For the start of the series of articles on the game jam, click here.
Back To The Future: A Game Jam Odyssey
Our group of seven people designed and developed a side scroller inspired by eighties era arcade games and the classic Simon Says™ handheld over the course of a week.
The team was made up of three artists, two programmers (one of whom was working from Halifax), a narrative designer, game designer, and our studio’s controller. We kicked off with a whiteboard brainstorm session to generate ideas and come up with a viable concept. In traditional game development this pre-production phase would take months. We had less than a day.
After lots of discussion and the open exchange of some brilliant, and arguably not so brilliant ideas, we settled on an eighties inspired side-scroller with a Simon Says™ gameplay mechanic that would be tied to an over-the-top narrative context. It was a simple concept we felt we could design and produce by the end of the week with a fairly high level of polish.
The next step was to define our Game Pillars so that all our game design, art design, and programming decisions could have a filter to go through in order to maintain a consistent vision during development. This is what we came up with:
- – 80s inspired arcade side-scroller game
- – Simon Says™ gameplay mechanic
- – Infinite playability
- – Escalating challenge
- – Playful narrative, art style, and setting
After we had defined our intentions, we began to spec out what was needed on the programming and art side for production. While this was being worked on, a simple contextual narrative was created to help guide the game vision.
You play a scientist who is attempting to stop his nemesis, a one-time protege turned mad scientist–ZAIN–who has infiltrated the President of the United State’s brain via a nano-ship and taken over his mind, controlling his thoughts and actions.
You MUST stop Zain before he forces the President to launch all his nuclear missiles, engulfing the world in armageddon.
Infiltrating the President’s body, travelling through his bloodstream via your own nano-vessel–the Plasmanaut IV–you will need to fend off the mechano-organic biomachines Zain is sending against you in order to reach his base of operations–the cerebral cortex–and STOP HIM!
Luckily, the Plasmanaut IV is equipped with four specially designed defensive shields. These shields can either destroy the enemy bots or absorb them, utilizing their energy to ultimately increase your speed (i.e. level up).
With the creative blueprint in place it was time to hammer out the mechanics of the gameplay itself. As in most game jams, the design documentation was bare bones and subject to change as we began to implement and test the game in-engine. Here is a small portion of what we planned out:
The player can move his unit vertically (left thumbstick), bounded by the collision of the “vein” assets.
The player can also activate shields to absorb/destroy threats.
- – A button to activate green shield
- – B button to activate red shield
- – X button to activate blue shield
- – Y button to activate yellow shield
Activating a shield toggles one of four colliders surrounding the nano-vessel for a short duration. When one is toggled on, all others are toggled off. If the blue shield is toggled on and comes into contact with a blue threat, the threat is destroyed (or absorbed). If the wrong shield or no shield is toggled on, the nano-vessel takes damage (or is killed) when coming into contact with threats (including the vein boundaries).
Pressing a shield button should enable the shield for less than one second forcing the player to press a button for every threat. Even if three red threats appear one after another, the player must press B three times.
The game camera is attached to the constantly moving player character. As the player moves left to right, so does the camera.
When the player uses the thumbstick to move up and down, the camera also drifts up and down to keep the player unit vertically centered on screen.
The player character is constantly moving left to right. To increase difficulty, we will increase the default movement/scroll speed as well as the number of threats.
Each of the four enemies has a distinct but simple movement pattern from right to left, increasing difficulty.
The only required HUD elements are a player’s health bar and a progress indicator. The progress indicator should tell the player how many threats are remaining in the level.
Along with planning and implementing the design mechanics, we had to build the 3D in-game assets, visual effects and animations. We worked closely with the sound designers at the studio to add in an appropriate ambient soundscape and effects. We even managed to get in a cool intro animatic.
Despite our group being made up of seasoned game developers, the jam process was a humbling and educational experience. Although this was my first game jam, I suspect this is the case with all game jams because they force you to innovate, adapt, improvise, collaborate, and merge everything together under the stress of a ticking clock. It was true a microcosm of our multi-year development process. It was also a heck of a lot of fun!
In the end our final game diverged from the initial design in small, but predictable ways and was the better for it. Here’s a glimpse of our final product in GIF form.
Audio by Dave Renn and Crystal Lau
Article written by Daniel Dick
Our 2nd Game Jam article is now up. Read it here!