A Global Game Jam 2017 Postmortem
Note: I’ve been recovering from a sciatic nerve injury that’s prevented me from sitting at a computer for long periods of time hence why this post is super late… but better late than never right?
So let me start by saying that I’m not used to working in a group. Every game I’ve worked on up until this point has has been a mostly solitary endeavor. I wanted to give it a chance though. As much time as I put into honing my game development skills I don’t really put any work into developing my team working skills, which are arguably just as important. Global Game Jam like Ludum Dare is a 48 hour game jam, but unlike my two earlier submissions Global Game Jam is done in teams and it isn’t judged.
The theme of this jam was “Waves”. We interpreted that as sound waves and decided to make a cool little survival horror game based around the idea of only being able to see using sonar. The idea was that we’d create a labyrinth that the player would try to solve. To make the game a little more interesting a monster was added. You can find out much more about the final game by going Here
I’ve decided to go over what didn’t go well first so as to not end this post on a down note. I don’t have a strong laptop, at least not one strong enough to run Unreal engine. My current laptop has to really churn even to run chrome. I wanted to be able to work on a team though so my plan was this: I would go meet my team in person each day, talk about the game’s design, agree to tasks and then return home to work from there using slack to continue communication. This is the first mistake I made. I figured the hour or two each day I spent on location would be enough and in retrospect it really doomed the project in a number of ways.
You don’t know that you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s frustrating, but sometimes communication isn’t telling people what you think you are doing or listening to what they think they are doing. Sometimes communication is just being there and seeing what’s actually going on. I feel that it was detrimental to my group that I wasn’t able to be there and to show them not just what I was doing, but how I was doing it.
For instance: One of the key components to getting the sonar effect to work was a very complicated material I had written. The material listened for the location of the sonar, masked ares to far away from it and ran an emissive effect near the source of the sonar so you could see it in a completely lightless environment. I didn’t share the inner workings of this material with my artists. One of the main systems to get the game to work properly and I kinda kept the details of it to myself. I take full blame for this. So then my artists came to me with textures they created and models and suddenly I had to panic. The textures they brought me were fully colored in and didn’t look good using the emmisive channel technique I had used for lighting. The models they brought me had normal maps, which shouldn’t be a an issue except that I got them just before the time they were due and my whole set up was using world aligned textures and normals. Uv specific normals didn’t work in the system I had built. Hours before I turned in the project I had to rip out one of the main systems that made the game work, because I hadn’t shared the art specifics with my team of artists! I don’t know what I was expecting. I wound up replacing it all with a much simpler system that just used light to imitate sound. Which worked gave up a lot of the visual effect I had hoped to achieve, but was functional .
I also got too bogged down in what I didn’t have to take a good look at what I did. I had audio files sent to me early on that I didn’t incorporate until just before the deadline, which didn’t leave enough time to really run levels on them and meant that one of the audio files got missed completely, and sounds are poorly balanced in the game. Many of the sound effects are too loud or too quiet.
The final game is also massively buggy. So much had to be changed at the zero hour that some pretty massive bugs made it into the game. For instance once you die the game locks up and you have to manually kill it. The monster doesn’t really behave the way we wanted it to and there is no win state.
What Did Go Well
On the last day I realized this project wasn’t going to get finished within the time we had left. I decided that if it wasn’t going to get completely finished, I might as well relax and stop worrying about it. I I decided to go to the meetup location and work with my team. I was able to borrow a laptop from someone in my group and get some work done. The final day, where I was able to work with people felt completely different than the entire rest of my weekend. I actually really enjoyed it. Once I got into the mindset that I didn’t have to finish, but that I just had to get as much in to the project as possible I felt mush better.
The game isn’t finished, but it is strangely unnerving. The effect of only being able to see the monsters footprints as well as snapshots of it’s echo worked well to create a creepy atmosphere. Audio was well done in the game and really pushed the mood. We also had a great model for the monster that I really wish we had gotten to feature more in the final product.
In conclusion I’m really glad I participated in Global Game Jam. It was really different than Ludum Dare. I regret not jumping fully into working with a team and hope to do this again some day the right way. I just need to buy a better laptop before then.