Brighton Global Game Jam 2017

This weekend was Global Game Jam 2017, which means that much like last year I ended up spending the whole shebang knocking together a complete game in just 48 hours. Not on my own, though: that would be crazy! These things are best tackled as part of a team effort. Last year’s game was Brituals, a social-awkwardness simulator set in a hellish parallel Britain (playable here). This year’s was Undercurrent, a nautical interactive fiction piece featuring rhythmical Mexican-wave action. The theme for this year was “waves,” by the way, which will probably be apparent in the range of games produced for the event.

This video should give some idea of what the finished game might look like: impressive, no? Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get the whole thing put together in time for the presentations at the end, but basically all the elements were there. If you download the source code .zip file on the GGJ page, you’ll find what we’ve got so far. However, if you don’t feel like poking around with that, have no fear! I spent a frantic three or four hours at the end of the event implementing the entire game in Twine, complete with an approximation of our central Mexican wave mechanic. It doesn’t have any of the audio or eye-candy hinted at by the video above (in fact, anybody who spent a particularly long time trying to uncover the arcane meta-mystery of Project Proteus is likely to find the overall appearance of this game very familiar indeed), but it is playable beginning to end and should give some idea how the finished thing would actually behave.

Team Undercurrent

From left to right: Laurence Bush, Damon L. Wakes, Mark Grizenko, Fiona Roberts, Morrison Cole.

I feel as though I managed to weasel my way into a really strong team this year. Laurence had a hand in the audio for Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and Mark is the guy behind the Posetastic drawing reference app. Fiona wrote the bulk of the actual story in the game (my main contribution was the nonsense island encounters), and Morrison tackled getting the interactive text into Unity. I’ll definitely be checking out how to do that myself because if I could manage even half of what he did, my interactive fiction would be at least 800% more stylish and flashy.

Though the Twine version of the game is more of a proof of concept than an actual work in its own right, I feel as though I made a bit of a breakthrough while putting it together. The “Mexican wave,” as basic as it is, actually combines a couple of Twine functions in a way I’d never really thought of before, and that opens up the possibility of adding skill-based minigames to stories that would otherwise hinge entirely on straightforward decision-making and random chance.

If you fancy a look at how that’s done, you can download the .html file (right click “PLAY” on that page, then select “Save Link As…” or similar) and import it into Twine 2. You’ll be able to see the entire story flowchart at a glance and open up individual passages to see how they’re put together. You can actually do that with virtually any of my (recent) Twine works, though obviously you’ll see spoilers so I don’t recommend it unless you’ve wrung absolutely all the fun out of actually playing the things. I also don’t recommend it for Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure in general unless you’ve got a fairly hefty computer: Twine 2 takes upwards of a minute to start on my machine when it’s present in the story list, and trying to import it on my old laptop took nearly half an hour.

As with last year, there were some very impressive games on show at the end of the event, so here are just a few that really jumped out at me:

Crime Wave City

If you dropped in for the live stream of Brigton’s presentations, you might have heard me full-on laughing out loud at this one. Crime Wave City looks fantastic and the gameplay, though simple, seems about as polished as you can expect from just 48 hours’ work. Essentially, you drive around the city in your police car keeping an eye out for jewel thieves, then when you have one in your sights you launch yourself out of the car yelling “Stop in the name of the law!” in super slow-motion. It’s absolutely hilarious!

The Shepherd and the Sea

I was impressed by a couple of games last year that looked as though they were more or less done. The sort of game that doesn’t announce itself as a 48 hour effort in any way whatsoever. The Shepherd and the Sea was definitely one of those this time around. Again, the artwork is just gorgeous, but beyond that it looks like a meticulously designed (and deliberately frustrating) experience. You play as a sheepdog rolling cube-shaped sheep onto raised platforms before the tide comes in and sweeps them out to sea. If you don’t manage to secure all the sheep (which will occasionally misbehave as you try to shove them to higher ground), you’ll be haunted by a list of those you’ve lost scrolling up the screen at the end of the level. It’s powerful stuff.

Wave or Waive

Wave or Waive was the work of half last year’s Brituals team, which immediately earns it some brownie points in my book, but it’s also a fascinatingly clever multiplayer game. You’re told up front that you don’t, for example, know anybody with a round nose, a baseball cap or a moustache, and that if you see anybody with any of those features waving, they’re most likely waving at someone behind you and to wave back would be…EMBARRASSING! If anybody else waves, however, they’re your bud and you should return the gesture. It’s a ludicrously simple idea, but it’s also massively entertaining to watch. The game reaches an absolutely frantic pace as time goes on, and as the screenshot above illustrates, you may well see every player’s score dip into negative numbers as time goes by!

Wacky Waves

The basic idea behind Wacky Waves is a bit of a cross between Katamari Damacy and the Tony Hawk’s skateboarding series. You play as a wave, sweeping up various objects floating around at sea to grow in size and assimilating other waves to gain speed. You can also perform tricks to boost your score.

Abyss

Abyss has you guiding a coin using ocean currents, and overall it seems to be a pretty slow-paced relaxing affair. There’s not too much to it, but it stood out to me because it’s available on Android (the touchscreen controls seem pretty solid) and the sound design is amazing. It’s short and simple, but as far as I can tell there’s pretty much nothing not to like.

In summary:

The range of games this year was hugely impressive, and I felt as though I learned quite a lot. I didn’t get as far learning to code or use Unity as I’d hoped since the last one – largely because I had a book accepted for publication and began writing for games in a professional capacity during that time – but what I have learned proved helpful for getting my head around some of the more complicated Twine programming. The logic involved in getting the Mexican wave working wasn’t a million miles away from the loops that Python tutorials seem to start you off with. It was also great to see people from last year’s event and from EGX: always nice to catch up! I’m planning to head to EGX Rezzed at the end of March, so if you like the sound of this sort of thing and fancy meeting up then that’s where I’ll be!

Finally, if you like my Twine pieces then you might be interested to know that I’ll be releasing never-before-seen interactive sci-fi work My Name Algernon to supporters of Ten Little Astronauts when it reaches 25% funding. The book is currently at 24% funding, so there’s not far to go!

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2 comments

  1. gdeyke

    Stylish and flashy are always good! I’m impressed by the graphics “Undercurrent” would have had, judging by the video.

    “Abyss” is also really cool, especially considering how simple it is.

    • Damon L. Wakes

      By the end of the weekend we had the Mexican wave minigame in a playable state too: I think it just got to be a bit much to fit it all together. If you fancy having a go yourself, the software behind the interactive fiction side of things is called “Yarn” and (as you might imagine) it’s based on Twine: <>, <> and <> all behave exactly as you’d expect, so if all you want is a simple interactive fiction piece with a 3D background in Unity, it shouldn’t be too hard to pull off.

      I’ve been meaning to get the .apk for Abyss on my phone just so I can play around with it from time to time. It was great to see on the big screen during the presentations, though, and to hear the sound through some decent speakers: I hope it holds up okay on mobiles.

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