Well it was that time of year again. This past weekend I participated in the Global Game Jam.
The basic premise of a game jam is that you gather a room full of folks who have an interest in making games, give them a topic for inspiration, and set them loose for a couple days. The participants run the gamut from professionals, to amateurs, to enthusiasts with no previous experience. At the end of the weekend every single participant will have created something that didn’t previously exist and they will have learned something they didn’t previously know. A game jam is the kind of creative refuelling that can propel a person, or a whole team, for a good long time.
It can also be gruelling, frustrating, and tense. At about the halfway point, not one part of your game will function exactly like you imagined. Likely it will be in such a miserable and precarious state that it will feel like the game won’t ever play properly. You will probably have a few wins. Brief glimmers that hint at what the game could be. Those are usually enough to power you through all the setbacks.
This year I was on a team that really took a swipe at something ambitious. We laid out a concept that was more than we could ever accomplish in 2 days, but very quickly trimmed that down to something potentially doable. A bite sized chunk of the larger concept. We divided up the work efficiently, and everyone seemed to have a really good idea of what it was we were trying to make. It was a very collaborative, creative experience, and everyone was able to contribute in ways that played to their strengths. Just all around a really good time.
I was going to do a postmortem, 5 things that went right, 5 things that went wrong. I think instead I’ll just jot down a few things I learned.
Prefabs are your friend. Prepackage as much stuff as you can early on. Make smart building blocks.
Physics engines will rarely act in predictable ways, but they can be the most useful tool in the box. Like a table saw, use physics engines carefully.
Always make a very simple test level, minus all bells and whistles. Test any concepts and functions there first. I rarely remember to do this, and I always regret it.
Bring your glasses. My eyes are still pretty good, but 12 hours of unblinking computer work will tax younger eyes than mine. I sometimes forget how old my eyes really are.
Bring some slippers. They are nice on the feet.
A good team makes work more fun. (I knew this one before, but it never hurts to reinforce it)
Our game prototype is up at the global gamejam site and can be found at the end of this link. Please give it a spin, and tell me what you think.
I got the old board game Dungeon! for my boys for Christmas. Well not the old one. The new reprint version with the very impressive dragon on the top. I remembered it being a fun game, but that may be a false memory. I was fairly young, since the game came out the year I was born. Now that I really think about it I most likely saw some older kids playing it once. Maybe.
The boys and I played some RPG Kids, a simplified rpg system, over the summer. It was fun, but there is something about game rules and easy to grasp structure that at least my kids gravitate toward. They get a bit lost In an open ended storytelling rpg system. They like set rules and consistency. They like having a good sense of where the game is going. They like knowing the rules, so that they know which ones they can break.
We played a few games of Dungeon! on Christmas day, and a few more after that. We started changing the rules during game 1. Our game now resembles nothing close to what comes out of the box. For example, we play a co-op game. The original is a score chase game. More like Monopoly or Sorry than an RPG adventure game. From my observations kids are ok with losing, but really not okay with being beaten. When we lose, we lose together as a team.
Working together we have added or changed most of the rules. As it turns out, Dungeon! is a tragically barebones experience, but it’s also very malleable. Probably by design. Seeing as these are the same people that created the original Dungeons and Dragons I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a game created to be a template only.
Here are a few of the things we have changed or added.
We have wandering monsters in the hallways. You have a chance of encountering one of the monsters from the chambers on your journey, and they will chase you or head toward the entrance if they aren’t defeated.
We changed the winning and losing conditions to be more co-op friendly.
We added special abilities that allow more teamwork and give groups of two or three adventurers a much better chance at surviving the higher level monsters deep in the dungeon. If you have ever played D&D you would recognize most of the abilities as being class appropriate. The thief has a backstab, sneak, and detect traps, for example.
We are in the midst of adding HP and possibly XP. We might be adding more magical loot.
If we ever arrive at a stable set of rules, one that hasn’t changed a couple times during a playthrough, I’ll post it up here or make it publicly available.
I think it really is a great game, but maybe not as is. If you’re not opposed to picking up a great framework that you can build a game around, then you could do much worse than Dungeon! It also helps if you have kids that like to roll dice and consider the relative merits of wandering vs. stationary monsters. At length. Incredibly great length.
I'm usually a woman.
Let me come around and take another pass at that. I usually play a female. Maybe not usually. More like often. That is to say, in games where you can choose either a male or female character, I often pick female.
I realize that there is almost no way to bring this up without seeming skeezy. That’s not why I play the characters I play. At least I don’t think so, but that might require more introspection than I’m capable of. I’ll attempt to explain.
The time worn quote uttered by many a gamer dude is “if I have to look at a characters butt for 40 hours, I want it to be a female butt”. This is laughable nonsense. Nathan Drake, Marcus Fenix, Kratos, Leon Kennedy, Ezio Auditore, Snake. Litteral weeks of my life have been spent looking at these digital male butts. I suspect that other gamers have done the same. Never once have I heard the complaint that someone wished Marcus Fenix had been a woman so that they can look at her butt. I might complain that Nathan Drake’s butt looked flatter in the last game than it did in the earlier ones, but that isn’t really what I want to talk about.
