Game Jam Project: Shadowstrike

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From Concept to Playable

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A few weeks ago Blackbird Interactive gathered and split the whole company into teams for the inaugural BBI Game Jam. I’ve been involved in pro-level experiences like this before and had a few observations to share with my newly-formed team:

  1. 1) This is awesome; You’ll learn lots and grow as a developer. Yay!
  2. 2) A week is a really short time; it’s key to go for an idea that matches our skills and we can scale up from if time permits.
  3. 3) This is a huge opportunity. We have the talent and the time and the request for something great, let’s not waste it. Aim for the stars and do something exciting, compelling and has potential. If we go for an idea  that’s safe and can be fully realized in a week then we’ve missed an opportunity.
  4. 4) We’re in this together, no one is running the team and all voices and input on everything is valid

Brainstorming starts. And it’s quiet. No one is throwing an idea out. No one wants to have their game-that-is-in-my-head-and-is-TheBestGameEver™ shot down or just make themselves look silly. Fair enough. Monday mornings can do that to you. 🙂

I have my short list of ideas, 1 of which barely just made the list as it’s humourous, feasible and interesting – but not great. Perfect, I throw that out into the fire, get the ball rolling. I even caveat it with ‘Well this idea’s probably not going to be the one we go with but…‘.  It lives a short life, mostly being laughed at – but it sparks the fire; A couple of ideas from the group sound out. Great! These too get added to the whiteboard and we’re off to the races.

Conversation is flowing and people are getting into the swing of it. We continue brainstorming for a while but I noticed that often we keep bouncing the conversation back to one of my earlier ideas: Wizards+XCom. To play as controller of all-powerful evil wizards, millennia old and awoken with a thirst for global conquest. With such a magnetic pull to the concept we lock it in as our goal for the week.

In true brainstorming fashion, ideas on the concept developed and details made. A lightbulb moment came when someone layered in a new mechanic from one of the other game ideas. A light and dark mechanic. The game was a tale of Evil Vs. Good, so it fit perfectly!

image02Each wizard/faction is aligned to either the dark or the light. This is expressed in 2 ways:

  • Ranged ‘shot’ accuracy drops the more the target is within a light level they are aligned to.  
  • Damage bonuses are applied if the attacker is within a light level beneficial to their alignment.

With this extra layer of gameplay, light itself becomes a weapon and thus we had to provide a way for the player to manipulate light levels within a mission.

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Enter the Imps; Fast, but weak units that can deploy lanterns of light or shadow (mighty magic!) that change the game board and turn it from a head-on fight where you’re at the mercy of a dice roll for damage into a game of real tactics. Do you hold back the imps, empowering your forces, or send them into the fray to make enemies more of a target? This added depth into the design in a manageable way that would provide significant breadth in execution in a final product.

So there was our game plan: all-powerful wizards with mighty spells and a dark purpose (there’s no rookies here!) Turn-based action with heroes, dungeons, artifacts and even little imps that make a delightful squish sound when impaled! It speaks to the talent at hand when in nearly no-time we had a prototype up and running, providing each of us a line drawing of an idea with which to color in.

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Collaboration and group effort are inherent to a successful week, and we worked very well as a team and achieved what we set out to make… sort of. 🙂 With everyone building their personal interpretation of the game, with no single ‘director’ to guide each system, vfx effect, character model, etc. you get a figurative jam of talented output that mostly goes in the right direction. And that’s fantastic. No one knows all the detail going in, you work it out as you go, pour passion on it and let it breathe and live.

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They key we found was to be free in our creation and to use buddy/sanity checks to turn lead into gold. This allowed space to innovate, experiment and enjoy whilst still creating content cognizant of the requirements and time pressure. Everyone was able to comment on everything and give critical feedback on ideas, WIP or first drafts, and it was as well received as positive gratz.

image08At the end of the week we were stoked to have produced a quality proof-of-concept teaser experience that could easily be envisioned as a full scale commercial product. Epic wizarding battles, for the control of a realm, one turn at a time.

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Shadowstrike Team Credits:

Andrew Taylor
Brennan Massicotte
Gerald Orban
Jay Zhou
Josh Langley

Martin Blackmore
Shawn Wagner

Audio Support by Dave Renn and Crystal Lau

Article by Martin Blackmore

Tune in tomorrow for the final game jam article.