Have you ever tried to make a game in 48 hours?
Not surprisingly, it isn’t particularly easy. Just ask any of the competitors who took part in the Escape Studios Game Jam 2016. We saw them first hand and they looked damn tired, buried beneath a mountain of Coke cans, crisp packets and whatever else they could get their hands on during their 48 hour stay at PlayHubs in Somerset House, London.
If you’re unsure what a game jam is, it’s pretty simple. People split into teams (although sometimes they can be individual affairs) and have to develop a working game – or at least a proof of concept – in a strict time limit.
This means building 3D assets, rigging and animating characters, real-time lighting, working with game engines and so much more in next to no time at all.
Five teams took part in the Escape Studios Game Jam 2016, and had 48 hours to make a game based around the overarching theme of ‘trapped’.
This saw teams return a really diverse selection of entries when the competition came to a close on 19 June, including an interesting point and click exploration of the mind, a frenetic two-player shooter, a London Underground-based puzzler that would make for an excellent mobile game and a cleverly calculated top-down puzzle game that leapt into the Unity interface at different junctures, allowing you to manipulate the environment at will.
The quality of the games that were produced was staggering, especially considering the time limit.
The winning effort, MindHole, played out in a similar way to popular puzzle-platformers like Beneath The Lighthouse and saw you playing as a fully-animated lightbulb on legs – a representation of an idea – finding its way through a revolving arena in order to pick up bits of inspiration and find the exit.
The winning team consisted of James Noonan, Jing Tan, Alex Strange and Denise Deak, who all walked away with a Samsung Gear headset and a Galaxy S6 to enjoy it with.
We were lucky enough to sit down with the winning team to chat about their experience with the jam and the tools they used.
What were your initial thoughts when the theme of the Jam was revealed?
Deak: I really liked it!
Tan: I was quite excited because, personally, to start with I’m a big fan of horror, which was the original plan. But then we had a brainstorm and we wanted to do something quite original – it’s not really a horror game but it’s got some quite creepy elements, [including the] music and the scenery.
Strange: One of the initial ideas was being trapped on the tube and trying to get off, and there’s people in the way, swinging around.
Tan: I think we had about four different ideas and then eventually we combined everyone’s different pieces together.
Which tools did you utilise to put the project together?
Strange: I used Affinity Designer, which is a vector program that I prefer to Illustrator.
Noonan: I used Unity and MonoDevelop pretty much exclusively.
Tan: I used Photoshop, Audacity and Autodesk Maya, too.
Deak: I used 3ds Max and put everything together in Unity.
Have you had much experience with game art and development before now?
Strange: No, none whatsoever.
Noonan: I’ve been studying an MSc in multimedia design and 3D technology so had done a fair amount of modelling in Maya and stuff. I’m actually training to become an environment artist so it was quite funny to end up sort of doing the coding, but it was a really good experience to see how the art was implemented from the other side.
Tan: I made my first game when I was 18 – like a really crappy, shooty horror game in RPG Maker [laughs]. When I started university I started learning how to make games properly in Unity and learned a bit of Unreal. I just really, really like games!
Deak: I just finished my first year of university, doing 3D animation and design so I had a bit of experience with modelling, animating and rigging characters but I’ve never made a game before and I have no experience in programming whatsoever! It was really interesting to see how that was done and [how] everything [was] brought to life.
Were there any existing games that perhaps influenced where you were going?
Strange: There’s a game called Badland, which is like an iPad game and the scenery and the silhouetted landscapes and platforming was an influence.
Noonan: I think there were major influences from Fez and Braid, and for me the spikes were really reminiscent of Sonic The Hedgehog, which was a massive game for me growing up so that was pretty cool.
Tan: We were quite heavily influenced by Limbo and the Ustwo game Monument Valley.
You hear about ‘crunch time’ a lot in the games industry. Do you think something like this is valuable experience?
Tan: Yeah totally. I actually think it would help you even if you weren’t interested in going into the games industry because [it’s all about] creative problem solving in a very short amount of time where people always want to get things done as quickly as possible.
Strange: I think it’s a good thing because it forces you to learn stuff that you probably didn’t know; maybe coding… You may have to take on a role that you might not have expected.
Noonan: That first experience of the crunch has been really valuable in terms of just understanding how exponential the spike of stress is. I think we thought we were gonna be finished a bit earlier than we were, so to see that – to really be working to the wire – is really good to preempt it in future jams or in a professional capacity.
There are tentative plans in place to run a similar event in the coming months, so keep an eye out if you fancy flexing your game design and development muscles.