Fear and Loathing at a Game Jam

Update: It's over! Check out my submitted game (warts and all) here, read my retrospective and read on a play-by-play of my first attempt at making a game in a short amount of time.

Hey everyone. I'm attempting my very first game jam this weekend and I wanted to chronicle my work in real-time. I have no idea how it'll go and whether I'll end up shipping something playable by the end, but considering how long it's been since I shipped a finished game I think it's time to just force myself into a creative frame of mind and see where that takes me.

The game jam I'm participating in is called Game Making Frenzy. This year's theme:

I'll be updating this blog post as the weekend progresses -- stay tuned for updates! In the meantime, you can also follow me on Twitter or keep an eye out for my livestream over at Twitch.tv.

9:02 pm - Saturday

So where'd the first 24 hours go?

Good question. I had a few concepts I was toying with but wound up scrapping them due to exhaustion and frustration. It's no secret that it's been a long time since I made a fully playable game -- well over a decade -- so I'm finding that I'm my own worst enemy here.

Consciously I know any game I make right now is going to be total shit. That's true whether I spend a day or a week or a year on it. The hardest part for me is to actually learn to be okay with that. I'm always thinking twenty steps ahead (like "I need to make a good first game so I get a leg up on my next few so I can assemble a decent portfolio in the near future so my chances of getting a good job increase) and that sort of thinking is downright self-destructive at this point.

In the last day, I've managed to resurrect an old platforming game model I'd worked on earlier this year, and in a short amount of time I was able to add sidescrolling movement through a room and ladders that you could jump into, climb up and down, and disengage from. The rest of the time I agonized over small decisions -- will this be any fun? Am I wasting my time?

Either way, I'm now 25 hours in -- well past the halfway point -- and I have nothing to show for my time. Nothing playable, no art, no sound, barely any design notes. So now it's do-or-die time.

This game is going to be fucking abysmal. It might take ten seconds to finish, and it might be barely playable. It might egregiously rip off free sprite art after I give up on hand-animating characters and objects. And that's okay. I just need to fucking finish something.

10:40 pm - Saturday

Learning by doing

My new idea is a goofy shoot-'em-up (or shmup) that emphasizes player agency and gratuitous use of stylistic music and sound (more on that later). GameMaker Studio seems well-suited to shmups, especially since it has its own tutorial for building a 1942-like top-scrolling shooter.

I'm nearly done with the tutorial at this point. Once that's knocked out, I'll start swapping sprites, adding different events and shaping the game to be more like I'd originally hoped for.

11:04 am - Sunday

Starting again...again

So I made a fully-playable 1942-style top-down shooter, and that's neat. I'll probably post my finished file here just to show that yeah, I threw something together. But when I woke up today, I realized this game was totally meaningless to me. It's relatively sound from a technical standpoint, and it does work, but putting together a palette swap to make it fit the game jam's theme didn't sound appealing.

I knew I needed to do something different. And just a few minutes ago, while I was standing around in the shower in a blank state of existence, it came to me: the stupidest, worst idea for a game. And I'm actually excited to slap it together before the deadline.

I have nine hours to go. It's going to be a total shitshow. Stay tuned.

4:03 pm - Sunday

And we're done

It's over. I finished a really bad game. And I'm happy it's behind me. I'm gonna go treat myself to a huge bowl of ramen, give myself some time to decompress after a marathon session of banging my head against a wall with GameMaker Studio, and then try to recap everything.

In the meantime, feel free to grab a copy of Bleat at the Moon for Windows here. Mac version coming soon, I hope.