Category «Game Jam»

Global Game Jam in Leipzig

I wrote this article after a request to GGJ organizers to tell stories about your own location. It got published on the GGJ page, as well.

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You might have heard of Leipzig as a game city, once. Until 2009 the GDC Europe and the Games Convention were hosted in the capital of Saxony, Germany. But since it moved to Cologne in 2009 (and was renamed to “Gamescom”), there was not only a huge convention missing. The absence of game developer events were visible and it hurt to realize that the city became unimportant for the developer scene. Besides, Leipzig has a sparse population of game companies – few of them dedicate their 100% manpower to game development only.
But even without company clusters, big names, game events and conventions, we have a very cool monthly regulars' table hosted by René Meyer, who owns the world's biggest retro console collection. Usual visitors are professional game devs, journalists, a twosome who owns the Retro Games Store, a company that has Germany's biggest board game distribution, musicians, amateur game devs and indies like us.

But we still have very few to no events where game devs exchange and show their skills. Although we knew of game jams like Ludum Dare or the Devmania Overnight Contest, we never heard of the Global Game Jam – until we met Zuraida (GGJ Dir) in Berlin at the local BIG Jam, where we learned about this global madness. Totally enthusiastic to participate in the Global Game Jam I started a web search for locations near Halle/Leipzig. Error. The next local event was in Berlin.

Die Teilnehmer des GGJ 2014 von Klaus Bastian
Die Teilnehmer des GGJ 2014 von Klaus Bastian

So we did something I totally hate, but which was necessary to be part of the jam: we searched for rooms and became organizers ourselves! Together with Klaus Bastian from the local university HTWK we started the first GGJ location ever in Leipzig.
Now that we got the location and the knowledge to set up everything there was only one thing left for completion: people. Where the hell would we get people for a jam from a city that has no huge game developer community?

René and Klaus started everything super-professional and sent out press releases to local newspapers and it worked! They responded and wanted interviews to learn more about the event. Afterwards, people I never heard of appeared on the website and subscribed to be part of this new jam thingy.

When the jam started on Friday, the 27th January 2012, people showed up and we managed to develop seven games. Yes, I'm talking about seven games here! But the jam was not only about creating games. Thanks to the event we got to know new people, exchanged addresses for future works and finally had our own one-weekend game development event in the year.

Vorstellungsrunde von Klaus Bastian
Vorstellungsrunde von Klaus Bastian

Additionally to the jam we opened up the “dev cave” on Saturday for visitors, introduced the open development not only to families with their little game-devs-to-be, but also got new people interested for the upcoming jam. This event worked out so well, we continued encouraging people to jam with us the following year.

2014 we are going to host the third edition of the Global Game Jam in Leipzig and everybody is super excited. We want to grow and try to find even more interested people from around Leipzig.

Thank you, creators, executives, directors and admins behind the Global Game Jam. You guys encourage local scenes with this amazing concept of worldwide jamming! Because of your already established concept and infrastructure you motivate us to get out of our holes and force us to find like-minded people. And the greatest thing: it doesn't matter if there was or is an already big scene.
Go create your own location, or make more of the already established ones!

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The winners of Ludum Dare, and what to learn from them

This was originally a quick and dirty talk I held in 2014 at our Global Game Jam location in Leipzig, Germany. I wanted to give the audience (mostly students, a lot of them without experience in the art of game jam) an impression on what is possible during a game jam even when you're alone and have to do stuff from scratch; so I showed them the last five Ludum Dare compo winners, which means each of them got the first place in the "Overall" category. The talk would conclude with some best practices, at least in my opinion.

As most of you probably know, Ludum Dare is an online game jam held several times in the year, with the big versions always commencing in April, August and December. Thousands of participants make a game in 48 hours each time, and a lot of them also are part of the quite active community surrounding the jam. Everybody who joins can be sure to get feedback and answers via the blog on ludumdare.com, and via the IRC channel #ludumdare on AfterNET. And don't forget that for three weeks afterwards, every participant can rate all the others' games, so the brutal final ratings for each category (e.g. Graphics, Fun, Mood) are there for the whole world to see. With the high numbers of entries, winning the competition may sound nearly impossible. So let's take a look at some of those who actually did it!

 

Ludum Dare 24 – Theme: Evolution

Evoland

Evoland is a Zelda-like with a funny idea implemented well. It has a lot of chests – in each chest you find a feature that hauls the game to the next step of videogame evolution. At first you can only walk right, but you get the ability to walk left soon. After that, you can walk north and south, how cool is that! Scrolling! Colors! Sounds! Weapons! Nicolas Cannasse broke down a pretty standard Zelda clone into its most minimal parts, used those parts to let the player explore them, and made a unique game this way. (Later on he even extended the game and you can now buy it on Steam.)

