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My experience of Global Game Jam 2015

01 February 2015 | Blog post,News

On January 23, 2015, an amazing thing happened. Tens of thousands of developers joined forces for 48 hours and produced a huge number of games for Global Game Jam 2015. It was easily the best weekend I’ve had in a long, long time and I recommend anybody who loves to design or develop in any way to take part.

When I arrived at Stafford University, we were quickly grouped with 6 other talented people and then lead to the keynote presentation.

The annual event always revolves around a given theme, and this year was no different. The chosen theme for 2015 was “What do we do now?”

Immediately thousands of ideas involving zombies were thrown around- my first thought was a zombie car, so somewhat more imaginative than an apocalypse game, but still not good enough. We bounced back ideas for a good hour or so until I mentioned that whenever I cook the kitchen ends up on fire. This led fellow team mate Dave (also Team Lead I may add- a role he took so naturally nobody noticed it happen.) to think up our game idea:

Before It Burns.

‘The thought may have crossed your mind.. “If my house was on fire what would I save?” Well now you can find out! Because we’ve simulated it!’

More information on the game itself can be found here– I won’t talk about the game itself too much here- the important thing was we had a full team, and an amazing idea. Time to make a game!

At this point, 8pm on Friday, I am usually starting to get a bit snoozy. This was an understatement this time, because I’d been over-excitedly coding a network library for the preceding week and had slept a total of around 8 hours during that period. That was nothing, though, because we had 45 hours left to go and I’d heard nobody sleeps at these things.

Dave- who had been to the event for the previous four years- had already organised everybody into roles before I’d managed to organise my own thoughts, and away we began.

The next 9 hours went really well for me- I managed to stay focused, and get a heck of a lot done. I coded the inventory system and some simple UI bits. The gameplay was working. Next to me, Dave was making some odd sphere-like beings shoot scary rays across rooms but I was too focused on my own code to pay attention. What was he working on? I must remember to check it out.

Everybody knows that if you use computers, you must take a break. Dave and I bought our quad-copters for just those occasions! We captured footage of a few of the rooms in use and uploaded them to youtube. We also had a few accidents and my quad was damaged, but it was worth it in the end!

At 4am, we break. we hit an invisible wall so hard it knocked our coding teeth out. Most of the team had flaked away for sleep- who can blame them? As a developer there are two things you can do here- 1) Continue to try to code- and regret it the next day, and 2) Get sleep. I correctly chose sleep, so off I went for a nap.

Oddly,  I was awake again by 7, felt great, so I took a bus to the local city centre and grabbed breakfast before heading back and beginning work.

I’ve not mentioned the artists yet, but they were all hard at work behind us spitting out nearing 100 assets, something that was quite amazing to see from aspiring artists/designers. They took breaks too- by drawing questionable things on our drawing board. It felt like the offices at Matmi where freedom is given and really odd things appear on whiteboards.

The second day though, was quite quiet. We all had our tasks and got on with them. There’s not a lot for me to talk about. I sat down and got the UI’s in and a menu system running. Dave was hacking away at his yellow ball things. I remembered to check what he was coding at this point- He hits play and suddenly flames fill the room. It was a fire-spread algorithm! This system is the heart of the game. When the flames came to light the project suddenly felt alive, like real progress was being made, and it was.

That evening, I took a break to work on the audio.  I didn’t expect it, but I hit on the perfect track almost immediately, and had people in the room asking me to turn it up. Now, I’m out of practice. I’ve not done any professional sound design since 2010, and my confidence in my abilities there are far from great, so this was an amazing reception. Two tracks and about two/three hours later and the music is complete.

We continue right into Sunday morning. At 2am, with almost 19 hours without sleep, I behind to hallucinate. I’m not kidding. First, I imagined I was in a hallway with lots of diagonal tables. Then, my brain whisked me back to a hall in primary school, then I thought I was in a train station and Dave was a strange black woman. I am NOT kidding, this happens if you don’t sleep.

It became obvious that I was experiencing micro-sleeps where you uncontrollably sleep for a few seconds, but your eyes may be open.

Dave and I continue to dribble into our keyboards coding various bits and pieces (and creating mundane object “prefabs”) until about 6am Sunday, when we finally get around to doing a Git Merge. (For those who don’t know, that’s where we take our work and slam it together until it becomes one bit piece of work.)

We reach 8am. I’m feeling great, but the team lead has had to rest.  I take charge of coding for the following few hours and things start to really come together. Until, that is, I go absolutely insane.

I’ve not slept for 29 hours at this point.

Dave wakes up, somehow sharp as a knife, and starts preparing for the final build. He needs me to fix a few issues, which I do.

To explain just how out of it I am at this point, I’ll explain one of the things I was asked to do:

“Can you fix the look up/look down thing?” – which needed 3 seconds of work to change two numbers. What I did, however, was open my software, zoom out to the top of the map, point the camera down, and then look confused. I literally had no clue what I was doing at this point, everything was going over my head. I needed sleep. Badly. Sleep never came, though.

We were a little late submitting the game because my final quick fix completely broke something very important, and we had to revert it. We got there eventually, and submitted the game.

After submission, we saw videos of all games submitted at Stafford University. There were some really good ones, but we felt ours was right up with the best. I’m proud of the team and their achievements.

I don’t remember a lot about Sunday to be honest. After going to sleep, it was like a dream. I felt like I’d had far, far too much to drink the night before!

Will I be partaking in 2016? Absolutely, YES.


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