Brighton Global Game Jam Writeup

It’s been a long weekend. I wanted to get this post all wrapped up yesterday, right after I got back from the event, but those plans got scuppered for two reasons. One is that the trains were “disrupted” yesterday. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I do know it made the journey twice as long, required twice as many changes, and ultimately ended up with me getting back home on a train travelling to Brighton.

The other reason is that the Brighton Game Jam resulted in a ton of awesome stuff and I wanted to do it justice. But more on that later.

Friday at the Jam was really quite relaxed. Everybody met up down the pub, and for a couple of hours there wasn’t even the option of working on anything in particular because this year’s theme hadn’t been announced yet. Everybody works towards one particular theme at these things: I imagine that’s partly to prevent people bringing too much stuff they’ve set up ahead of time, partly just for funsies. Because it’s a Global Game Jam, the theme is announced at 7pm in every time zone. Half the world already knew the theme by the time we got it in the UK, and we had to keep it secret from the other half (until Hawaii finally heard about it at 3am our time). Since the Jam is now finished worldwide, I’m definitely safe to say that this year’s theme was Ritual, and that it resulted in some pretty neat things.

I ended up in a team with Joe, Sarah, Clara, and later on (due to a washing machine-related mishap) Kylie. Having all settled on an idea on Friday, I ended up spending the rest of the weekend writing game text along with Sarah. I pretty much just let the rest of the team get on with art and coding respectively. There was a lot to pack into those two days, and though it was great seeing everybody’s projects come together, it’s not exactly a spectator sport. I don’t think it could even be cut together into a decent montage.

Here’s (some of) the team getting down to some serious game-making. If you want to see what a montage would actually look like, press fire to win‘s flickr gallery should give some idea. You can also check out the #BrightonGGJ16 hashtag on Twitter. Great stuff was happening all the time, but it was pretty much all leading up to the end of the event, when all the teams shared what they’d come up with.

Our team–Jammers in Pyjammers–produced Brituals, a twine-like work of interactive fiction that you can play right here online. Writing for this thing was pretty amazing. It’s never really possible to be a fair judge of your own work, but having only written about half the text for this myself, I can honestly say that at least the other half is regularly laugh-out-loud funny.

Brituals tackles the ritual theme partly through the basic premise of the story–an eccentric professor sends you to a hellish parallel dimension through the use of a satanic tablecloth–and partly through the gameplay, which revolves around navigating several small social rituals. We also managed to meet three additional goals:

  • A Local Game for Local People: Make a game that features your country, city, or people that jam around you.
  • No retreat, no surrender!: The protagonist is unable to go anywhere but forward, in every situation.
  • One hand tied behind my back: Create a game that can be played with only one hand. On mobile just one hand holding and playing at the same time i.e. just play with your thumb. Desktop, mouse only or keyboard only.

There’s definitely more that could be added and improvements that could be made, but all in all I’m really pleased to have been able to get involved with this, and to have something finished to show for the weekend’s work. Everything that came out of the Brighton Game Jam was impressive in some way or another, but I’d particularly like to share the projects that caught my eye during the event.

In no particular order:

Dances With The Elder Gods

Out of all the projects from this weekend, Dances With The Elder Gods looked the most like a finished, polished game. It’s been described as a mix of Mastermind (the board game) and Dance Dance Revolution, but personally I think the little dash of Call of Cthulu is what really brings it to life. The premise–discover the correct series of dance moves or face the wrath of the Elder Gods–is delightfully simple, but overall plays unlike anything I’ve seen before. At the Jam it was set up to use multiple PS3 controllers, which seemed ideal for this sort of party game.

 The Pyre

The Pyre, much like Dances With The Elder Gods, looked pretty polished throughout the weekend. In fact, The Pyre looked like a finished game by lunchtime Saturday, at which point Brituals still looked like a 404 error. The actual gameplay sees you solving a range of puzzles–all revolving around an ancient tribal hero–in order to keep a fire alight throughout the night.

