming at 9am, lunch at around 12:30am, back to jamming at 13:30am and ending it at 6pm. There were two days where we put 1 or 2 hours more work into the projects, but other than that we held on to that schedule. And the result? We had to cut features but in the end we did a polished set of features which were very polished for being done in a jam. And the playtestings went great!

tl;dr

Try out a short jam. Cut features in favor of your core features and try forcing yourself to use your time after the jam for other things in order free your mind of your problems you encountered in the jam. They tend to solve themselves.

Your HealthyJam™ advisor,

Pepe