Global Game Jam 2015 (Part I)

It's 10pm on Friday night and I'm sat in the computer lab in ECS at the University of Southampton. My mind is racing, full of what needs to be done and what I have to do; it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed. No, this isn't some desperate slog in the last chance saloon to make a university assignment deadline. Earlier this year I signed up to take part in the Global Game Jam 2015.

I'd never written a computer game before, and the opportunity to get stuck in and work with others to produce something like a game really grabbed me. So, perhaps naively, I signed up. But still, I couldn't help but feel a little apprehensive. I wouldn't describe myself as a hardcore gamer. I play TF2, Minecraft and WoW on occasion, but I've never really got past the casual stage of gaming. Did I have enough experience to draw on to know what worked and what didn't, what was original and what was old? Furthermore, were my coding skills up to the task? I mean, I know a bit of C++, and that's pretty much the language games are written in, right? Right!?

Things kicked off with registration between 3 and 5 in the maths department. I quickly realised that the event was drawing people from across the south coast, from places such as Portsmouth and Brighton. During registration Indie Game: The Movie played in the background. At five we were then shown the keynote videos for the event followed by a presentation from three Boss Alien employees on how to survive the Jam. We were then told the theme: "What do we do now?" Pretty open-ended, but that gave everyone plenty of room to manoeuvre. We were expected to write a game and be ready to showcase it by 3pm on Sunday.

We then moved over to ECS where we'd be based for the next 48 hours. Things started with an ice-breaker. We circulated around the room, looking at screenshots of various games and discussing whether we'd played them and what we thought of them. In the end it turned out none of my concerns really mattered. Sure, my experience was... basic, but everyone's experience was hugely varied, from hobbyist coders/artists/designers to people who designed and made games for a living.

At around seven we formed teams. I ended up in a team of five: one artist, three coders and a musician/composer. Based on the theme, we opted for a 2D puzzle platform. Originally our feature list was quite ambitious given the time we had available, with pick-ups that gave the player various abilities and spontaneous events the player needed to overcome. Through a majority vote, we did end up writing the game in C++. Unfortunately, none of us had any experience with any C++ game engine though, so we had to write much of the graphics code and the game engine from scratch using SDL. This, I suspect, was one of the reasons that we had to moderate our expectations as to what we could achieve in the time we had available.

Friday evening consisted mainly of brainstorming and setting up a git repository to give us some version control. I spent about half an hour creating the project structure and some of the class declarations that would form the backend of the game. At about 11 we headed home for the night, following the advice of Boss Alien to not try to stay up for the entire weekend. All the way home thoughts about the task swam around my head. The apprehension I felt earlier was now replaced by a nervous excitement. I had never experienced anything quite like it before: an atmosphere of such raw creativity and dynamic collaboration.

To be continued...