During the recent Future Games Summit, we held the Develop Game Jam, sponsored by YoYo Games. Open to all, the jammers had two days during the conference to create a game based on the theme of ‘Man vs Nature’.
The winning team, Artist Wanted (comprised of data scientist Dan Parkes, student software engineer Tudor Gheorghe and programmer Hein Bo) came together as single entrants and not only had to learn to work together very quickly but also had to learn how to use new tools just as fast to create Us Tree.
“Our team, Artist Wanted (because we were composed of three people with little to no art skill), got together on Discord before the jam and had a quick idea session,” explains Parkes. “I liked the idea of playing as a tree against humanity. Tudor thought an arcade-style game would be good. Then we thought a multiplayer game that can be easily played on the couch would be cool.
“Then, Tudor had this spark: What if it’s a co-op game where 2 players have to take control of this tree, one controlling the left side and the other controlling the right. If both players moved against each other, the tree wouldn’t move. If they worked together, they could move twice as fast. From that, Us Tree was born!
“Now with two heads, the tree must survive against waves of evil humans with flamethrowers, gasoline, rocket launchers and never-ending arsenal of forest finishers. The two players can run around defeating the human onslaught with their own weapons: Razor Leaf, a Solar Beam, the Acorn Shotgun and, my personal favourite, the Squirrel Pistol. Although we didn’t manage to get enemies to be killable (we didn’t get collision detection in time), the aim of the game was to survive as long as possible, with difficulty ramping up quickly, like in Super Hexagon. Short sessions of 20 seconds on average was the objective.”
For Green Cyber Witches, the game they created was very much themed around nature. “Our Game Yasei Run! is an Asain-style endless runner where you would face many dangerous challenges,” explains Dimitri Zangana.
“From forests to snow mountains and other seasonal changes as the player progresses forwards. You will also encounter enemies such as monkeys and obstacles like foxes that you need to jump over.”
Developing a game in a short space of time is always a difficulty, but one that the game jam contestants were equal to. Despite a few setup issues.
“We were asked to use GameMaker Studio 2 for this jam,” explaind Parkes. “None of us had used it before but that didn’t bother us. It’s always good learning a new engine on the fly!
“The biggest struggle was source control. We set up a GitHub repo for the project ahead of time and this was working great. We started working simultaneously on the project and we came to merge our stuff together and we got merge conflicts. Solving this meant losing an hour or two of work, as well as taking time to actually resolve the merging.
“Also, the Future Games Summit had some great talks going on so Hein and myself did jump out of the jam for bits to listen to those talks and panels. The keynote from Russell Brower was really good, but that, along with the networking afterwards (which I think is essential to do at these sorts of events), meant we lost another few hours of development time.”
“If we didn’t lose that precious time, we might have got enemy collision
and a score system in and actually have a game that was playable by the end of the jam,” laments Parkes. “Alas, it was not meant to be!”
“We all really enjoyed the game jam,” said Zangana. “We were really satsifed with the content we created in just under two days. The jam was very organised and allowed us to meet many professional bodies.”
The teams had such a positive experience that both Artist Wanted and Green Cyber Witches are continuing to develop their projects away from the competition. “We all feel that we have created something with great potential,” says Zangana. “Although there are many endless runners out there, we felt that with our core mechanics, art style, sound design and music, we could create something truly unique.”
“I thought it was an incredible experience,” Parkes reflects. “I was very lucky to have been paired up with a couple of talented programmers so we developed ideas quickly. The way the time pressure focuses the creative process is remarkable. It was also nice to learn GameMaker Studio 2 during this jam as well. It looks like a very powerful 2D engine. I think I would also try and cut ideas sooner.”