I was originally going to split these two days into their own posts (like my first post on the event), but when I wasn’t sleeping I was at the Jam. I was updating game design docs, making timeline designs, fixing the digital versions of our creative assets, and desperately trying to keep my team members, who were doing the real work without sleep, from passing out. I needed a day to recover before I could do anything else, and I just can’t separate out the blur properly enough for each day to have its own post.
After a multi-hour braining session and a little sleep on the first night, the design of our game had changed a great deal. What was originally a free-stylus defense building game had turned into a one-button (aka “twitch-play”) game where players tried desperately to defend the last remnants of humanity from mutated cockroaches by dropping random bits of civilization in the way of the oncoming beasts. The twist was that the bits were delivered via a moving pendulum that had great possibility of dropping them right on top of the humans’ heads (and killing them). The object of the game had morphed from building a bunker to save humanity from an onslaught of fiends to haphazardly dropping stuff from the sky to save humanity without killing them yourself.
In retrospect, we spent a lot more time on the game’s backstory and setting then we really should have for the time that we had available. We didn’t realize this initially because in comparison to most other games, even many other casual non-puzzle games, we didn’t think we had much of a story or setting. It wasn’t just creating the backstory that was the problem, it was also that we needed a set art direction based on that concept, and this set us back by maybe two or three hours. This doesn’t seem like much, but we only had 48 hours to complete the entire project!
Saturday drew on, and we kept running into setbacks. Our primary artist, who had spent the previous night creating potential art assets, was catching up on the sleep she hadn’t gotten before (4 hours lost), our secondary artist was actually on several teams and so needed to juggle his time between all of them (2 hours lost), and our primary programmer’s laptop just flat-out refused to cooperate, and so we needed to scrounge up new computers with the required development packages to be able to replace it (3 hours lost).
We were well-fortified however.
In the end, we pulled through, and it was entirely because of my teammates. They worked like machines, if machines badly needed coffee. They knew we were in trouble, and even though, technically, we were all there during our free time to enjoy ourselves, they did what they had to do to get the job done, forgoing breaks, meals, and even uninterrupted sleep. And the weird thing is, we really did all have a lot of fun. It was almost like a marathon; by halfway we were ready to die, but we knew that the end was slowly drawing near, and when the first time that the game ran with all its sound and the placeholder assets, it was like a jolt of adrenaline into the system.
In 48 hours, we had gone from this…
and it worked. Most of the time. And it was impossible to win. But it worked!
We were scarcely alone in our desperation to complete our game within the time limit. All 6 teams at our location burned the midnight oil to get their projects done, and they all came out great.
My personal favorite was this one, called “Lucid.”
The players take the part of sleeping boy whose dreams literally carry him up throughout an imaginary world he dreamed into existence. Players have to navigate the boy around obstacles while collecting imaginary blocks he can use to to build with. If he hits an obstacle, the boy wakes up and the player “loses.” The team who developed it just did an amazing job.
Overall, I just can’t stress just how great this whole experience was. It pushed me to the edge, but I learned a ton about game development I had never really known before, and it was an incredible high to see everyone’s hard work actually, well, work, despite how little time (and sleep) everyone had actually had to put it all together.
You can see both Pendulum ‘Pocalypse (my team) and Lucid at the main event website, as well as all the other games from around the world. The whole event is a testimony to just how creative and capable people can be under pressure.
Kudos to all involved…and maybe see you next time.