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GGJ Archives 2009-2012

Game Jam Postmortem

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Friday:
Game Jam starts at 5pm local time. This means (a) leaving work early to get there, (b) fighting rush-hour traffic, (c) no available parking anywhere near the site.

To be fair, (c) is an issue in general with a site located on a college campus for jammers who aren't students. But around UT, *all* the parking is restricted until 5:45PM on weekdays.

We end up making to the UT area by about 5:30, and find parking 4 blocks from the site as the permit restrictions lift at 5:45. We haul the equipment over and arrive a bit after 6. Missed the keynote, and everyone has largely organized into teams already. At least my group consists of two senior programmers (myself and Tess), and one junior artist (Marley), so we can survive without additional help. We do meet Yoan, who was going to help us with design and act as producer. He gets pulled over to another team that really needed his help more than we did shortly after we started getting some initial design ideas down. This leaves me in the role of producer. And programmer. And designer. And concept artist. Tess is taking on the role of lead programmer and art instructor.

We don't really have a lead designer. With a committee of 3, it's not too difficult to reach agreement, so that's not a big problem. We do recognize that we're probably going to have some shortcomings in art and in level design. Our artist has never even used Photoshop before, so she's learning as she goes (thus Tess' role as art instructor). We spend a bunch of time struggling with technical difficulties with the network at the site, which was unstable and unpredictable the entire weekend.

The site we're in closes at 11, at which point we have to pack up all our gear and head out. At that point, we have our engine selected (Unity3D : http://unity3d.com), programming language (C#), some initial concept art, a rough asset list and project plan, and some not-yet-functional code, and a subversion repository.

We head back home to work for a little longer. Marley is a minor, so she has a curfew. By the end of the night we at least have a title screen up.

Saturday:
The site opens at 6am. We don't actually head out until around 8am. Marley's dad was kind enough to feed us breakfast before we go. No traffic this time, but there's also no parking near the site again. We end up a few extra blocks away, which means we're hauling equipment on foot about a half mile to the site.

By mid-morning, we have the initial level placeholder background in place with a character sprite on the screen moving around, though unconstrained, and basic flow in place through the levels of the game. We planned ahead and structured the game so we can add in extra levels relatively easily as they come ready. We're all working so hard that we forget to arrange for food until we're all hungry enough that it's becoming a hinderance to work. Rather than break to go somewhere to eat (which would involve another hike), we have food delivered. By the time the site closes at 11pm, we have three levels in place (one basically complete, one rough, and one placeholder programmer art), an initial pass at movement constraints on our character, and some of the foundation for hazardous projectiles. One of the audio people at the site offers to do some sound for us. We listen to his samples, but sound is low on our list of priorities.

Another equipment haul back to the car and drive back home, followed by a few more hours of work before curfew. At this point, we have basic gameplay in place. There are a number of additional mechanics we want to add, but time and resource constraints are looking like they're going to have to be cut. On the drive home, Tess has a gread idea for the cutscene at the top of the tower, which is a major improvement over the placeholder we have there. By the end of the night, the movement constraints on the characters are working better and we have enemies in the game moving around.

Sunday:
Last day of the jam, and we only have a partial day to finish up. We manage to pack up and head to the site by a little after 9. After one sweep looking for parking this time, I drop Marley and Tess off at the site with the equipment so they can start setting up while I park the car and hike in.

In the handful of hours we have, we manage to swap in a placeholder screen with our cutscene at the top of the tower, replace several pieces of placeholder programmer art with improved versions, replace the one placeholder level with an actual level, add one additional level, place enemies on all the levels, and get the entrance and exit points for the levels set up properly.

We look up the submission requirements. Very Windows-specific: no support for "tgz" or even "gz" extensions. We give up on zip due to lack of time to figure out the command-line options for "zip", and go with "tar.gzip". At least it supports gzip, even if the extension restriction is non-standard. After three failed upload attempts due to the really awful network access at the site, we finally manage to upload the 25MB file. The successful upload takes about 20 minutes. There are still lots of things we'd like to fix, and plenty of features that got dropped. But that's always the way of it with releases on deadlines.

The only really eventful part of the day on Sunday was the period where we had a cup of coffee introduced to the power strip that was providing power to all of our systems. That required a brief break for some clean-up and downtime as the deadline was looming.

General summary
Despite a few shortcomings around sharing of project files, I'm still pretty happy with the choice of Unity3D. I would not suggest it for a large project, since you have to re-create a number of changes manually on other systems.
It makes a big difference to start with familiarity of your tools. Learning or teaching new tools on a tight deadline is risky.
A large company could *never* produce anything functional in that short a period of time.
Missed the keynote. Had we seen it in advance, we probably would have come up with a different game.

Bugs I'd like to have fixed before submitting:
- orthographic projection is only working at 720p resolution (1280x720). We know the fix, and it's easy. We just didn't have time to get it in place.
- The movement constraints on some of the levels are off slightly. We made some last minute changes to the level art, but didn't get the changes in to update the walkable area.

Our result: http://www.globalgamejam.com/2010/princess-memorandum


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