Sunday, April 25, 2010

TOJam 5: My First TOJam (or why I bailed after Day 2 of 3)

Well, folks, my first year of George Brown College's Game Development program is officially ended. The program head, a certain Jean-Paul "JP" Amore, was not satisfied with just a school year of Game Dev, though. He demanded more, and thus got George Brown to host TOJam 5 at the school. Eager young student lad I am, I signed up for the event and awaited its arrival (which would also be on the final day of classes, oddly enough).

Before I continue, though, let me explain TOJam for those not necessarily in the know. TOJam (TO being the acronym for Toronto, Ontario, and Jam being delicious) is a 3 day video game making event for game developers (whether professional, hobbyist, or student) that happen to be in the city. People can either be in teams or be lone wolves, but the goal is the same: in 3 days, make a game. It's not a competition, but a challenge (although there are awards for certain categories). And when I say 3 days of making games, I mean 3 days; you are allowed to sleep at the event or even work the whole time through if you are so inclined. The first TOJam was held in May of 2006, so this year was/is the 5th anniversary (hence TOJam 5).

So, to get back to my tale. I signed up, and decided to be all lone wolf. Due to the time constraints of the Jam, it is highly recommended to design your game and develop simple code (like for title menus and such) beforehand. I still had assignments pushed to the last minute to deal with, though, so I didn't have much in the way of planning. What I did have was a quirky joke-idea: the theme of this year's Jam was "Missing", so I thought to make a game that would constantly make reference to certain files not being found as a joke (for example, in conversation, maybe the dialogue box would say something like "cannot find gamedata.wittyRemark"). Being as I was inspired by the "stump joke" of The Secret of Monkey Island (which I have yet to play, but know I should) and the various shenanigans of MS Paint Adventures's Problem Sleuth saga, I decided this would be best done in an adventure game style. To borrow again from Problem Sleuth, I thought it should also be about a private eye. I hadn't done an adventure game before, but I figured what the hell, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Turns out that maybe this wasn't the best idea. Day 1 of TOJam arrived (Friday, April 23, 2010, to be exact), and I got to work (on a Flash game, by the way). It soon dawned upon me that a decent adventure game would require puzzles. Proper puzzles require planning. My lack of planning and adventure game experience did not bode well. So it wasn't long before I hit a wall. The most I had was two characters talking, and examining a desk's 4 drawers to find a pair of keys. It was basically a damn slideshow. And with placeholder graphics (i.e.: rectangles) to boot. Needless to say, I was worried.

I then had another idea: What if I expanded further on the missing data concept and had the game "load" something odd to cover up missing data or something? And what if this loaded thing was a JRPG (Japanese RPG) styled turn-based battle (again, somewhat aping Problem Sleuth)? I had never done a JRPG style battle before, but I had always wanted to, and it seemed like a day for firsts. I got crackin', and slapped out a battle against a goat boss (since a specific goat image is a requirement in TOJam games). The player had 4 options (some of them healed, some attacked, some used magic power), and the boss just attacked the player. Now, a good JRPG battle requires planning as well; balance is a major issue as you don't want the player to win by just choosing one choice repeatedly. My inexperience, though, resulted in just that, and I was unsure how to balance things. Plus, time was marching on, and Day 1 was coming to a close. So at midnight, I let things be and headed home to get some sleep.

On Day 2 (yesterday/Saturday), I got back to the Jam at around 11:00 a.m. I fiddled some more with the JRPG battle (mainly with getting the numbers showing current damage and the like to jump up like in any decent JRPG), and then decided to work on an ending of sorts. It would be that the game reloaded the initial "adventure game" to "cover up missing data", but this time at the end. The ending was dialogue (like in the beginning), and then "data corruption" or whatever would take over and the actual game itself would end. After making that happen, I gave a quick playthrough of my game and realized that it was pretty terrible. Not only that, but I still needed to make final visual assets, animations, and audio. I was stressing out of my mind since I knew that I was low on time and that this was the worst game I had ever made (Capture the Frog is godly compared to it).

Now let me bring up the fact that, bad game/planning aside, I was not really having a good time at the Jam. It felt to me just like constant pressure. Some may find that fun, and maybe it would have been if I had been in a team, but I was NOT digging it. After I hit my "omg my game sucks" phase, I loaded up web Live Messenger to talk to friends and maybe de-stress. After some conversation, I realized that if I wasn't having fun, I shouldn't be doing this. Plus, I would rather abandon my terrible game than polishing it into something that would still be terrible. So I stayed on Day 2 until 10:00 p.m., and then I headed home, never to return.

And that brings us here. If TOJam tweets and my clock are correct, there's roughly 10 minutes of Jam game making left. I am at home (and have been all morning), and I am presently typing out this post. Don't get me wrong, I love TOJam as an idea and what it represents, and I really appreciate JP's hard work in getting George Brown to host TOJam, but I wasn't having a good time personally. And if I wasn't having fun, then what was the point? Maybe I'll attend next year with an actual game-plan and with a team, but we'll have to wait and see. From where I stand now, I don't regret leaving the Jam. I hope that those who remain, though, are having a hell of a time and making awesome games. Jam on.

(By the way, if you want to witness my descent into madness at TOJam, I was tweeting sporadically at the event, and I think it paints a clear picture. Just look for my tweets from between April 23 to today. I can't seem to link directly to them, but I don't tweet much, so it shouldn't be too hard to find).