Some of my expectations of what a game jam might be like had me a little nervous about signing up.
Having been with Spooky Squid Games for almost two years I have learned without any doubt that while game development can be fun and rewarding when things are going well, it has an equal potential to be gruelling and disappointing when something just isn't coming together. Why would full time game devs want the additional stress of developing a side project in three days' time? Or the disappointment of coming up with a promising idea and not finishing it in time?
At the same time, knowing that Russian Subway Dogs had itself started out as a jam game, it didn't make sense to ignore the potential behind rapidly prototyping a game idea. Who knows how far it can go one day! And hey, if it never goes anywhere big, at least you gave it a shot and learned something.
Working under the assumption that most finished jam games are mere shadows of the developers’ original ideas, Miguel and I made a point of not planning out too much ahead of time.
Our basic concept was to make a local multiplayer, alien-themed soccer game with a sentient ball. We imagined the ball having a few different behaviours to add an unusual challenge for players, and also thought it would be neat to include a few different power ups that could drastically alter the ball’s behaviour.
I found it very refreshing to rapidly prototype the smallest possible version of our idea in contrast to how we usually work, which involves constructing and following a fully fleshed-out game design document. That's not in any way meant to knock the design document approach - if anything it's necessary for any large project - but it was very nice to get a break from that method.
I started out by doodling some ideas of what the players might look like. I tried to go as low-resolution as possible in order to simplify animation, but we went even smaller in the end!
To save on animation time and effort, I decided to give the playable characters a squishy bobbing animation that would be used both when they’re idle and “walking”. Miguel made their animation speed up in-game when they were moving and it looks surprisingly good considering how much time we saved on animation!
I also tried to give these sprites a little bit of directionality so that, even though I only made one set of animations, we could flip them horizontally in-game to make them face left and right.
Inspired by Snipperclips, one thing we wanted to experiment with was altering the characters’ facial expressions to give them a bit of personality when they scored. I’m glad we gave it a shot because it made a big difference, even though it meant I didn’t end up with enough time to animate any of the other playable characters.
In the end, even though we went in with what we thought was a pretty simple idea, which we then pared down to what we thought to be its most basic, essential iteration, we still ended up having to go even more bare-bones than that! The current version does have a ball with very simple AI, but it does not turn angry, and there are no powerups to push it into.
Having said that, we still came out of this weekend with a small little game that’s fun to play!
Overall this was an extremely positive experience for me. One thing that was very helpful was partnering up with Miguel. Because we’ve been working together at Spooky Squid for almost two years, we definitely had an advantage thanks to already knowing how to work efficiently with each other.
Another big help was using tools that we are already familiar with! While there’s nothing wrong with using a game jam as an opportunity to learn a new language or software [Miguel: I used it as a chance to learn Box2D physics!], I felt I was much happier making stuff with an already established workflow. However, this is absolutely up to individual preference and your learning style!
Even though we didn’t get all of our initial ideas into Blobber Basher, we’re still excited about them and may be adding a few new features within the next few months. You can play the current version of Blobber Basher right now on itch.io.
This weekend was a lovely learning experience for me, and I would like to thank the organizers for all of the time and effort that has gone into making this year’s TOJam happen.