On The Ground at the Perth Global Game Jam: Day Three

Catch up on the previous parts in this series: Part One, and Part Two – or skip to the end to play the Perth Gamejam games for yourselves!

I next enter the room at precisely 5:30 PM on Sunday afternoon. There’s half an hour left on the clock, and nearly everybody is surrounded by at least two or three empty fast food containers. No-one is wearing shoes.

It’s staggering to see how far things have come again in only 24 hours. Untextured shapes have become fully rendered, animated models. Black backgrounds have become fully rendered tunnels, platforms and forests.

“You have to make the worm eat its own arse”, says Robert Barnett. He’s just showed up overnight, citing other commitments that prevented him from fully jamming. He’s crafted some sort of worm on screen that has to move around and try to eat its own tail. “Eat the arse?” I ask by way of clarification. “That’s right,” he says.

Elsewhere, John is manic. He’s just slammed down a coffee, and is racking his brain to figure out what he can do on killyourself in the next twenty-five minutes. In the meantime, he’s burning that excess energy by excitedly telling me about how he needs to stop eating breath mints.

I leave John to his muttering and check in with Brock the music whore. He’s looking haggard and sleepless, and I see from his Twitter account that he threw up overnight from too much soft drink. His decision to whore himself around, musically, has been going quite well. Too well, apparently. “I’ve got one thing left to do,” he says, pointing to the team making Eggtastic. “I’ve got to make them a theme. In, uh…” he checks his watch. “Three minutes.” He excuses himself and leaves.

By now there’s twelve minutes left on the clock, and Adrian is relaxing with a good game of Quake. “All our models are done,” he says. But is the game done? “Pretty much!” he exclaims, enthusiastically encouraging me to check out the other side of their little computer wall. Typing tower defence, which I discover has been renamed to Mutants VS. Reptiles, is looking very slick.

Liza, Jim, Minh and Ben have changed their game completely. Now called Crooked Spiral, it’s about collecting money as you wend down the passageway – the more money you collect, the heavier you are and the slower you go. “So what do you get if you get all the coins?” I ask. “You’re too heavy to move,” explains Liza. “The person you’re rescuing dies.” “But I guess you can buy enough wine to forget about your problems?” I crack, making a poor attempt at humour. They laugh anyway. They sound very tired.

Chris’ torso-themed game now has a level and trees and mushrooms and bad guys. “Nothing works though,” he says when I exclaim in delight. “I’m just gonna add some more backgrounds in the next ten minutes. Who needs gameplay?”

Six o’clock rolls around, and it’s keyboards down. Empty food cartons and cans of energy drinks are collected and shunted en masse into bins. People stand up, stretch their legs. Loved ones enter the room, their eyes desperately searching for their partners. Some hugging occurs.

Somehow, in the midst of all this, a presentation is organised. Computers are carted up the front of the room to demonstrate the games that our teams have created over the last forty-eight hours. Eggtastic and killyourself are up first, both garnering appreciative applause from the audience. Eggtastic’s art style wins some chuckles of delight, and killyourself gets some clever nods of appreciation for puzzle design.

Robert Barnett is up next with his arse-eating worm game, which he has titled Worm Will Eat Itself. “If anyone from last year’s jam is here, and thinks this looks similar to my worm game from last year’s jam, you’re wrong,” he says. “The worm is wearing a hat this year”.

Matt, Baz and Richard’s game, Otherworld, has come up beautifully. The dark, watercoloured aesthetic and ominous music (by Brock, naturally) makes for a moody platforming/monster-slaying experience. As Matt plays, his character dies and is reborn into the underworld where he can murder monster after monster to level up his spells, before returning to the overworld to murder even more monsters. “Our game is completely bug free,” boasts Matt to great applause.

Wez has a board game to show – two, in fact. The first is a circular board, where you play as snakes who must place platforms in such a way to move across them and make your way to the end as you complete the circle. “Err, that one has yet to be playtested,” he says, before heading out of the room to grab his next one. It’s a puzzle game, where you swap tiles to complete interlocking coloured snakes, locking down the board Catan style as you build.

Next up is The Crooked Spiral, with Liza and Jim taking the stage to talk about what they’ve done. The knight walks down the spiral, heading towards the man at the end, gathering coins along the way with little plink noises. There’s four possible endings depending on how many coins you get and how fast you are to get to the end. Liza can’t seem to get there in time to save him, but we get the idea.

Afterwards comes Six Confused Dudes with Infinicat. The game is now fully textured, with beautiful lighting and dark, moody, egyptian-themed levels. “When you die, you drop a sarcophagus,” they explain to the audience. “For example here, the mummy has killed me – but I’ve dropped a sarcophagus now when I died that blocks him from moving forward.”

