What happens when you schedule a jam the last weekend before christmas, 2 weeks from the last jam, with no pre-planning, design or otherwise? If you are lucky enough to be jamming with these amazing devs: apparently you end up with an incredible game.
I am consistently impressed with how ambitious vision gets executed here and it wouldn't be possible without all the great people coming out and dedicated huge chunks of their weekend to this group. So first and foremost, thank you to all the jammers who made it out this weekend and thank you to all the people who wanted to but had other obligations, but still were able to stop in and give us much needed moral support. I can't tell you how exciting it is each jam to know there are such an incredible group of people contributing.
The proposed goal for Jam #3 was a metroidvania game where you play a robot built by rogue terraforming nanomachines on a distant uninhabited planet. We had the restriction of no procedural generation, so we had to hand craft each environment. The protagonist of the story would be able to collect various nanoprograms, which would allow them to command nanomachines into various configurations: a clone, which could trigger switches as well as give you a slight height boost when jumping; a platform which you could use to traverse areas; and lastly a teleport ability - which would allow you to switch places with your clone.
While we weren't able to finish all of the environment, I think we did make an incredible framework for a full game - and everyone had fun - so that's a huge success in my book. Additionally, several people were excited enough to continue contributing to this jam, so I think this will be our first project that sees a little love and polish post-jam. The fact that people had a good time, and are even considering putting more time into it, makes me feel incredibly satisfied.
Initial Project: 56 Hour Game Jam - 10:00am December 16th 2016 - 6:00pm December 18th 2016 Eastern Time
- Of those who responded, 40% were very satisfied, while the other 60% were satisfied but not completely.
- 40% of those who responded felt they were not able to contribute as much as they wanted, all of those cited personal reasons and schedule conflicts as to why.
- 80% wanted to continue working on the project! With 40% being very interested in continuing.
- 80% of our jammers are less interested in leading / owning the high level concepts and gameplay decisions, but would rather work in their own areas or contribute ideas after the main game idea has been established.
- Across the board, the biggest thing to improve was "needing to pick a topic / game idea faster!" People want to have a direction as soon as possible so they can start work.
- After 3 jams with about the same number of contributors, I am starting to wonder if there is a magic jammer number of around 8 people. No matter how many can't make it, or new jammers arrive, etc - we seem to always float at the same number of contributors.
A lot of these statistics were really interesting to me. As I stated earlier, I knew this would be our hardest jam yet - both in terms of ambition (as we continued to be victorious and became more comfortable jamming together, I expected the vision and scope for our ideas to subsequently grow) as well as timeline (the last weekend before a major Holiday season, the shortest break between jams).
These concerns did play out in the jam, as shown by the number of jammers who were not able to fully throw themselves into the event and the lack of a finished metroidvania world (we will get it in though post jam!) We have already added a few key assets, environments, audio, design, and animation changes to the code base in an effort to align closer to our original vision.
Lastly, in my personal jamming experience, I think it's singular to this particular group just how easy-going everyone is. It's much more common for groups I've worked in to spend way MORE time than I prefer discussing game ideas, but for this group that phase is just a formality. Everyone in the group is primarily concerned with contributing as much as possible towards ANY idea. Armed with this knowledge I feel like we have some really clear and actionable ways to improve everyone's experience.
What We Did Well
While it may sound like a broken record, I am especially pleased to see so many cite the positive, helpful, and positive community we've built. New jammers felt included and encouraged to contribute in whatever ways possible, and are excited to come back for the next round.
Despite an incomplete world build, everyone was very pleased with the mechanics and polish of what we were able to complete. I know personally, this feels like the first jam where we have something that I could envision being elaborated into an actual shipping product.
We were missing a few of our mainstay contributors from previous jams due to schedule conflicts, and their absence was felt, but we had several new faces to help carry us through to the finish line. I'm excited for the next jam where we will have the opportunity to rest, reflect, and come back stronger than ever with these new additions to the team!
What We Could Do Better
First and foremost: we need to move through the initial planning phase faster! We lost a lot of time while I tried to coordinate different ideas, or wait for various timezones to wake up and be able to contribute. It turns out, that almost every jammer would've preferred if we just picked something even without complete consensus and start work as soon as possible.
Solution: I have proposed the SENPAI format that I think addresses these concerns. By selecting one jammer ahead of time to make all the high level decisions and answer peoples questions about direction during the jam - this frees up people who just want to contribute in a pre-established direction to just do work. It also satisfies my desire to have lots of fresh ideas and give everyone an opportunity (who wants it) to take the reigns while hopefully preserving all the positive things that make this such a great group of people to jam with.
We Need More People (Again!)
Right now we have a great core group of people who represent all the necessary disciplines to complete any kind of game. The problem is that unless we have a complete turn out (which cannot always be possible) we will find ourselves with holes in our development coverage. As always, our team did a great job of stepping up and owning whatever needed to be done - and part of jamming is being flexible and filling with whatever skills you have or are willing to try - but it would be great to have a little more overlap in our abilities.
Solution: Firstly, I will be more aware when scheduling a jam to make sure there aren't any major events that might prevent people from being able to participate. I am also pretty set at this point for keeping our cadence at 3 weeks (at least until we have enough jammers to warrant increasing that pace). I will continue my efforts to find more likeminded jammers who are interested in pitching in!
We Need to Streamline Contribution Pipeline!
Git is still too much of a barrier. People are still struggling to be able to interact with our project at a very deep level. We have incredible artists, tech artists, graphics gurus, and designers who can send us files or scripts to integrate - but I desperately want them to be able to be hands on IN the project configuring lights, materials, and tuning specific gameplay mechanics.
Casey and Atlas did a great job building unity asset packages for sharing with the team - and this was a much easier process to integrate as well as giving them the opportunity to be able to manipulate their art and designs in engine - but it still wasn't a complete solution. Working with Casey on the character controls using animated gifs and talking through it definitely improved the controller - for example - but was not nearly as effective as being able to let him run, jump, move, and tune directly in our game. Similarly, Atlas produced some great shaders, particles, and 3d models, but I was not able to perfectly integrate them to spec.
Solution: I still don't have a great answer for this problem. I think Casey and Atlas' unitypackage solution is a great stopgap, but it only works in Unity, and doesn't address every problem. I will continue pondering this problem, and hopefully something will present itself for a future jam.
I am excited to try out the SENPAI format, I really think it is the correct evolution for this group and am looking forward to what ideas come out of it. As we mature as a group, and I continue to calibrate - I can't even begin to imagine the amazing things we will be able to produce into the future. With a regular jam interval of 3 weeks, that means we can look forward to a whopping 17 game jams in 2017! I can't even begin to imagine how awesome it is going to be.
I always say it, and I always mean it - THANK YOU! for jamming with us! These awesome successful games and amazing experiences are only possible because this incredible group of jammers continues to week after week show up and pour their blood sweat and tears into this craft. I am grateful to be a part of this group, and I hope 2017 continues this upward trend of amazing games and even more amazing people.
Looking forward to jamming with you soon!