Penguin on a Unicycle (or Experiences from a Game Jam)

So, it's been a long time since the last update, so, sorry 'bout that one. I've had all kinds of things, such as laziness and lots of university projects to keep myself busy. Well, anyways, if you've been following my Twitter, you may have noticed that I atteded a Game Jam, here at Oulu. What is a Game Jam? A Game Jam is an event during which you have to assemble a team of the participants and make a game (video or board). Usually this timeframe is around 48 hours, such as the case with Global Game Jams, or this one.

We made a little game about penguin riding a unicylce (why? Because.) going to a circus (see, it makes sense). It works on mobile phones which support Qt, such as Symbian^3 or Maemo/MeeGo phones. The "circus" is found by looking at the green bluetooth-signal bar at the bottom of the screen, and once you get close enough, you'll find one waypoint to circus. Finding two of them means you've gotten to circus. However, we simply couldn't let the player run from one point to another, so we used accelerometer to force the player to have stable movement. Should he move too fast or in too quick motions, the penguin becomes stunned for a moment and you can't find the waypoint until you become unstunned. It's very simple game, and you can download the project here and build it using qmake supporting 4.7 or later.

Now, what did I learn from this Game Jam? First: be clear about what you want to make. When we pitched game ideas about the theme, I noticed that several ideas were very ambitious, maybe too much so, as it later turned out to be, not all games were finished. Our idea was very simplistic, maybe even too much, as most of the work was done by the saturday night, even though we added few things that weren't originally going to be in it (such as rumble when you found the waypoint/got stunned, and a scoring system which we didn't implement finally, as we didn't think it was that good). Some projects apparently didn't even get to a playable state, as the backend work took too much time, even when the front-end work was already working and just waiting for the back-end to get finished. So, in short: keep it simple, stupid. You have limited time and limited resources, work with them.

Speaking of resources, let's talk about people. I met many interesting new persons in the site, which was nice, as you could propably find opinions on any given subject you could think of, and in case of dire need, someone would probably lend you a helping hand. There were few who had already made games in a professional company, and some who barely knew how to program. It's this diversity which makes the jam such a great place to make games. And it was also very nice seeing people doing things they normally wouldn't do - people knowing more about graphics would make music or program, and programmers made art (coder art woo!). So, points two and three: don't be afraid of jumping out of your comfort zone, you'll meet new people and learn new skills.

And to add to the "jump out of the comfort zone", we worked with Qt, as I mentioned earlier. The catch was, no one at the project had done any serious stuff (as far as I know) with Qt, so it was an interesting experiment, especially as our UI-programmer/designer didn't know how to program in C++ or QML, though luckily QML apparently resembles JS closely enough for allowing him to work with it, and C++ wasn't really needed on the UI-side. So, I worked with bluetooth and haptic side of the device while the other main programmer worked with accelerometer (from which he had some experience previously) and the game logic.  Qt is a neat system to be honest, and I can see myself working more with it, as it makes development for mobile phones ridiculously easy.

Let's get a quick recap: if there's a game developer club near your area, be in contact with them, as Global Game Jam is in January and it's quite likely they'll participate too. See more from here and see if there's going to be a jam close to your location: http://globalgamejam.org/
Seriously, go there. You'll meet new people, learn new skills and get to make a game in short time-frame so you'll see the product of your hands in a short time, what's more to ask?

Oh me, am I going for the next jam? Absolutely. I already had a short discussion with our other programmer that maybe we should try doing some WP7 development next time, should we get our hands on any phones.

If you want to see and download games from this jam of ours, go here. If you want some pictures and raporting (though in Finnish, sorry), go here instead.

So, that's all for now!