We Made a Game for TOJam 12 Called Blobber Basher!

Hello there! I'm Alina, a Toronto-based pixel artist and if you've been following what Spooky Squid Games has been up to lately, you've already seen my art in Russian Subway Dogs!

This weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the 12th annual Toronto Game Jam, my first game jam ever.

Expectations

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.

Jamming

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.

A quick pixel sketch to establish the style for the game’s playable characters. The one on the upper right was inspired by the boot-shaped McNugget!

A quick pixel sketch to establish the style for the game’s playable characters. The one on the upper right was inspired by the boot-shaped McNugget!

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.

This was our progress at the end of the second night of TOJam. The squishy “attack” pose is just us reusing the squishiest frame of the bounce animation!

This was our progress at the end of the second night of TOJam.
The squishy “attack” pose is just us reusing the squishiest frame of the bounce animation!

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!

Play it now!

Aftermath

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.


PS: If you’re in Toronto and wondering how Russian Subway Dogs is going, you can check it out this weekend (May 13th & 14th) in the Comics X Games section at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival

Poster For Game Jam Documentary

Game Jam Documentary is a film being created by our friend Troy Morrissey who did much of the sound design work on They Bleed Pixels (under an insane deadline (Sorry Troy!)).  GJD is pretty much what the title implies: a documentary on game jam’s and jam culture.  You can read more about it here: http://www.gamejamthedocumentary.com/

When they launched an indiegogo campaign early in the films development they asked me to create a pixel art poster they could give out as a backer reward. I agreed thinking I’d have plenty of time to get it done after They Bleed Pixels dropped. I WAS SO WRONG!  The poster took A LOT longer to finish up then either of us expected, and it is totally my fault it’s late (sorry backers!). But it’s finally done! Troy will be printing ‘em up soon and sending them out to backers.

One subtle thing you might not catch is that each of the jammers has some sort of alter ego in the cloud of game sprites hovering above them. Some are obvious others are more subtle.

More arts and a general update.

Well developement video 9 is pretty much finished, I'll be uploading it sometime tonight.  To make up for the long wait here's another little slice of the production quality art mockup I've been working on.  Yes we're totally teasing you with these,  I'll eventually upload the full screen, but only after I've had a chance to add some final polish.


Also  the Game Developer Fall 2009 Career Guide came out a few weeks ago. It has a huge amount of cool indie games how-to info.   Both myself and my buddy Ben Rivers (who made the excellent Snow and The Accent) contributed to an article on low budget game engines and there's a little side column I wrote on the process of recording on the cheap for Night of The Cephalopods (complete with a photo of actor Scott Moyle talking into my lamp during the recording).  It also has Jim "Everybody Dies"  Munro's excellent guide to running your own Artsy Games Incubator and whole bunch of other good stuff.

Dead tree versions are available at a range of locations but you can also download a  PDF copy for free.


You may remember my video dairy from the last Toronto Indie Game Jam, well the last of the TOJam games finally went online recently which means you can now play both games I contributed to as well as 34 other strange little games:

Toronto Indie Game Jam Arcade is Tonight!

Title Screen for Steam Ponk

If you live in the Toronto area and want to check out a bunch of neat indie games the TOJam Arcade is tonight!  As I've mentioned previously TOJam is an event where indie game developers, programmers, artists and musicians get together and try to make games in under three days.  I made a short video about it earlier this month.  The games are now finished (over 30 in total!) and the teams have had a chance to fix bugs and add a bit of polish and are presenting them to the public to play.  I collaborated with a great team of indie folks under the name "Invisible Ninja Squid" and both of our games will be playable at the arcade:

Flip the Beach a flash game that uses a fancy physics engine to combine pinball and tanks.

Steam-Ponk! A 2-player steampunk themed variant of pong for the Nintendo DS.

Directions and other info on the TOJam Arcade can be found on the TOJam webpage.

TOJam 4 Video Diary

Instead of the usual development video I decided to cut together this little mini-documentary of my experiences at the Toronto Indie Game Development Jam last weekend (May1-3rd 2009). It's about ten minutes long and gives a good overview of what it's like participating in a large game jam (hint: exhausting).

This TOJam I collaborated with a great bunch of indie game folks (some new some old) under the team name Invisible Ninja Squid (a mashup of our two team names from last year). We had a fantastic time and managed to create not one, but two games in the three day time limit!

The full team (with links to there respective sites) was:

Sadly while we had two Andrews, Andrew Pilkiw who's programming Guerrilla Gardening was unable to attend.

For more info on TOjam and to play games go to http://www.tojam.ca

I hope you enjoyed this departure from our usually scheduled dev videos. Don't worry if you didn't. In two weeks we'll return to the usual Guerrilla Gardening: Seeds of Revolution development video format.

T.O.Jam preview image.

The Toronto Games Jam blog has a new post about Guerrilla Gardening  with a brand new image that gives a little sneak peak of some things to come.   If you want to see it you'll have to Click the Link! T.O.Jam is a yearly event where local Toronto programmers, artists, musicians and sound designers meet up, form small teams and try to make finished games in a single weekend.  It's been running for three years and last year's was the second largest game Jam ever and the largest game jam to this day with a dairy based theme.  There are a ton of interesting fun games to check out from all three years, all free to download and play so it's well worth browsing around.  If you are local to Toronto and three days of back breaking game making labour sounds like fun the next T.O.Jam is set for sometime in May.

I'll be posting our next development video up Sunday night right on schedule, unless I'm set upon by wolves (a constant danger in the wastelands of urban Canada).  Based on feedback we're going to try something a little different, next weeks video will be shorter  and I'll be posting a second one half way through the month.  So you'll get the same amount of content as before but more often and in bite sized chunks.