Boomshakalaka Postmortem

I know this is very, very late, but here’s a look back at how our Global Game Jam 2011 game went. Rather than focusing the advantages and the disadvantages in our final product (which I describe on another webpage, anyways), I’ll be evaluating how we went through the development process for this game.

The Team

To me, the most important part of any software development process is how well the team works together. Frequently, the smallest things causes development to halt, such as miscommunication between two members, the lack of trust, perfectionism, or straight-out laziness. All too frequently, I’ve worked with teams that were heavily demoralized by a single team member, who refused to cooperate. As such, I strongly value a team who’s communicative, ambitious, friendly, but also self-critical.

In this sense, the team I worked with–Ruben Brown, Carrington Dennis, Damion Jackson, and Marcus Whitfield–was excellent. Everyone was ambitious, but at the same time, understanding. The artists, Damion and Marcus, were right there when I needed them. Although we’ve had a few arguments here and there, rarely did I feel that our team was uncooperative or lazy. I have no regret with working with you guys, and I definitely look forward in teaming up in the near-future.

The Process

A good team, however, is nothing without a plan or a process. Unfortunately, this was where I think we started faltering.

The first problem we had was the plan. Ruben began by outlining several meanings of our theme, extinction, on our white board. From there, we’ve pondered for about 3 hours on how to make any of the written keywords into a game. My first red flag.

In most game jams I’ve went to, I found it easier to come up with a gameplay mechanic first, then eventually cover it with theme-related story, artwork, and music. This proved itself once again when, out of impatience, I pitched an idea about a game that initially used an entire keyboard, but gradually reduced the number of usable keys. Within an hour, we were able to agree upon an intriguing idea to develop on: a tower-defense game where each defense, the limited-use ground mines, was detonated by a key on the keyboard.

To be fair, I was the only one in the team that went to game jams before. And four of them were eight hours long.

For the process, we tried to get immediately started. Sadly, the majority of us didn’t know how to use Unity 3D, the game engine we decided to use. While I was able to get started immediately, both Ruben and Carrington had to go through a number of tutorials to get themselves oriented with the tool. While this wasn’t detrimental in the beginning, it certainly had an impact towards the end, where weird bugs started cropping up.

On the good side, we did get a prototype working within the middle of the second day. It wasn’t a particularly fun game, however, and Ruben pitched a different idea: a game where you drop a ball onto the keyboard.

Towards the end, where we started working on this idea, weird bugs started happening. Certain folders didn’t appear to be committed in subversion, despite adding them at least twice. The explosion assets that made the first prototype visually entertaining stopped working entirely on our shift. Perhaps the worst moment was when the operating system boot-loader GRUB suddenly stopped working on my computer, and I had to ask another kind person burn an Ubuntu image to fix it.

The Presentation

Given a small presentation window we were given, I think we’ve largely succeeded in selling our idea. Many people were intrigued about our unique control scheme, and within the casual audience, I think we’ve garnered the most attention. That said, it wasn’t without faults. For whatever reason, the game was unusually unresponsive on Carringtons laptop, and we had to switch to Ruben’s instead. Some people also were cautious about how they dropped the ball.

Despite this, things did turn out for the better in the end. While I admit our game is in desperate need of re-analysis and re-exploring, the controls was enough a selling to catch attention.

Also, Ruben, please don’t make up a story at the top of your head. That wasn’t necessary.

Global Game Jam 2011

January 28th marks the start of the Global Game Jam 2011, a 48-hour event about developing a new video/board/card game. Having participated in Global Game Jam 2010, and a local game jam back in college–which incidentally, were 8 hours long–I expect the usual drill: a sleep-deprived, idea-trashing, heated competition to make the best game. To put it into business words, it’s an extremely agile, nay, experimental software development process where a typical 6-month project is made within 2-days.

I’ll let that sink in.

So why participate at all? For one, this year, board games and card games are now accepted, and will be judged equally with video games. This means you are no longer bounded by your limited knowledge about programming or technology. The bar is set low enough: there’s no reason you can’t participate. Second, it’s an excellent opportunity to network, to meet and befriend all kinds of people who take the same interest as you. It’s always refreshing to see gamers who aren’t snobby World of Warcraft players or loud, profane Online players to First-person shooters. The people who gather in these events are genuinely creative, ambitious, and unselfish about their trade–whether it be art, programming, music, design, etc.

To me, however, the greatest reason to participate is the end products. Not the games, mind you, but the immense sense of accomplishment and shared experience between all the participants.

I could write a book about that last part, but Ste Curran (creative director of Zoe Mode game company) explained it within 10 minutes at 2010’s keynote.

Good luck to all the Jammers for 2011!

P.S. And make sure you check out my game, Trip Trap I made (by myself) in Global Game Jam 2011!

Website mostly working

I finally got the website to contain the same amount of content as the old one before. Still have a few problems, most notably the mouse hover behavior on my “About” sidebar and the “Save the Princess” webplayer not resizing correctly.