As a game jam game Evoland is very ambitious and I couldn't believe that it was made in 48 hours. I assume Nicolas had the idea and concept very early in the process, and using a programming language he invented himself might have given him a good headstart.

 

Ludum Dare 25 – Theme: You Are The Villain

Atomic Creep Spawner

Atomic Creep Spawner!! reminds me a bit of Dungeon Keeper, although you can only do a fraction of what is possible in that game. A pompous knight is raiding your very own dungeon, stealing your money and destroying your orbs, and you have to stop him by spawning a lot of monsters. You create those hordes of zombies and ghosts via simple clicks on the floor, and they find their own way (more or less) to the rampaging knight. A fair bit of AI must have been programmed for this game.

Made by Sébastien Bénard (known as deepnight, one of the most successful Ludum Darers!), Atomic Creep Spawner features great humor and amazing pixel art. Sébastien even found time to include a tutorial at the beginning. What the game lacks in interactivity it makes more than up with polish and love for details.

 

Ludum Dare 26 – Theme: Minimalism

MONO

MONO implements the theme via its graphical style (which looks simplicistic, but is actually very well done), but most certainly not via the gameplay. While at first glance it seems to be a minimalistic game in every sense – you navigate a small sphere through a world of rectangles – the levels soon become more and more diverse, which is what keeps the game interesting. This is a nice trick you can learn from: make a game with only some basic functionality, and if you have the time, add another level with new elements and mechanics inside it – rinse, repeat.

Tim Hantel managed to make a neat dexterity puzzle game with a lot of atmosphere, mostly by adding a fitting soundscape. The gameplay mechanics sometimes make the game a bit frustrating (you die by touching a wall already), but in general the player's death is a forgivable experience: you spawn instantly at the level start again. An important lesson I think.

 

Ludum Dare 27 – Theme: 10 Seconds

PROBE TEAM

PROBE TEAM could easily be part of the Ludum Dare before – it uses one single color only, enhanced by some cool looking post effects. While I never liked the theme in itself, because I always felt that it would cripple gameplay concepts instead of fertilize them, Andrew Shouldice actually made an interesting type of exploration game out of it. You start little probes which have 10 seconds of fuel each (so be economical with your commands), lead them through some kind of maze and activate triggers to open doors. It feels a bit repetitive, but the moody atmosphere absolutely helps to tolerate and even enjoy it.

 

Ludum Dare 28 – Theme: You Only Get One

One Take

One Take by Daniël Haazen is a great example for an unusual idea creating a whole new experience. You play as a camera operator taking one continuous take from a movie scene, and all you do is following orders from a film director in the form of short sentences, like "Zoom in on the sheriff" or "Go back to the guy in the alley". The scenes are a bit animated (while most of the action comes from yourself) and actually feel like small movies – already worth an honorable mention in my opinion. The cherry on top are the pixelated newspapers after each level, including reviews about the 'movie' and your performance.

 

Learnings

So what can we learn from these great examples of Ludum Dare rapid game development, for our own jam games?

  • Make something simple. All the mentioned games concentrate on a single idea. Be it spawning monsters in a dungeon or moving a small sphere around obstacles – important is to focus the game's concept on one aspect and not trying to add more and more features. Of course, this implies you actually have a nice idea that can be played barebone and that you like.
  • Be inspired by the theme. This one surprised me a bit, probably because more often than not the theme of a jam hinders instead of helps me. But all the winners above are very close to the theme, and that must tell something, probably about inspiration.
  • Think in two dimensions. Although one of the games uses Unity, all of them are 2D games, varying from totally abstract to concrete pixel art. I don't know exactly why that is, but there is probably more than one factor why jam games prefer to be 2D. My guesses are: the game is simpler to make, the graphics look better while being less work, there are a lot of premade frameworks, and you get a nostalgia bonus.
  • Use a framework. The Ludum Dare rules state that you must make your game from scratch, but it is allowed to use libraries, tools and engines that were already made by you or others. So use them! The winners from above utilized Haxe (compiled to Flash), Java with libgdx, Unity and LÖVE. Three of these games were playable in the browser (with plugins), which might also be a small factor adding to their successes. Remember that Ludum Dare's winner are determined by people who have to play thousands of other entries, too – the less problems they have to play your game, the more likely they will play it.
  • Generally you should try to make your game as accessible as possible. Deepnight's winning game Atomic Creep Spawner includes a tutorial, but you don't always have to go this far. Just don't innovate where it isn't needed, and explain things when they come up for the first time, be it via text or picture (better yet, force the user to play it to understand it).
  • The last learning for now is somewhat vague, as the games tackle this very differently. Some of them use a lot of humor, via little comments from the characters for example, others are pretty atmospheric, often thanks to their great use of sound. What we can take away from this is: don't shy away from trying to evoke emotions in the player. It seems the humoristic way is a bit easier than the one with the dark mood and the feels. Speak to the player, or let them explore interesting places. Give them reasons to attach to your game!

