Global Game Jam 2014


The 2014 iteration of the Global Game Jam, a worldwide blitz to form a team at a local site and create a game in 48 hours, took place this past weekend. On Friday, my good friend and game programmer Nick Wasilewski came up from Virginia Beach and together we headed to George Mason University to participate in the event.

If you’d rather just try to play the game without me talking about it, you can head to our page on the GGJ website or just go straight to the game itself. If you happen to have played the game on Sunday or even yesterday afternoon, you should probably play it again—Nick tweaked and added some features (including a rotating camera, which is very helpful).

Finding the GMU site was a nightmare, but thankfully, after a twenty-minute drive and an hour-and-a-half of wandering and asking mostly clueless undergrads where a certain building is located, we made it in time for the theme reveal (“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”) and brainstorming session. Nick had been wanting to incorporate a game mechanic that involved blinking with the triggers on a controller, so aside from a few other ideas, that dominated our thought process for the allotted half-hour. At some point, I brought up the myth that if you sneeze with your eyes open, your eyes will pop out of your head, and Nick had said something about doing something with different-colored contact lenses, to which we tossed around the idea of the different lenses revealing certain pathways in a level, akin to how you have to use the red film thing to use those old Sierra game hint books.

While the ideas were out there, nothing completely gelled, and we decided to listen to the other people’s pitches. Sometime near the end of them, Nick had a eureka moment and came up with the idea for our game: the character would sneeze his eyes out and have to replace them with new, colored eyes in order to reveal the pathways in a maze. The idea, too, made a little sense with the theme, since there is a complete maze despite the character only being able to see what s/he (GGJ genderless diversifier: check!) is able to due to which color s/he is seeing at any given time. Thinking this great, but with no time to pitch it to anyone, we went off on our own to make it happen.

I ended up doing all of the audio and art for the game, the latter of which is funny because I am clearly neither graphically nor visually artistic, as you can see from my work below. It was a lot of fun drawing the stuff, though, and I learned a good amount of tricks in GIMP by the end of the weekend.

As far as audio goes, I created three tracks for the game and a handful of sound effects. The music was a bit difficult to come up with conceptually (within a period of an hour, at least) because, really, the mood of the game was hard to read. My thoughts were like such: ‘We’re exploring a tomb to find the secrets of being able to sneeze with your eyes open, so that’s adventurous, but the game is rather silly… I could do a generic EDM-type thing, but eh, again, silliness…’

I spent a while just tinkering with instruments and ideas before sticking with a retro sound. In fact, the title and end screen theme, “Eye-ced,” was born from this experimentation, though in reality I decided to use it last of all. A simple groove is all it is, and knowing that the player would click through our title screen in a jiffy, that was all that was needed.

The level theme, “Eye-Cycle,” features a Logic Pro synth using the bitcrusher plug-in. Creating a rather silly tune using that combination seemed like the way to go. The tune is kept short for reasons that include both the fact that I didn’t have much time to compose anything and that I knew the player would be losing his or her eyes often, which would trigger the third and final piece of the game.

I won’t say that I was trying to make a piece inspired by Yuzo Koshiro’s Beyond Oasis OST, but I certainly wanted to. The result is a tune grounded in the use of half-steps and 12-tone rows. If you ask me, while it does the job and I’m satisfied with it, it’s pretty uninspiring from a compositional standpoint. That’s okay, though—I wasn’t going for a masterpiece; I just needed to complete my music for the jam!

I ended up using Soundtrack Pro (something that came with Logic 9) for most of my sound editing, and I’m excited to look into its features even further. The only sound that's worth talking about here, I think, is the sneezing sequence. Though I love the first sequence, which was modeled off of what you may find in the old Sierra games, it was way too lengthy to be practical in-game.

The mental side of the GGJ was certainly interesting to experience. For me, though I got my big stuff done in plenty of time for the deadline, I was exhausted (and have been sleeping plenty since). Usually when making tunes, I can spend some time away from them, especially between the writing and producing phases. This was not the case at the GGJ, and the mental fatigue was compounded by hopping directly from one tune to the next to doing sound effects, which is my least favorite part anyway. However, I don’t think I’d change much about my approach for next year; my pacing was good and my decisions to roll with things that weren’t ideal or perfect stuck. That said, I do think having an artist on your team can make a huge difference in your final product, so I’ll be staking one out next time.

All in all, we ended up having a great time and are very pleased with our game. Other people liked it, too—out of the 22 other games made at the GMU site, ours placed 5th in the community voting! Woo, we’re famous!

You should definitely check out the other games made at our site. Those that were crowned the top four there were IRONE (1), A False Sense of Self (2), Don’t Get Torn Apart by Invisible Wolves (3), and Celestium (4). Two of my personal favorites were the horrifying Project Funhouse (wear headphones) and the extremely silly Legal Crush (complete with Twinkie Doge poster).

I hope that your frustrations don’t overwhelm you and you have a fun time playing our game. Let us know what you think!