Like most people I tend to gravitate toward more attractive and interesting character designs. Let’s be perfectly clear. Nathan Drake is designed to be attractive. He’s handsome, rugged, rakish. If you are a guy and think that this doesn’t affect you, you may have some things about yourself to figure out. It does. That’s why he looks like that. That attraction to the character is largely subconscious, and typically not sexual. Still after a few minutes you probably don’t notice the character at all. You only see what he is aiming at.
I have spent so many hours planted firmly behind a butt at this point, I barely take notice of the character on screen. Why would I. The player character acts only as an anchor for the game camera to pivot around. I’m usually only paying attention to what is out in front of my character. The actual game part of the game. Where my character is only matters in relation to the obstacles in my path. Who my character is matters even less. It’s all that game happening in front of the character that matters. The gender of that butt just doesn't matter.
I played the hell out of Mass Effect. I played as much as I could of each game, before moving on. I tried to do a second play through of ME1 and ME2, but only got a short distance in before stopping. My Commander Shepard is tough, considerate, kind, ferocious, and willing to obey conscience over orders. She is also slightly awkward socially, military before manners. She has short hair, but long enough to push the boundaries of regulations. She is also possibly of indian descent, back when that sort of thing would have mattered. She was born on another planet, far from any terran political boundary. When I attempted to play through as the unmodified male shepard, I had to stop. This was not his story. Those were not his words. They belonged to the other Shepard. The real one.
My Dovahkiin character in Skyrim is a Redguard. She carries two swords and shoots fire from her hands. I played Knights of the old Republic twice. One character was female, fair skinned and bald with a green lightsaber. The other was male, dark skinned, mustache, but also bald with a green lightsaber. My character in Saints Row is usually female, but sometimes male, sometimes a toilet, and sometimes a ridiculous nightmare creature that runs naked through the streets wearing a top hat and a full face tattoo.
It's worth noting that none of these characters are dressed in skimpy outfits. They wear heavy armour and carry heavier weapons. They are geared up for what the game demands, which is usually ample combat. The thought of boob armour and warriors wearing six inch heels into battle gives me the screaming heebie jeebies. I find it offensive, not just to women, but to a basic sense of practicality. Also, I lied. Sometimes they wear skimpy outfits, but only if it has some comedic value.
Obviously all of these characters are just my personal take on these archetypes. Each player gets the opportunity to create their own Commander Shepard or Dovahkiin. There are limits to the character creation tools of course. Within those limits, players can create any character they want. This is where we get into why I think I create the characters I do.
I'm a 6 foot tall white heterosexual male 30 something of some pan-european descent, born and raised in North America. We'll shorten that to one word. Default. Hero of big summer blockbuster movie? Default. Hero of romantic comedy that plays in theatre against big summer blockbuster? Default. Hero of sci-fi fantasy epic where over half of the characters are rainbow hued aliens and creatures? Default. Villain in all previous examples? Default. You can take it from here.
Why? Why is someone who looks like me (likely more handsome and fit, but still) the default. Who determined that this is default? When I walk among actual humans, something I typically avoid, sure I see quite a few people who look like me due to where I live, but the majority of people don’t. At least half of the people I see are female. A lot of the people I see are not white. The default, is not, in fact, the default. Turns out, there is no default. Just a bunch of people. All different, but, more importantly, all kind of the same.
I want to see the tough as nails space commander punch the fluids out of some evil alien dirtbag. I want to see the chosen one march up to a towering horror from the depths of the earth, sword in hand, vengeance in heart. I would like to see that person be a woman. Just once in a while. Please.
I know there are examples of characters like these in movies and books and what have you. They are extremely rare. As long as people think that there is a default hero it seems unlikely I’ll see many of these women in movies or on TV or in games anytime soon. Lucky for me, there are other games. Games where you can create and act out any character you like. It only takes a few sliders to be something other than default.
Best Games - Robotron 2084
Robotron starts at 780kmp/h and then presses down on the accelerator. Some games give people seizures. Robotron gives you epilepsy first and then gives you seizures. If you already had epilepsy, boom, now you have double epilepsy. Robotron destroys the tendons in your left wrist and then offers you a second joystick for your right. Berserk has 7 robots on the screen. Robotron has 47000, and they ride jet skis. Geometry Wars has lots of graphical style. Robotron uses a colour pallette only fully visible to birds. PAC-MAN has a glitchy kill screen. The kill screen in Robotron is a prison shank swiping at you from the coin return. Dark Souls is hard. Robotron is calculus written in diamonds. The Last of Us has a dark, heartbreaking story. Robotron makes you the protector of the last human family, then forces you watch as it kills them in 7 seconds. Robotron kills you 3 seconds after that. Also, it took your money. The audio for Robotron was recorded with a 2 string bass, played by a nail gun.
Robotron 2084 is Google’s end game.