The Labours of Hercules

It sounds cheesy, but I don’t think I can describe The Labours of Hercules at all without spoiling it. The game is radically different from anything you’ll have come across before, and it got the biggest reaction by far at the presentations on Sunday evening. It looks awfully rough around the edges, but given that it was made by just one guy I think that’s forgiveable. Definitely one to try.

A game

A game is extremely simple and surprisingly fun. You control two footprints, attempting to walk up the steadily scrolling screen without stepping on the cracks. The spacing of the tiles doesn’t quite match up with the length of the player’s stride, however, which results in the same awkward wobble-dance walking we all remember from when we were small (and possibly more recently).

Inkarmation

The art style of Inkarmation is what really sets it apart from everything else, but there’s a solid game in there too. It plays a little like Feeding Frenzy, but with a more meaningful premise and more of a story. This is one that looks as though it could easily turn into a much bigger game, and I hope the team (or someone new) ends up building on it in future.

Idol Hands: Rite Here, Rite Now

This one caught my attention for the puns alone. Idol Hands is a platformer with a twist. Your character (I recall hearing that his/her name is “Indiana Croft”) travels through a temple with the aim of collecting all the various idols stored inside, but while carrying an idol from pedestal to crate you must observe all the rituals it demands: lighting all the torches on your way, for example, or jumping every five seconds. Carrying more than one idol means observing more than one set of rituals, with hilarious results. As it stands now it’s not a long game, but what’s there is fun and the potential is undeniable.

Grave Concerns

Since I’ve got more experience with Twine than anything else, I was keen to see what Grave Concerns looked like by the end of the Jam. All in all, it’s a really solid game with effective writing, a neat structure, and some really interesting artwork. It’s not revolutionary in any particular way, but what it does it does pretty much perfectly, with each element supporting all the others. The whole thing just holds together very nicely, which is hugely impressive given the time constraints.

To sum up:

Having never done anything quite like this before, I was surprised how easy it was to get set up with a team at the Game Jam, let alone how much we actually managed to get done together. As a writer, one of the things that really stood out was how the individual scenarios in our game came together, because Sarah and I ended up writing much the same thing using much the same tone without a whole lot of discussion about how either of those things should be done. I’m still not sure if that’s because we had a whole evening to sort out the basic idea beforehand, or just that we’ve got a similar sense of humour. In any case, I’d be surprised if most readers can tell which bits are mine and which bits are hers.

Being able to see how other teams were working, and what they ended up with, was also quite instructive. I notice that a majority of teams ended up using Unity to produce their games, so that’s something I’ll be looking into in future. Having talked to a few people, I’m also planning to learn some JavaScript myself: it sounds as though that would open up some new options in Twine without too much effort, while at the same time paving the way for some more ambitious projects in future. It’ll take a while, but ultimately I think I’ll have to learn some kind of programming language to get as much as I can out of games, and for the moment at least JavaScript sounds like the way to go.

All in all, this was a fun event and I think I picked up a lot from everyone there. If anybody’s interested in doing something like this, I’d really recommend going for it: programmers were definitely in demand, but at the same time it seemed as though everyone–no matter what skills they brought to the Jam–had something to contribute to the project they were working on.

Finally, if you’re interested in having a play through any (or all) of the games, here’s that link again. I’ve mentioned far more than I had originally planned to in this post, but even so there are more I would have liked to share. It’s also worth checking out what came out of other Jam sites around the world: I haven’t had a chance myself yet, but I saw some really neat things turn up on Twitter. Maybe have a search for the site nearest you: you never know what you’ll find!

But also Brituals. Play that for sure.

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5 comments

  1. 500woerterdiewoche

    That does sound like a lot of fun! I’m glad you enjoyed it so much.

    Brituals is fun, too, although I can see I’m pretty bad at being British… XD I didn’t notice any change in style between scenes, so I’d agree that your writing and Sarah’s fit very well together.

    • Damon L. Wakes

      In the interests of realism, many of the socially acceptable responses in Brituals will result in a negative result all round.

      I was pretty amazed when I realised just how little we had to try to keep the style consistent. I did have a go through through just before we uploaded the game to make sure it all read the same throughout, but ultimately there wasn’t anything to change.

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