About a month ago I was surfing the tubes for Indie game related content. Some where along my travels I encountered the IDGA website which proudly proclaimed that registration had opened for this year’s annual Global Game Jam. At said event participants would team up in small groups and attempt to create a wholly original game in the span of 48 hours. My curiosity was piqued. After spending an hour or so perusing the site an trying out games from previous years I decided I had to get in on this so I signed up. That day a seed was planted. I started thinking about what the event would be like. What kind of game would I make? What kind of people would attend? Would attending make me realize I have no business making games because there are so many other more qualified people doing it? It was a terrifying yet exciting possibility.
Fast forward to the Friday afternoon of the event. I went for a run to calm my compounding nerves, took a shower, prepared my various items for the ensuing weekend and hopped on a bus that would take me deep into downtown San Francisco. Downtown SF is a venerable zoo on Friday evenings. It is the time when everyone decides it’s time to do one of two things: Start Drinking or get the hell out of the city. I smiled smugly to myself. I knew full well that more than likely this night would not include any alcohol and be very much the opposite of the stereotypical and socially acceptable Friday Night. More than likely I would be in the company of a very large group of nerds doing what nerds love more than anything else. Namely punishing our brains by working way too hard on way too little sleep.
Walking into the entrance it suddenly hit me. I was really doing this. Standing in a large room full of people I had never met, thoughts of failure swirling through my mind. What if I showed someone my work and they laughed in my face? What if this event showed me that everything I had done up to this point was a complete and utter waste of time? My fear was palpable.
After a short but incredibly awkward “mixer” game, the construction of some of the most ornate crowns made out of paper I had ever seen, and an intro video, the “theme” was announced. Now when most of you think of a theme you think of a word or phrase that conveys a concept, but what we got instead was this:
There was a collective “huh” pause punctuated by one of the organizers shouting “Ok! Let’s go!” and we were off. My team would come to call itself the “Metal Buddha Collective.” Our game would be a 2D platformer that exemplified Buddhist values. The idea was simple, to go against everything you know about traditional 2D platform games. We stuck mostly to non-attachment but had ideas of eventually expanding to also include non-violence. We realized very early on that this basically turned power-ups and items into obstacles and started designing levels accordingly. Thanks to an amazing effort by our artists the final product came out looking amazing. My programming efforts mostly revolved around game play mechanics, with an inordinate amount of time making the player’s movement feel smooth and natural. I personally wanted to add a feature which would allow the player to win the game simply by not playing (an thus potentially meditating) for an hour, but time did not allow for this.
In the end our game won two “kudos” awards, one for best 2D graphics and one for best interpretation of the theme. That being the endless cycle of trial and error by failure and suffering. I could go without saying that this experience turned out better then I could have possibly expected. However, I believe that what made me the happiest while working on the project wasn’t winning any awards it was a half delirious conversation we had around 9pm (around hour 30) in which four of us designed an anthropomorphic fish complete with a bowler hat, monocle, twirly mustache, cane and a cigar as one of the enemies that would be in the game. We never had time to implement it, but dammit it would have been hilarious! Yeah sure, winning some “kudos” was nice, but yelling “I am 100% against having baby pygmy elephants as enemies in our game!” was what really did it for me.
Play the game here.