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

I re-entered the jam at noon on Saturday, having played The Old Republic all night and slept in until eleven AM. When I see the amount of sleeping bags on the floor of the jam room, I feel like an arsehole.

There’s drama in one of the ex-Interzone teams. They’ve split along alone technical lines – Jack wants to use Flash, and Matt and Baz want to use Unity. Richard is, ambitiously, going to make art for all of them.

Jack’s game sees you riding a giant orange snake in a desperate attempt to catch its own tail, while the rest of the boys are working on a side-scrolling platformer where you jump between different ‘planes’ of existence. “You start on the life plane and then when you die, you go to the death plane and then you can resurrect,” says Matt. Their aesthetic is coming along beautifully, with a dark and gloomy pallette that reminds me of Outlands. “So which is the life plane and which is the death plane?” I ask.

“Not sure yet,” he replies.

Meanwhile, Linux wizard Chris shows me his latest efforts – a grid where you can click to have a legless torso of a man teleport around. “I went home and slept in, too,” he says by way of explanation. What he’s got in mind for the future is quite depressing – you move around the world, feeding little “good” creatures by killing “bad” creatures. Eventually the bad creatures are dead, and the good creatures, with nobody to eat, turn on each other and rip themselves to shreds.

Liza is the only member of her team left by the time I check in with her. “I don’t know where they are,” she says when I ask about the other members. Liza, Ben, James and Minh are working on a circular dungeon crawler, where a knight travels through a spiral tunnel, picking up hearts as he goes. For now though, the hearts move with the dungeon and the knight can never catch up to them. “Yeah, we need to fix that,” says Liza, casting frantically about in the hopes her team will return soon. “Eventually though,” she reveals confidentially, “you discover that the hearts are being dropped by a good version of you, and that by collecting the hearts you’re only hurting yourself and turning more evil. Then a good version of you appears and kills you.”

Meanwhile at another table, Sam, Roy, Megan and Liam are discussing what to name their game. It’s a side-scrolling platformer where you can’t control the robot character directly, but instead you swap functions in and out of his stack, which he repeats over and over. The objective is to guide him through the level by changing what functions he is currently looping through – jumping while moving forward for example, or flailing his arms. “Maybe Loopatron”, says Roy. “Loopy,” says Liam. “Yeah, something to do with loops,” confirms Megan.

Scott, Aranda and Elliot at the next table over are struggling with their workflow. Their character, a small purplish blob that they’ve codenamed “eggtastic”, looks like how they feel: wide-eyed and tense. “We’re having a few issues with the XNA exporter,” says Aranda. “But once that’s finished we’ll be able to just push it out. Everything else is working great.” I ask if they are confident. They laugh nervously. “I’m confident we’ll have…” there is a pause. “Something,” says Elliot. “Definitely something,” adds Scott.

“Team Bear Storm”, otherwise known as Nathan and Russell, are feeling confident. Russell powered on through the evening, and Nathan managed to grab an hour’s sleep on the floor. He looks like he regrets it. Other than that, both of them haven’t moved in the last 24 hours.

They show me what they’ve got so far: it’s a platformer where you play as a lightbulb, lighting up the level as you go along. You need batteries to live, but you also need batteries to open doors and interact with the level, so it’s a balancing act as to how far you can get without killing yourself. I ask how it ties into the theme of orouboros, and they’re not sure. “Nathan sort of came up with it on Thursday,” admits Russell sheepishly. “We’re trying to work the theme into it. It’s not there yet, but you know. We just really wanted to make this game.”

Terence and his typing tower defence team – “the mutants”, they call themselves – are testing their multiplayer. Multiple clients spawn on David’s screen, letters streaming across as he hammers out the correct sequence of words to earn minerals. The minerals don’t do anything yet, but they’re very happy with their progress so far. I ask where the rest of the team are. “Asleep,” says Terence. “Oh, except for Moe,” he says, pointing to an empty chair in the corner. It’s his birthday, so we sent him home.”

Meanwhile, the team “Six Confused Dudes” are working away on their side-scrolling platformer, Infinicat. “The objective is to die,” says Nigel, who seems to have become the default team lead. He rolls his tattooed shoulders as he explains that you play an Egyptian goddess in the form of a cat who needs to die in order to create sarcophagii to use as platforms.

On screen in front of me a cat jumps through a grey, in-development environment, chased by a lurching, untextured mummy. Superman Steve explains, gleefully, that you sometimes need to light yourself on fire and fling yourself out of catapults in order to pass the levels. At this point I think it’s best to ask if any of them have had any sleep. About two hours, is the consensus – except for David, whose bloodshot eyes speak wonders. “Ah, no, I’ve had these eyes since Thursday,” he confesses. “Too much Arkham City”.

In the back corner of the room is a team calling themselves “Happy Well-Adjusted People”. Before I can ask about the team name, Jetha explains that they thought it’d be a good idea to just head off people at the pass because their game, it turns out, is called killyourself. It follows what is rapidly becoming a theme: a platformer where you have to die in order to succeed. Kill yourself in a pool of acid (or water, they haven’t decided what it is yet) to create a floating platform; kill yourself on a pressure pad in order to open the door attached to it. John shows me a prototype: a bunch of cubes moving around a greyscale level. As I watch, he builds a gigantic tower of his own dead corpse-cubes, scaling a mountain of murder. He’s having a good time.

Wez isn’t here, having skipped out to attend this weekend’s Wai-Con anime conference elsewhere in Perth. “Oh, he’s finished his game ages ago,” says John, pointing to a bit of paper with “GAEON” printed on it in big letters and some paper tokens nearby. “That’s it right there. I don’t know how it works, he didn’t really explain it to anybody.”

Leaving Wez’s boardgame alone, I join Scott and Nick at the table in the middle of the room, where I discover them working on a naked wizard game. That’s what it looks like now, at least. It too is a side-scrolling platformer, but you’re stuck on the one screen. “Have you ever played Little Fighters?” says Nick, looking for all the world like John Shepard from Mass Effect. I shake my head. “It’s sort of like that,” he says, by way of explanation.

I ask how the theme fits in. He doesn’t know yet, but he and Scott are confident that they’ll have that bit worked out by Sunday afternoon. Brock the music man has made them a battle theme, which Nick proudly shows off to me. It’s a chiptunes riot, and makes me want to be eleven years old all over again.

I leave the jammers to their devices. There’s only twenty-four hours left, and they’ve got to turn these buggy prototypes into working games by Sunday afternoon. I, meanwhile, have more SW:TOR to play. I am a monster.

To be continued…

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