Game Off 2017 game jam post-mortem


Now that the dust has settled and the results are in on GitHub's fifth annual Game Off game jam, I figured I'd share some thoughts about the process of building my game and participating in the jam.

I'd like to start off by saying thank you to the GitHub team for organizing this whole thing, and for being so supportive of us humble independent game developers. Just having the opportunity to share ideas and feedback with such a large number of talented people is incredible, and even better still that many of us end up getting some extra eyes on our work, which is more or less priceless. I'd also like to  thank the GitHub crew for including my game in the Staff Picks for this year. If I'm being honest, that little mention on the GitHub blog was the most I'd hoped would come out of all of this. So my sincere and endless gratitude for making that happen. :)

ANYONE NOT SCARED OF A FEW BIG PARAGRAPHS, PLEASE CONTINUE...

I spent a full month making BAD VIBES, working on it for at least 5 or 6 hours a day nearly every day. I made the game in Unity, coding with C# and a fair share of external references and resources. Being my third finished game project, as well as my third game jam entry, I was able to bring some previous experience to the table despite being a relative amateur. Maybe the most important lesson I utilized this time was to not stress over the artwork. For someone like me, who isn't so talented in that area, banging my head against Photoshop until I see something I can begrudgingly live with is a massive time suck. For BAD VIBES, I went the free asset route, which helped teach me the importance of proper attribution. It can be easy to let those things slip through the cracks when you're under a tight deadline and feel like you have to reinvent the wheel (and make sure it's a FUN wheel at that), but now I know to always keep track of where I get my assets, free or not. But for what it's worth, I did create a number of the graphics in the game from scratch (those are my scrawny hands on screen!), and every single free asset that I used, I altered to fit the game's aesthetic. Sometimes to the point where the finished product looks nothing like the original. I felt like that kind of old-becomes-new approach was entirely fitting for the "throwback" theme.

As far as developing BAD VIBES goes, it all felt more or less routine to me. Setup the character controller, build and tweak the enemy AI, build the map, implement the graphics, iterate until it's fun, and then polish! But this time around, I made sure to put a major emphasis on research and studying gameplay. I'd never made a shooter of any kind before, let alone one in first-person, so I needed to brush up on my classics. Both before and during development, I clocked a bunch of hours playing Hexen, DOOM II, Wolfenstein 3D, and Quake, as well as watching YouTube videos on the countless "DOOM clones" out there. (I also watched this really great video of John Romero playing DOOM while he talks about how he and his team created it.) Looking at an FPS game, it can seem so simplistic and generic to us now—we take these things for granted after decades of seeing the format everywhere. I wanted to get as deep into the nitty gritty details and basic foundations that the FPS genre was built on, and try to start my project from there. From that research, my core themes became speed, atmosphere, exploration, and player empowerment. Unfortunately, exploration had to take a back seat given the small amount of time I had to build, but I feel like everything else came together pretty well. With another month or so, I would have undoubtedly expanded the map quite a bit, and added in at least one or two more enemy types.

One more small point I wanted to mention is that, though BAD VIBES is obviously a first-person shooter, it was important to me to make an FPS that didn't involve guns or people being shot. Before I began any part of making the game, this was the idea I focused on. Despite your personal politics, I think most people can agree guns are a major problem, especially in American society. Being an American who is staunchly opposed to our current gun laws, I don't want to take their widespread cultural presence lightly. (Also, are we not tired of video games giving us guns yet??) So I tasked myself to come up with a concept for a shooter game that would not involve guns or gun-related murder. That's when things got.... weird....

To wrap this up, I'd like to share one small bit of criticism regarding the game jam. Reading over the voting results today, I saw that the average number of ratings each game received was 11.2, with a median of 10. How is it at all possible that with 200+ entries, some entries couldn't even get a tenth of those people to rate their game? Granted, I missed a few myself, but mostly because the game was either unplayable or undownloadable, or it was a clearly fake entry. What baffles me is that some games would get as high as 35 ratings, while most wouldn't ever reach 20, and some of the highest ranking games (including some of the most well-crafted entries I saw) have 10 or 11. To me, if you entered a game jam and didn't take time to at least try to rate the other games, you should be disqualified. I'd go so far as to say itch.io should consider adding a function to the game jams that keeps track of how many games someone has rated. At least that way, the host of the jam can decide what to do with people who slack off on contributing to the community.

I don't want to end things on a, ahem, bad vibe, so allow me to say thank you again to everyone who played and rated my game. Since I published BAD VIBES at the end of November, it's been downloaded over 500 times, which is incredible to me. The leaderboard I set up to keep track of the top 20 high scores is getting updated with new players every day. Seeing as how I only received 19 ratings during the game jam, I'm overjoyed to know that most people are playing my game (and even streaming it on YouTube!) not because they have to, but because they think it's fun.

Thanks, everyone, from the bottom of my heart. I can't wait to share what comes next.

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