 

Conclusion

Making a game in 48 hours is hard, winning Ludum Dare is even harder. But if you look at the above examples you see it's not impossible! Sure, you need to know your tools in and out – the Ludum Dare Top 10 isn't the place for learning a new programming language. (This could be a bonus learning.) Just keep in mind to have fun and make something worth playing. Everything else comes afterwards.

Artgame Weekend #4 in Lille

I've never been to France before. Home is where my desktop is and I like to stay at home, to work on my games. The only things that are luring me out of the cave are festivals, exhibitions or game jams. Last weekend I got my reason to visit Lille, France. I was invited to be in the jury for a game jam.

TL,DR: It was amazing! Scroll down to see all the jam results immediately.

The theme of the Artgame Weekend 4 already sounded awesome: Instead of selecting a theme the organizers chose to let the participants think up new ways to interact with a game. “Think art, Use controllers, Make a game, Play with us!” is the claim of their event. So here is my blog post to everybody who missed it or didn't realize the amazing French indie scene.

The first moment of an ongoing chain of enthusiasm about the Artgame Weekend was made by the building the jam took place at. The former textile manufactory was rebuilt to an inspiring, modern work space with an amazing area to work, enjoy and to display projects (in the form of a huge Gameboy!).

artgame_location_04

Seventy people worked together in twelve groups. When we arrived the attendees already teamed up after pitching their ideas. With this method no ideas or controllers were used twice!
The second moment of excitement took me when I arrived in this room full of creative energy. There were guitars to control characters, pianos to create objects, buttons attached to human bodies, chalk for blackboards to draw on or even ten mice attached for one game. A group of people was building a bomb. Someone was wearing an Oculus Rift. Two participants connected their smartphones to the laptop to control their game ... Breath in, breath out. Wow!

If you want great games to be made, bring together talented people from different backgrounds in the right place.

The whole event was assembled by Marc Lavigne (game industry north) and Simon Bachelier (One Life Remains). All the people they brought together for technology, exhibition, cooking and organization worked together so well! If I learned one thing in Lille it is how to really make the perfect game jam. If you want great games to be made, bring together talented people from different backgrounds in the right place. I'm not sure if I could copy this event easily. But I think I should care more about the participants well-being next time I organize a jam.

So did the organizers of this jam: To make sure everybody can face technical issues they engaged talents to help out, like Armel Gibson, one of the coaches for design and technique, who was helping with getting the PS Move controllers working in Unity. While Sosowski was whirling around to help a team whose game was called 'Yetis with machetes' (made with the UDK), I met Nicolas Tilly (Ecriture Videoludique Magazine), who was the third coach in this mad mayhem of handicraft work.

photo by Leon Denise, http://poly.gonum.free.fr/
photo by Leon Denise, http://poly.gonum.free.fr/

And they engaged us, a jury to judge the jam's work. A fact that puzzled me, but I guess with competing against each other and a jury to show their stuff to, you get these kind of excellent projects and getting really motivated.
After a while the jury was complete, consisting of Jon Bro (Lucky Frame, GB), Chris Priestman (Indiestatik, GB), Cara Ellison (Rockpaper,etc. GB), Thorsten Storno (Amaze Festival, D) and me (Rat King, D). In the end I was glad we didn't really judge the projects, especially because people could switch between groups. So we grouped up, checked out the projects, talked to people, asked critical questions, got impressed and ate delicious freshly-made food they served at the jam.

And instead of working the night through we did have a party with DJ and nice Belgian beer. And a party after the jam, with J.S. Jousting and a couple of other multiplayer games.

