Saturday, February 13, 2010

Global Game Jam report, part 1

It's the evening of January 29th at the Art Institute of Portland. After taking a little time to socialize and get to know one another, 32 people have formed 5 separate teams. Each will spend the next 46 hours trying to make good on their chosen pitch. Some of these teams have as many as 8 members. Ours is half that size; 4 guys, all around 20 years of age.

The one whose concept we're going to try and make good on. If memory serves he'd taken classes covering a general array of game development topics like programming & modeling, and was now starting to focus on design matters.
Ian: The artist who's going to be handling the graphics.
Josh: A fairly experienced programmer; the potential catch is that none of that past experience involves working on games.
Brooks: Myself, the guy with no art or programming ability to speak of- like Josh, I was here to see whether my skillset was actually up to the task.

The criteria for our time zone's GGJs was twofold. Our games had to involve the theme of 'deception', and feature either a monk, a punk or a skunk. The premise Patrick had was simple- a 2D game where you (a monk) had to evade guards and escape a dungeon by manipulating areas of light and darkness.

As everyone else moved out of the conference room and back to the computer labs, I suggested we hold up a moment. It seemed like it'd be worth taking the time to clearly lay out the games each of us was seeing in our heads; even relatively minor differences in our creative visions for the game could cost us down the road if we didn't identify them now. A couple of us took turns sketching out 'screenshots' of the game on the whiteboard, explaining the game elements and the overall scenario as we went. My version was the most thorough, which mostly just means the others had more chances to point out how some element wouldn't be feasible or worth the time it'd take to implement. The exercise took all of 10 minutes, and let us work out alot of the basic details (top-down perspective, a mix of patrolling and idle guards, etc). More importantly, it allowed us to conclude that the best approach would be to eschew inventory-based "adventure game" puzzles as well as any kind of coherent story; instead, we'd build the game entirely around the core mechanic of sneaking past guards using the light.

We made our way back to the labs, where Patrick and I started laying out some sample levels and the puzzles they could involve. One thing we needed no discussion to reach a consensus on was that the game should have a retro presentation, with graphics reminiscent of early titles for the Super Nintendo. Josh started looking into whether Flixel would meet our needs, and Ian wasted no time getting busy on the task of drawing out sprites.

Josh pointed out that we needed a working name for the project. There was a pause as people tried to come up with something. Light and Darkness? Great Escape? Monk of Darkness? After a moment's thought, I leaned over and gave my two cents: "Shadowmonk. Just as a single word." We quickly decided to go with that one.

Things were off to an excellent start.

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