What I Got Myself Into

I’m sorry this took so long to post, but I underestimated just how potent post-Game Jam lag can be. There have also been some tech issues, so you can look at the previous sentence as a double entendre if you’d like.

In any case, I had my first Toronto Global Game Jam! Yay TGGJ 13!

I started off the day by appropriately enough finishing off Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, House Wives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form (which is an awesome book of historical and cultural perspectives as well as the seed to make you want to make more games) before making my way to George Brown College’s Game Design Centre.

There were many possible scenarios in my head as to how this was going to turn out. And I have to say that none of them actually happened. I registered as a Solo Jammer with the belief and understanding that I would have a chance to become part of a group. What I didn’t know, and what I should have realized in retrospect is that many people would be attending the Jam with their own pre-established groups.

I knew a few people at the Jam and I got to socialize a bit with them before the ultimate theme of the Game Jam was announced: which was the sound of a heart-beat. So after this really excellent theme idea was revealed, I found myself with two choices. The first was to actually Solo it and learn how to use Twine–a text-based choose-your-own-adventure video game maker–on the go while making an entirely new story from scratch, and the second was to find or make a group with whoever else was interested.

So I found a group of two other people: another writer and a graphic designer. We realized that we lacked a programmer or coder, so we decided to make a Board Game. There was a lot of brainstorming, debating and spirited arguing but together we managed to create some working game mechanics. I also kept using the quote from William Faulkner’s Banquet Speech that George R.R. Martin likes to bring out whenever he talks about character development, namely: “the human heart in conflict with itself.” This was an appropriate quotation on so many levels and one that helped me work with the Jam theme.

I don’t know. There was one point where the lack of sleep, food, and the concentration on game rules and content, began to intermix with Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters and Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game inside of my head. I started to realize or remember that games are rituals in which we interact with other people and a created reality: an experience. During those two days, we were all essentially working and manipulating cultural information to create an interactive art form: making some kind of new meaning: or add our own personal touch for others to experience in some way.

Or something like that. At least I didn’t start calling anybody Magister Ludi.

So our group finished the game dynamics and some of the background notes. My fellow writer was taking notes as I was throwing out various ideas. Unfortunately, he had to leave early and he didn’t come back on the last day. In his defence, he did say that I had this, ;P. Also, all printing shops in the immediate area were closed so even when it was just myself and the designer, we didn’t have an accessible way to make a material copy and I didn’t bring any supplies to make a crude prototype. In the end, I had to interpret my co-writer’s notes and charts and tried to make everything as simplified as possible for the designer and myself.

Then to top it all off, we and a good majority of the Jammers missed the deadline for uploading our games and writing files onto the Global Game Jam site. The rules were there, but they were surrounded by a lot of text and weren’t completely clear. I’ve heard that one of the organizers might be talking to the Global site about letting us upload our games, but I have yet to hear back about that. If this does happen, I will definitely give you all a link to the game on the site. If not, I will see what I can do about this.

I think some of the most fun I had at the Game Jam was when I could actually just work on the writing without feeling like I had to manage other aspects in addition to that. I am not technologically skilled and that was why I counted on being in a team to begin with so I could focus on the field that I was good at. But I did learn a lot and we completed what we set out to do.

We made a game.

I also got to socialize a fair amount. It is really something to be surrounded by a group of friendly introverts–volunteers and game-makers–working on their own thing, or sleeping, or drinking free Starbucks coffee and tea, and shooting each other with Nerf guns. I slept on a mat. Someone slept in my sleeping bag and then returned it to me. There was pizza.

And I also helped a new friend with his own game after both my teammates were gone. Talking with other game-makers (now I am getting a Hunger Games reference in addition to The Glass Bead Game, I’m sorry to mention), made me remember my own old attempts to create video games when I was much younger.

I was the kid that messed around with Mario Paint for animation purposes and had vague ideas to record the animations to make a continuous pixelated cartoon with my own music. I made Warcraft II scenarios. I also used Civilization II Fantastic Worlds’ editor to make my own icons and game scenarios. I won’t even go into the board games I’ve made as well: which I had much better skill in doing (inspired by Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly, and The Addams Family Board Game and such). When I talked to people at the Jam about Super Mario Brothers, it occurred to me that I had started playing it in the late 80s, while many of them had played it much later on. I remember when it was all new. It can feel strange to realize that you are suddenly old.

You know, I had a really good time. And I learned some valuable lessons too. If I do plan to be in a group, I will either come with a friend or with a pre-made group to do food runs, stand in lines, and do shifts as we work or whatever we decide to do. The second possibility is that I will learn how to use Twine and come Solo so that I can work on an interactive short story challenge and pace myself: allowing myself time to socialize and relax into the writing process. It all depends. I could go either way.

So, if I were to summarize GGJ 13 into an appropriately creative sentence, I would end it and this post in the following manner:

“I’m sorry, but your princess: she is in another castle … with some coffee and a machine gun.” 🙂

P.S. It also occurs to me that we were all recorded by camera people and even interviewed once. So I might have a link to that as well. I might even go into more detail on our game. We shall see.

7 thoughts on “What I Got Myself Into

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