Last weekend I participated in my first Global Game Jam! I had a small team of just me and my sister. Despite the fact our team had less people than others, and neither of us were experienced artists, I think we still completed a neat little game called “Stuck In The Middle With Light“. The Global Game Jam theme this year was “Rituals”. When I heard the theme, I was pretty excited because I believe I excel in creating an eerie, dark atmosphere. So I thought Rituals would be a very fitting theme for my personal aesthetics. The weekend was a lot of fun, but at times it was one of my most challenging development experiences.
In “Stuck in the Middle With Light”, you find yourself surrounded by demons lurking in the darkness. The only source of light is in the middle of the chamber, and there are unlit torches by this light. You must place the torches in the proper positions to complete the ritual and expel the demons from the area.
Game Design in 48 hours
Before Global Game Jam 2016, the only game jam I’d ever done was Ludum Dare 34. My entry was a “jam entry”, therefore I had 72 hours to submit my game. Sure, it was challenging for my first game jam, but I really felt the pressure with only 48 hours in GGJ. The first night was very rough. My sister and I didn’t know Unity very well, so we spent a lot of time slamming documentation into our brains. As we got accustomed to Unity, we started outlining what the game would be about. Once the clock hit 2 AM I was exhausted and overwhelmed with the amount of work we needed to do. In hindsight, we should have just went home and rested the first night. If we had done that, we would have had a lot more energy the next day (Saturday).
At 4 AM, I managed to get over an hour of sleep. Apparently, that was enough rest for me to get back into the development strong. On Saturday morning, we looked at the concepts we had written the night before and scoped the game down to something we could actually finish. With the concept ready, I switched back and forth between making music and programming the game’s initial puzzle. I think it was important that we made a compromise on the game design, that could still fit our initial game idea but was still something we could program in a reasonable amount of time.
Perhaps the most productive time period was early Sunday morning, a little after Midnight. It was the final 12 hours. We defined a list of critical aspects of the game that needed to be implemented or fixed and this gave me the determination to make heavy progress so the game was at a comfortable spot at Noon. I consumed a couple cans of energy drinks and candy to carry me through the night. I finalized the core gameplay mechanics and put my best efforts into the game’s sound effects and music. By 3 AM, things were looking good and the game started to look more complete. I could finally rest and let my sister take over for a couple hours. The rest of the time I spent creating the game’s logo and start menu. As I did this, my sister fixed my terrible enemy A.I. – a case where I was very grateful to have an extra programmer helping me out for once.
First experience with using Unity Engine
This was the first project I had ever used Unity. A few weeks before the jam I decided I wanted to use Unity, because it seems clear that it’s becoming common practice for indie games to use Unity. For a 3D game, it does make a lot of sense to pick up an engine like Unity or Unreal Engine 4 if the engine can cater to your game’s needs. Both engines are battle-tested in major game titles and since 2015 they’re both very affordable for the indie developer. Developers should take advantage of these powerful tools when they can.
I learned a lot about Unity during the jam and it’s a really powerful engine. I can see why an overwhelming amount of indie developers have decided to use the engine for commercial games or just prototypes. Although Unity is well tested, it’s not perfect. Sometimes the editor would crash after I pulled a scene from Git. That was pretty inconvenient. Not to mention, handling Git merge conflicts with Unity scene files is pretty annoying as well. I should have researched a bit more about how to solve them before the jam.
I learned and experienced so much during my first Global Game Jam. What I enjoy about GGJ is that it encourages participants to work at the jam location, therefore it’s really refreshing to be around so many motivated game developers at once. You will definitely feed off the energy. Unity, for the most part, is a great engine to work with. I’m definitely considering it for future 3D projects.