The biggest shame: I didn't bring my laptop, because I feared to have too much package for the flight. Next year I want to take part in game-making myself. Bring my own Arduino and build awesome stuff! Be part of this creative madness.

artgame_location_02

To make sure you understand why the results of this jam where so inspiring that I really missed taking part myself, here is the complete list:

 

1. Chirac If we would have to judge this game would have gotten the WTF?!-Award! I knew some of the team from Bokida before, which is a clean, well-designed sand-box game I first saw at the Notgames Fest. It seems too much artsyness needed to be destroyed with a mad story about people dressing like horses and horses dressing like men. And only six-legged Chirac is able to save the world. Color. Penis-tentacle action. Shooting. Button-smashing. Music! artgame_location_03

photo by Leon Denise, http://poly.gonum.free.fr/
photo by Leon Denise, http://poly.gonum.free.fr/

2. Adsono This game caught my interest from the beginning. The team crafted with Arduino, physical buttons, Xbox-controller and Kinder eggs. The idea: Two people attach the buttons to their body. When one button is pressed, the other player feels a vibration. Both create a sequence dance with pushing the buttons in turns. Although they couldn't finish the game like intended, this game was the perfect essence of a good jamming: Try hard, find new stuff that wasn't made before and learn. I hope you guys finish it! artgame_bomb_02 artgame_bomb 3. Prepare to meet thy god When the last Ludum Dare asked for games themed “10 seconds” how many bomb defusing games did we see? This team had the same idea for the controller, but believe me: Defusing a bomb on a screen and actually sitting fully dressed with glasses, gas mask and suit in front of a box with cables, bottles and blinking lights alone in a room with just a tool to cut these cables: such a difference! From outside we could watch the contestants via webcam, which added an extra creepy real-life level to the game. Guys, your game was a blast! artgame_piano artgame_piano_02 4. Keyboard Mandala In this two-player game you start in an empty, lifeless desert. One player has a controller to move around, while the other does magic with a keyboard. With every key played you can create a huge variety of objects from huge buildings, bridges, fountains to tiny groups of ants. And stones, stones, stones to irritate the other player. I could have played this one for hours! Either you play it to create worlds with your songs or to find out what the creators did hide behind every key. This game is pure magic! artgame_demon 5. Necronomicon Forget Harry Potter! You can be a witch (or witcher ;)) in this game yourself! Just take the Necronomicon and draw the ancient ritual signs on the black board to summon powerful creatures that fight against the other player's demons. What made this game especially atmospheric was the dark cellar vault where it took place at. One of the team members sat in the corner, dressed black with red-stained hands (of course it was blood!). Red lights and the foul-smelling sponge added an extra dark flavour.

6. Space Ship
Imagine combining Space Team with the scenario of FTL. Imagine people running around to find the right computers. Imagine people getting mad to fulfill the right procedure to stop the alien invasion on the space ship. And imagine that all the people that tried to watch you playing to run with you in order to find out what this game is about. Ahh, people should run more often in games!

artgame_holyshit

7. Holy Shit
Holy Shit is just like the name implicates: a game about shit and not getting hugged by it with holy-awesome looking characters. Play it with ten players that click ten mice at once and try to find out what your character is. It's as silly as it is fun.

photo by Pierre Corbinouze, http://oujevipo.fr
photo by Pierre Corbinouze, http://oujevipo.fr

8. Live
In this Kinect game you are the conductor of an orchestra of light and kaleidoscope colours. Just raise your hand and be creative: Dance, jump, draw.

artgame_mindcontrol

9. Cerebro
In X-Men Cerebro is used by Professor Xavier to detect mutants by amplifying the brain waves of the user. In this game I didn't detect mutants, but felt as bad ass by controlling a game with my brain by relaxing and stressing behavior. What I saw were beautifully composed spaces with weird structures that I could manipulate with pure mind control. Not only the game was interesting, but especially the technology they used and improved by building their own devices.

artgame_cake

10. Monkey vs. Cake
In this multiplayer game every contestant gets a smartphone to tap the enemy to death. Cute muffins and cute monkeys! But you don't really know where exactly the buttons lies, so you have find out while tapping. Funny and fast game.

11. Rock'n'Dolls
One player is getting a bass to move the bike with two girls forward. The other player is moving the guitar in front of a camera and so is the weapon of one of the girls on the bike. By playing the guitar you shoot a thunderbolt. You don't really know how to play a guitar, but I felt more bad ass than with guitar hero. Cool idea!

artgame_yeti

12. Shooting yetis with machetes
Why didn't anybody come up with that scenario before: You walk through Doom-like corridors to kill undead yetis with a rocket-empowered machete sling-shot gun. Also, this game brought light effects to the test. Mad.

Okay, ladies and gentleman. Lille did rock! Great people, great conversations, great games. Make sure to follow these guys to get a notification for the next Artgame Weekend! I think you already realized it, by reading this article, but woohoo, Viva la Lille, I highly enjoyed this!