By Michael Long
Hi. I'm honoured to have the privilege/be the only willing volunteer to write the first ever blog post for our site. Blogging isn't something I've ever done before, but from what I gather it's rambling about a certain topic. The topic today will be picking ideas for game jams.
A game jam is gathering of cool & attractive people (computer scientists mostly) who work together to make a video game within a time limit, like say 48 hours. The HCI lab at the University of Saskatchewan is hosting such a jam this upcoming weekend. In this case teams will be formed and there will be judging and prizes given out at the end. Our team (Dustin, Willia and myself) went to one in October andclaimed a great victory by grabbing first place with our bi-colour brawler Cyan VS Magenta, which you can download here.
Coding for 48 hours can be a grueling task (sleep is for the weak!), but coming up with good game ideas can be even harder. You can't start until the whole team has agreed on an idea, and this can be tough. Here are some thoughts on how to come up with a good game concept.
It may seem counter intuitive to think of what you want to do with the game after the jam before it's even begun, but you should. Are you just messing around with a new engine? Do you want to eventually market this game? These questions need to be addressed. If you're just messing around, then the genre, controls and theme of your game don't matter. IF you plan on marketing the game afterwards more thought needs to be put into it.
Not all genres were created equal. Some lend themselves to short & simple games while others do not. Real time strategy games, MOBA's and RPG's are definite no-go's. RTS's require a plethora of different skills from pathing, huge amounts of art assets, balancing and especially AI. Polishing these elements to work well in 48 hours would be an insane challenge, and would likely produce something mediocre at best.
The problem with RPG's is the feeling of progression. People like RPG's because their characters gain more abilities, weapons and items as the game goes on. PRocedurally generated leels would be the only feasible thing to do to add any amount of length to your game, but after a while procedurally generated levels feel boring. Another problem is that there isn't enough time for proper playtesting. 48 just isn't enough time to make a sweeping, balanced and length RPG masterpiece.
Platformers are extremely popular among indie developers for a good reason: they're simple. Restricting the game to 2 dimensions saves a huge amount of work , especially for creating art assets. PEople love the look of retro games, so it's ok to have pixelly looking sprites leaping about the screen. Another thing going for platformers is that everyone knows them. Everyone's seen Mario, and many have played it. The controls translate well from game to game. Move left, move right and jump. Easy to explain to newcomers and instantly familiar for veterans.
At the end of the jam everyone has a chance to wander around and try out people's games. Since there are quite a few games to try out nobody wants to sit down and play your procedurally generated dungeon crawler for an hour. Explaining the concept and the controls of the game shouldn't take more than 30 seconds, else people will feel confused and won't understand what's happening. Many will spend less than 10 minutes with each game, which is why I told you to stay away from RPG's. Pick a genre that lends itself to quick playthroughs that has a definite beginning and end, such as one level in a platformer, or a game with a set time limit.
I'm not just talking about pathing. Pathing is a difficult problem, but engines like Unity have A* pathing algorithms built in. By AI I mean the behaviour of enemies. Making anything beyond a patrolling goomba is difficult. Debugging enemy behaviour can be frustrating beyond belief, and they always do stupid things like getting stuck on rocks when you're doing live presentations. Making an overall strategic AI for turn based games or any strategy game takes an incredible amount of time to make anything worth while.
Some philosophers say there's no such thing as an original thought. The same can be said of games. Everything's been done before, as X is just another flavour Y but with Z added on. The important part is the but. Your game has to have at least one thing different about it, else it's just a shabbily made copy. It doesn't have to be a ground-breaking mechanic though. It could just be a mash-up of existing ideas. Our current idea is to make a player versus player platformer where one player runs through a Mario-esque level and the other player tries to kill them by firing bullets and placing obstacles and enemies in their path. This is a frankenstein of level-creator meets Mario.
Versus and coop games with local multiplayer are great. It's easier to make these games because we don't need enemy AI or really long levels. The players add their own fun to it. All you need to do is give them the controls and a level and they'll have a blast. They'll come up with weird strategies and exploit bugs, but it's all good because you made the game in less than frickin' days.
I'm out of time, but hopefully you enjoyed reading this. We'll be posting our newly born game as soon as possible. I expect great things from our highly skilled team. Hopefully Odin will grant us victory.
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