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A Game Jam is one of the most exciting and intense events in the video game industry. In just one weekend, 4 of our team members at Brave Zebra: Álex Zacarés, Kiko Alfaro, Sergio Francés and Alejandro Guerrero, have participated in the Global Game Jam 2023 along with a fifth member, Erik Rueda Estévez to create a game from scratch and present it at the end of the event.
This is the moment of truth, as games are judged and rated based on their gameplay, originality, and entertainment value.
The development team of “La root del bakalao” was one of the brave ones who took on this challenge in a recent Game Jam. The name of the game may sound strange, but there is an interesting teamwork behind it.
In this post we are going to tell you about the different aspects involved in creating a video game in an event like this and its challenges, complications and tips to face 2 days of intensive development.
It is a 4-player party game, in which 4 DJs have to attract as many people as possible, sabotage other people’s parties and become the king of the after-party to the rhythm of the best remember songs.
The idea for the game came up during the Game Jam event, where the team was given the theme of “roots” and started brainstorming to generate attractive and feasible ideas around that theme. After several hours and a dinner break, they came up with three main ideas and finally started defining details and mechanics for the game.
The game was inspired by Chuchu Rocket! for Dreamcast, a party game where the goal is to guide mice to a rocket while avoiding cats and sending cats to enemy rockets. Although the theme of roots was the starting point, the theme took a backseat and they focused more on making the game work well, which they achieved by dressing the game up with a skin related to the Game Jam theme.
Communication, coordination and having a good workflow is fundamental to optimize time and deliver tasks on time, as most of the team are members of Brave Zebra, they were already used to working together and with an optimized workflow, which was key to achieve a good result during such tight deadlines.
As a summary, it is important to:
- Constantly talk to each other, to figure out how to progress in each section and if you need help at any point.
- Know how to work as a team and know when to ask for help if needed.
- Took into account the deadlines for presenting the game, making sure to stay within the established time frame.
As for the organization of work, in the same way as we do internally in our projects, tasks are divided and every team member grabs the ones they will take responsibility for. In that case: Eric was in charge of the mini-game, Alex was in charge of the AI, NPCs, and environment, and Kiko focused more on the characters.
In every planning it is crucial to sit together and think about how to divide the parts of the game to avoid locks between areas.
Features and Mechanics
During the Game Jam, the game development team faced the difficult task of deciding which features to include and exclude due to their limited time.
After discarding some ideas due to technical and time limitations, they decided to focus on specific game mechanics. One of the main decisions was to create several character classes with different abilities: offensive, support, and DPS, although all characters would have the same appearance. From there, the team worked on the code and art, and then tested the game mechanics during the second day of development.
Overall, the team did not have to discard or add many important features to the game, and the changes made were mainly at the design and mechanics polishing level. However, the items aspect underwent a significant change in a natural iteration process, becoming randomized boxes with items inside that gave the game a good mechanic and randomness.
The project focused on the theme of rhythm, and they sought to develop a system that would make players feel like everything was moving to the beat. This was a challenge because they had never worked with this type of system before, but they managed to create a rhythm system that, although not perfect, worked. This system was applied to all animations, text, and buttons in the game to give it coherence.
Regarding the balance of the game, it was an iterative process in which they tested different versions and made it playable during the jam. The game balance was adjusted in the last hour before presenting the project, so it was not an exhaustive process. In summary, the biggest challenge of the project was achieving a rhythm system that worked well and gave coherence to the game. The game balance was approached iteratively and was not an exhaustive process.
The process of balancing the game turned out to be somewhat iterative and without a defined approach in terms of balancing. As they progressed in development, they made tests to try out the difficulty level of the game, although without much real testing.
During the Game Jam, the team managed to make it playable enough, but it wasn’t until the week after that finer adjustments were made in certain values to avoid certain unwanted dynamics. Overall, the game remained symmetrical so that all characters were on equal footing, which helped balance the game satisfactorily.
The development team used Unity3D as the game engine and Blender for modeling and animation. For sound, they used Reaper and each team member used their own software for this purpose. Additionally, they used version control and repositories to organize and plan their work.
Regarding the implementation of the code, the team focused on doing what worked efficiently and didn’t have to make too many optimizations. They also used voice recordings and existing sounds to create the game’s sound effects, which saved them time.
The team focused on doing what worked efficiently to maximize the time and resources available during the Game Jam.
Graphic and Sound Material
The character graphics were created by Alex, who used a simple and attractive style. He used references found in a small research to create four characters with a funny and simple appearance.
The sounds were created by recording the voices of the team and using sound effects from VFX packs. Finally, Unity3D game engine was chosen as the platform to create the PC game due to its ease of use and available tools.
Setbacks and Bugs
The team did not have a defined system to handle errors and technical problems. Instead, they verbally communicated the problems and later created a text document to track errors.
The most notable setback that arose was a technical problem in the art, in which unnecessary bones were removed from the skeleton and Unity3D could not properly detect the humanoid character model. Alex had to spend some time solving this problem, which turned out to be a trial and error process. However, he learned from this experience and now knows how to better handle similar situations in the future.
Insights & Feedback
They received several insights that helped them improve the game. One of the most important feedbacks was regarding gameplay, such as the leaderboard and rhythm game mechanics, which allowed them to make improvements in these areas. They also received feedback on the game’s music, which was very well received by players.
Although they did not remember many more specific feedbacks, the team considered it important to see how users played and to pay attention to the things they missed or did not understand very well in order to continue improving the game.
Advice for Game Jam newbies
If someone were to participate in a Game Jam for the first time, their advice would be not to get too caught up and not try to make an MMO. It’s important to be realistic and know what resources you have. If there are three people, you won’t be able to do the same thing as if there were five. If you’ve only been using Unity for six months, you won’t be able to do the same thing as someone who’s been using it for five years.
If you’re experimenting with a new tool, it’s better to do something coherent and small than not finish at all. It’s important to know what each person can do and tailor the project to everyone’s knowledge. For example, if you have 3D artists, make things in 3D. If you specialize in AI, make things with AI. If you’ve never done AI, don’t do anything that involves that type of mechanic. The game project should be based on the expertise of each member of the group.
It’s important that everyone is interested in the project.
On a personal level, as you would do in your professional environment, you have to remember that you’re working with people, it’s a weekend, and your life isn’t dependent on this. You have to be flexible and consider everyone’s energy, or it can turn into a conflict and you could quickly lose your friends.
At Brave Zebra we do similar processes to this one for early prototyping of projects and to evaluate different gameplay mechanics during project development. Iteration is at the core of our processes.
In that regard it’s important to highlight that something that was fundamental for the game to be finished on time was that the team was already used to work together and our production workflows and quality standards are very well internalized across all our team.