GGJ Archives 2009-2012

First Glimpse


This year was the second time I participated in the IGDA Global Game Jam. While my first year participating was a blast, this year was even more exhilarating. This is due to the fact that the team I was on was able to fully realize a basic concept of DECEPTION (the main theme) which I had initially created. Four friends came along with me to the Jam and once we arrived we joined up with three others and for The Keyboardists.

Concept Origins:
The night before the Jam, my senior project partner Josh Foote and I were considering worst case scenarios for our school game project and finding solutions ahead of time. As a small team of two wthin a short development cycle, we chose to have our game be a simple recreation of the board/card game Sequence in the XNA framework. Networking over XNA was proving to be a bit time consuming given our 8 week development time period, and encroached upon the development of other critical game elements. For this reason we reverted to our Plan B which was a 1 player mode against A.I.

At the time we had no other place to go, but it worried me that if for WHAT-EVER reason the A.I. did not reach our expectations we would be left with a broken game. This is because both players would have their hand of cards be visible to their opponent. In some convoluted fashion, I arrived at the conclusion that this means we would need to make it so that both players look at the same screen but each is able to see only portions of it. I arrived at the conclusion that wearing different colored glasses might provide us with a way of restricting which player sees what on the screen. After a few tests the concept was fairly proven but had a some inconsistencies when we tried to hide information from both players. It worked best if we only hid objects from one player due to the restrictions of color and colored cellophane glasses that we have yet to overcome. Essentially, this technique makes it possible for the player with the glasses to not be able to see anything rendered a certain color of blue on the screen that does not exceed a maximum thickness.

Application to the Game Jam Project:
After testing, I used what I found to be the most simple and full proof application of this concept as our way of applying the theme of DECEPTION. DECEPTION, we thought, could be the hiding of information from one player by the level. After an initial brainstorming session the first night, where everyone's ideas and suggestions were taken and integrated together, we decided upon a side scroller in the likes of Mario. Each level concludes with the meeting of both players at the door to the next level. The next day Josh Foote and I went about designing the levels that would best portray the application of our novel game mechanics.

The two playable levels in the game are the result of applying the simple elements of deception that the environment has against the players to the abilities of the players themselves. These 2 levels that the team was able to implement are the most basic of 5 simple designs we created on paper for the contest. With the number of variations available, there would be approximately 20 total different puzzles that the final game would include.

My Contributions:
Since I created the original mechanics of the game The Keyboardists were developing it was natural that I play an integrated role in the game's design and act also as the producer of the project. This is in contrast to my studies at DeVry University where my classes focus mainly on programming. Fortunately, personal experience in all three of the fields allowed me to contribute successfully to the development of the proof of concept that the team was able to present at the end of the Jam.

Player Balance:
Josh Foote and I worked well together designing the layout of the levels. After grasping the team's initial goals for the game, we focused mainly on the balance between the two players and the skills each of them are endowed with. Once we felt that the player abilities were quite equivalent we began to itemize the dynamic elements of the environment. Having both of those allowed us to begin to draw mock-ups of our levels on Josh and my favorite game design utility-- graph paper. Our teammate Allison was very helpful in reviewing our ideas and verifying the cohesiveness and flow of everything as a whole.

Terminology and Level Design:
Before we began to draw the levels we drew up a legend of items and their map symbol equivalents. We wanted each of our mock-ups to look and feel consistent and use the same notation. We decided that there were 6 different environment elements that we can mix an match at varying degrees of difficulty. We decided on baseline descriptions of what would constitute Super Basic, Basic, Advanced, and Difficult levels. We began with each of us drawing up 2 of the 6 environment elements since the Super Basic levels only contained one environment element at its most simple difficulty. Since the audience will have trouble understanding a unique concept such as ours we decided not to concentrate our design or the programmers functionality around the difficult concepts. We also decided to change it from a side scroller to static screens in order to properly introduce the player to the concepts of the game. After basic lessons are learning, we will have the screens scroll instead of being static. The most difficult concepts are meant to be learned by the players as they progress through the game together. At this stage we also defined things such such as diagonal jump upwards, horizontal jump, and vertical jump distance values.

My Pet, Player Two:
There was one more large design consideration we still needed to fix up a bit. Since player two cannot see some of the parts of the environment he must constantly follow 'orders' from the player in the know-- player 1. Player two can do more of the actions such as collect coins and hit boxes, but it seemed like player 1 had most of the say in the game because he always held the secret knowledge. To combat this, we decided to alter the way we handled enemies which I have previously not discussed in this blog. Our first design of enemy interaction was that player one, who can see everything on the screen, approaches an enemy and removes a barrier or shield which allows player two to jump on him like a Goomba. The enemy in this design was visible to both players at all times except for the shield which was invisible to the player with the glasses.

Player Two's New Ability:
We thought that this opportunity provided us with the ability to gift player two with opportunities to give player one commands. We decided to hide the enemy on screen from BOTH players. As player 1 approaches the location of the enemy, player 2's controller increases its level of vibration. Think of this as a game of hot and cold where both are wearing blindfolds. Player two has to indicate to the other when the enemy is approaching. Player one will cautiously traverse the level scanning a certain range in front of him to find the enemy. Once found with the scanning ability, the enemy will pop into vision and he changes from an immobile state to a wandering one. Player two must now go over to the newly uncovered enemy and finish him off.

In the end The Keyboardists were able to make two solid playable levels that conveyed the mechanics we intended. I personally am proud of the level of functionality we were able to achieve within the game we presented. We had no crashes, and our judge testers seemed to have fun playing. The audience had a "OOOOOOH, I get it" moment when we held the glasses up to the projector they were watching and they understood what player 2 was (or wasn't) seeing the whole time.

I entered the Jam with no intentions of competing against the other teams who were at the campus along with us. I was just looking forward to the exciting challenges that the game development process inevitably involves. I was excited to hear that we received second place in the judge's favorite category. I was quite honored when the other students who participated in the Jam voted us as the team that fulfilled "The Spirit of the Game Jam" category!

Overall I had another great time at the IGDA Global Game and I plan to participate next year if at all possible. I am much more confident in my skills in rapid game prototyping, and am further encouraged to explore prototyping many of my other small designs.

Thanks to all who helped put on the Global Game Jam both at IGDA and DePaul University. And thanks to the rest of the participants who gave me an enjoyable ending to a seemingly endless weekend full of excitement paired with all of the stress and pressure from working under intense pressure. Thanks to the creators of Co-Dependancy at GGJ 2009 who inspired me to create the relationships between the two cooperative players. And finally thanks to my teammates who all pulled together to complete a very exciting prototype of a great potential game.

To Play the Game:
To check out the game that I was a part of developing, click the projects link on my profile page and download it. For the mechanics to be fully realized there must be two players and one must have a red + amber cellophane film in front of his vision. The game is labeled as "[Internal Name]: Asteroids Plus Blue (Also Mario)". We were all so focused on getting the game in a playable state throughout the weekend that we were barely able to play the game and get a sense of a name fitting to the experience.


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