As the cat respawns and they run back to show us how it works, the mummy leaps over the sarcophagus barrier and murders him instantly. “Still a few bugs,” they confess, respawning again. A sarcophagus comes flying from off screen and smashes into the cat, killing it for the third time. We all share a good-natured laugh.

They’ve got five fully-designed levels, including one with an Indiana Jones-style boulder chase down a passageway – but because they can’t get past the current level they’re showing us, they can’t go any further into the game. “We made it a bit too hard, I think,” they admit sheepishly. There is heartfelt and sympathetic applause.

Jack’s snake-chasing game, newly-titled Ourobash, is looking great – two snakes slide across an infinite desert picking up passengers who ride on their backs and smashing through pyramids with a satisfying crash. It’s a local multiplayer game, with two players sharing the one keyboard, and the players can steal passengers from each other by snatching them off their tails. The undulating movement of the snakes across the screen is mesmerising. “How did you playtest a multiplayer game if you’re working on your own?” asks an audience member. “Two hands,” replies Jack, holding up the hands for proof. He’s right.

“We didn’t really look up what the word Ouroboros meant”, admits Nathan of Team Bear Storm when questioned about how the theme fits into their lightbulb platformer, Globe. It’s a delightfully greyscale, pixelated affair. As he talks, he loads himself into an un-playtested level only to find that he’s trapped in a chasm he can’t jump out of, and his battery power quickly drains and he dies. “Well, that’s sort of the theme really,” he says. “You can’t win.”

Linux wizard Chris is up next, booting up his teleporting-torso game that he’s named The Cycle. “You’ve got the floaty guys and the ghost things” says Chris, pointing out the various NPCs that are wandering around the environment. As we watch, Chris murders a ghost thing and turns it into an mushroom. A floaty guy comes along to eat the mushroom, munching away happily. Chris explains that eventually, once you’ve killed all the ghost things, the floaty guys will die of starvation because you’ve upset the balance of the ecosystem.

“So if you’re trying not to lose… is there a way you can win?” asks an audience member. Chris considers for a second. “No,” he says resignedly as he sits down.

The Mutants have brought up their tower-defence typing game, Mutants VS. Reptiles. The core concept remains the same, with you typing out words correctly in order to generate “benzenite”, an important mineral for building units and for “interstellar space travel”, assures Terence. If you mis-type a letter, an anthropomorphic version of the letter spawns in your lane and heads for your base to murder you, naturally.

Up next comes the While (Alive) team, previously known as “something to do with loops”. “The real enemy is the interface in this game,” laughs the team as they demonstrate their looping concept. Their final product wins a number of appreciative nods from the audience, with the adorable flailing, looping robot drawing a number of chuckles. As we watch, the robot smashes into a low-hung ceiling fan and dies, dumping us out to a blue screen of death. “It’s not a real BSOD!” Roy quickly assures the audience. We all breathe sighs of relief.

The final game of the show is A Neverending Search for Pants, by John Shepard Nick and Scott. As we watch, a naked wizard runs back and forth, casting spells and destroying elementals, which look like cute elephants in oversized jumpers. He collects one of the elementals and begins using its power on another type of elemental, demonstrating the rock-paper-scissors mechanic. Brock’s battle theme chips away in the background.

Now, the voting begins. Everyone is furiously trying to remember the names of the game they saw. “What was the game with the snakes?” asks one person. “I liked the one where you had to die,” says another.

While the votes are tallied, the clean-up begins. Computer towers are piled onto the cargo trolley and swept out the door, four or five at a time. Rubbish is gathered and crushed into plastic bags, piled against an already overflowing bin like some bizarre offering on the altar of a trash god. The jammers who have never worked together before Friday shake hands and exchange contact details, promising to look each other up in the future. It’s heartwarming and sad at the same time.

We stop for a moment as organiser Minh announces the winners. Pyramid-smashing snake rider Ourobash takes it home for best game, while Otherworld wins the best graphics category. By popular vote, Brock is ordained as the winner of the best sound and music category, even though technically he is a human being and not a video game.

Superman Steve passes me as I sit there, packing up my laptop. “That flying sarcophagus wasn’t a bug, by the way” he says. “The mummy hits them towards you if you take too long.”

I tell him that, much like his Superman-themed underwear, I was happier when I didn’t know.

You too can play the games from the Perth Game Jam!

Head along to this link to see all the games from the Perth Jam, and play them for yourselves.

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