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GGJ Archives 2009-2012

Greetings from beyond the Jam - An Obscuria Postmortem

Jman

This was my first game jam and what an experience it was. The sheer mind bottling force of trying to create just a playable prototype from scratch in 48hrs is incredible in so many ways its almost indescribable... but here it goes.

First let me say that I was originally one of the local organizers of this fine event at our location and had not intended to actually participate in the Jam aside from doing play testing and helping groups get around issues. But I was "talked into" (he didn't have to do a whole lot of convincing) Jamming basically when I got to the location by our local location leader.

This didn't exactly excuse me from my responsibilities as one of the organizers, so Friday was a split between filling my organizer responsibilities and filling my participant responsibilities. Once I managed to get the time to join a group we ended up going through close to 4 or 5 designs before doing a basic paper prototype. Fortunately the paper prototype was fun for everyone involved, which could have been partly because I was playing and tended to panic when faced with all the actions I had to take care of and start yelling at the game. Now, with our design in hand, the group got down to development. Well, I should say the Art end got down to development. At this point we have 2 coders, myself and Pat (who isn't getting here until Saturday at noon), and I had to return to some organizer responsibilities. Finally around 3am I got down to creating our basic Object Model (from scratch, no engines or frameworks) and getting our initial Title Menu displaying and functioning. Feeling satisfied that I at least have something drawing, receiving input, dispatching events and safely revisioned on SVN I crash at around 6:30am (technically Saturday), leaving my Artists to finalize their designs.

Rise and shine at 9:30am, coffee and a bagel and down to getting our Artists' incredible artwork into Flash and finally into a SWC. At about noon Pat, our second coder, gets in and the rest of the event is spent Jamming (literally, every second was needed). That's not to say we didn't have technology problems. In fact we had nearly every technology problem I can think of and one that I wouldn't have. First the usual issues: We had SVN structure issues where I had revisioned my Eclipse project settings causing conflicts only after around 12 revisions. We had my SVN server go down and I had to guide my Dad through the steps of trouble shooting. There were various issues with our platform, Flash & Flex, simply not working as we expected. And, of course, Pat lost network connection in the last 2 hours of the Jam. Now, the technology problem I didn't expect: my car unexpectedly got a flat (still trying to figure out how) and I had to spend time dealing with that crap.

My final reactions are fantastic though. The event was a huge success from an organizer standpoint, 4 playable games developed in 48 hours. From a participant standpoint I am also very pleased. Even with the shortened coding time frame I am very impressed with our final submission. We started with nothing but the standard Flash & Flex libraries and managed to get to a semi-playable prototype in under 27 hours. That being said there are some issues with our submission. Our win condition is broken which has changed the game to a "Survive as long as you can" game. Also you are unable to hide in the red sections of the map (probably an easy fix, but wasn't identified until final minutes). There are also some Menu Buttons which don't have any functionality.

Future Jam Notes:
Make sure that my team mates are around for the whole Jam. We lost a nice amount of time while I was getting the Photoshop assets into Flash, tweaking them and compiling them into the SWC while Pat wasn't around.
Always have SVN on hand even if it is off-site, but make sure you have someone knowledgeable at the SVN site for trouble shooting (working through your Dad can be painful).
Never under-estimate the mental soothing abilities of a quiet walk. At around noon on Sunday (likely in a fatigued haze, since I still can't remember how I did this), I managed to break nearly all of our mechanics. We spent the next 2 hours trying to fix the build that was on my machine. I finally took a 30 minute break and took a walk around the campus. When I came back we reverted back to our last stable build and I spent the remaining Jam time getting all of the functionality back in and all of the remaining mechanics that weren't built. I credit it all to the walk and fresh air.
Next time, maybe use an engine or a framework, but it was really fun and rewarding to build it all from scratch.

All in all I had an incredible time. Its an exhausting event, but one I wouldn't miss for the world. The best description I can come up with to describe the entire event would be a mental decathlon. The amount of mental challenges that need to be overcome are staggering, but every one delivers fantastic accomplishment once overcome.

Thanks for reading. Catch you next year. - Justin "Jman" Giannone


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