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!

Thoughts on a HealthyJamâ„¢

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 HealthyJamâ„¢ maybe the best way to have a jam at all. And that thought led to this (finally a new) Blog post!

What is a HealthyJamâ„¢ ?

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 HealthyJamâ„¢ 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 HealthyJamâ„¢. 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 HealthyJamâ„¢ advisor,

Pepe

2013: Consequences, the release, love, speeches, prizes, hatred and new love.

This year may be one of the most exciting years of my entire life. Exciting in both ways: in a good and bad way. I experienced a lot of things, you would consider good and things you would consider bad. Nonetheless i am happy that 2013 and all of her events happened to me. As i said: much stuff happened, so let’s get started!

The Beginning:
As every year (also this year) i spent the new year’s eve with my best friends somewhere in Germany. It doesn’t matter where, the only thing that matters is that we’re altogether. But this time it was a bit different. We were working on the desktop version of “The Inner World”, and were totally excited about it, but i also knew that it would be a tremendous amount of work. We started to port our Adventure Engine from Objective-C to AS3 in the end of november and also got a running prototype done just in time before christmas, but of course the devil is in the detail. So we planned a four weeks coding marathon starting on second of january. That’s why that new year’s eve was so different. I knew that in 24 hours i will start something i am very proud of, working on my own game that will be released in a beautiful box, but also i will start something i never done before. These four weeks were exhausting and fun at the same time. We had a lot of fun joking around – but we also learned that we need rest too.

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“The Inner World” on all supported screen sizes

The Consequences:
After this marathon i learned something else. Being a self employed developer, working in your own company and trying to code a self built engine for a 2D point and click working on iOS, Mac and Windows does cost a lot of time. A lot of time that you can’t spent with loved ones. I learned it the hard way when the relationship with my girlfriend ended after 5 years. My love for my work and my studio consumed everything else in my life. So I learned something about work-life balance: it is actually possible to devote your whole life to your work. But for me that would mean: Dying alone and killing my love for videogames. After working so hard and long on the Desktop version i hated “The Inner World”. I really hated it. And not only because i blamed it for my personal situation, which was totally bull-shit as i was responsible for my situation to a hundred percent by myself, but also because i could not stand it anymore. I was working too long and too hard on it.

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One of my long midnight walks

The Release:
After I learned that lesson i had to get my life back on track as where running with the speed of light forward to one of the most important event in the past 3 years: The release! Our little pr-machinery was running hot and trying to inform everyone about our game. And they did inform what would turn out one of the most important instances for us: a german “Let’s Player” called Gronkh. His videos playing “The Inner World” and loving it gave us an insane amount of public awareness. We had an super awesome time at the Indie-Arena booth at gamescom with hundreds of fans coming and taking pictures with hack, signing our booth and giving us tons of love for this game. I was totally overwhelmed. I also made some new friends at the Indie-Arena booth and met some awesome guys from the German Indie Scene. I was am living a dream and that helped a lot to get over the loss i experienced some months ago.

The Speeches:
The release also brought a lot of professional attention to our studio. We gave a lot of speeches at different venues but the most awesome for me was Casual Connect in Kyiv. I was given the opportunity to visit the Ukraine (a country i have never been before), to meet a lot of mega awesome people, to make new friends (again), give some insight in the development process and to take home the Indie Prize in the category “Best game in show“. But what i enjoyed most is the country and the people i had the honor to meet. On such events i always have the opportunity to meet the makers of stuff i love but from a professional perspective. You know, inside of me there is still this little kid that is a fanboy of videogames and for whom the makers are like rockstars. If they sign his shirt for example he’ll probably faint. So this kid was totally overwhelmed when it had the honor to meet the makers of “Nihilumbra” or “SpeedRunners” for example. And if that wasn’t awesome enough i have the chance to get an insight that other people won’t ever get: Discussing topics we both know and exchange experiences in these topics. It’s like rockstars talking to rockstars.

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Peck now is a rockstar too.

The Hatred:
After all this stuff we finally managed to get the iOS Version done. Well we thought we did. If you followed the process of our iOS release you’ll notice that we released 2 updates within the first weeks. I am not going to explain here again what happened, because that would be a blogpost by itself. I want to talk a bit about the consequences of what happened. Well our first released iOS version had some serious issues with the save-system that we didn’t encounter in our own Q&A phase. Savegames could get corrupted with a specific move that we didn’t encounter in our testing sessions, but apparently the common user would encounter everyday. So after the iOS release we still have to fix some bugs, but that’s not the point. The point is another thing that I experienced and that was totally new to me: The hate the internet can spit at you when you sell stuff to it. “I feel betrayed! I paid so much money! Game sucks!You guys suck! You guys are the worst! Everyone could have done it better! Why did you get funding for such a piece of crap! and so on…” Don’t get me wrong – i totally knew that this would happen. But knowing and experiencing are two different stories. Trust me.

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More indie love instead of hate-mails.

The New Love:
If the events of this year weren’t enough, we still managed somehow to start our new project with the current title “Beyond the mountains“. It’s a survival adventure set in the H.P. Lovecraft universe and based on the story “At the Mountains of Madness” written by the godfather of horror himself. We took our experience we gained through the process of making “The Inner World” and planned a little rougelike game we want to finish in less than half a year. Guess what: it turns out that your second game is still a wavy adventure. But a good one! From the technical point of view i get the opportunity to work with another technology, the concept for this game is based on a side project i did for the 7DRL this year and is also based in one of my favorite universes – the cthulhu mythos.

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Finishing the steam version of “The Inner World”

Well looking back at this long blogpost i realize how much stuff happened this year and how stupid it seems to even try to wrap it up in one blogpost. But hey – i tried. I hope you enjoyed this little tour through my version of 2013. As i am curious by nature, i have to ask: How was your version of 2013?

So long, thanks for all the fish and see you in 2014!
Pepe