I have been talking about making my own game for almost two years. Two years! In that time, I have made some games using Python and Pygame. I have also been studying and working and trying to enjoy life. But I always find myself still thinking about it. Wanting to take a chance. So when I noticed that Brackeys and others were hosting a new game jam, I just had to get on board.
So I waited through August, counting down the days. And when August 25th rolled around, I was ready! The week went by fast! Now that it is finally over (and I have gotten a bit of sleep), I want to take a minute to recollect my first ever game jam and share my experience with all of you. Especially while the experience is still fresh in my mind.
I have included a link to my game, The White Door, on itch.io. Check it out and let me know what you think. If any would ever be interested for partnering up in the future for a game jam, let me know in the comments. Thanks!
The Time Has Arrived
August 25th, 3 AM here in China, and I can finally get started, The theme – The Game is a Liar.
Before the start, I was still debating between using Pygame or Unity. If I used Pygame, everything would already be familiar. This would allow more time to focus on creating more polished looking graphics and UI. But if I used Unity, I would need to simplify everything just to make sure I could meet the deadline of one week.
My decision: Take the challenge and use the Unity Game Engine and not be afraid to try something new.
Planning the Game
Knowing that my skills as a programmer and as a game developer would be challenged here, I decided to think about what kind of games I could design given the following restrictions:
- The theme
- Not being super familiar with Unity, including the interface, importing, creating, and using graphics
- Not being super familiar with C# and fixing any bugs in the code
- Not knowing how to create video game music
- There are probably others
So, I (in a rather unwieldy manner) sat down, wrote on paper and typed up a bunch of notes and decided that the story must be front and center. Also, creating complicated game mechanics and graphics could not be my focus (although, I did get wrapped up at one point designing the artwork).
The idea: A text-based, choose-your-own-adventure game, with some simple elements of an inventory, and being able to use items thrown in for extra fun.
Believe me, a lot of ideas were scrapped and I even fought over the idea of a story where people are texting on their phones as a form of communication. But, then I needed to create a more realistic interface, and that idea already sounded too complicated for only a week. Having next to no experience using Unity meant I needed to focus on keeping things simple.
I would like to say the story for a text-based game where two people are constantly communicating came easily. But it didn’t. That step was a gradual process and I hit writer’s block on the first day. The story changed often, from something about someone losing a cellphone, all the way to someone being trapped in tunnels, over the course of the week. So, I started looking for Unity tutorials related to text-based adventures. Luckily, the Unity website is populated with tons of awesome tutorials.
After following along with the tutorials for the first two days, I was finally comfortable to get started on the game. But the story wasn’t complete. As a solo developer, I also started fretting over the music, the start and end screens, the time limit, on and on. That got me thinking. I needed to create something concrete, something that would give me a sense of small accomplishment and motivate me to not quit. I decided to tackle the sound of the game.
Maybe it’s not a good idea to jump right into doing the music on day 3, but I already knew I wanted a horror-esque kind of story and was hoping finishing the music would help propel the story forward. A number of people recommended Bosca Ceoil as a simple music developer. I downloaded it, gave it a try, and was very impressed by how easy it was to use with no experience! But let me warn you, and I found out late and the hard way, save often. And NEVER hit the Escape key on your computer while using Bosca Ceoil. Never.
Creating the Game
After the horror music was created, I still wasn’t sure how to create the menu or the ending screen or even how to switch between them. So I turned to Brackeys’ tutorials for help. And they were super helpful! Everything for a newb like me was there! And so easy to follow along! I truly must say thank you, because if it wasn’t for Brackeys I would never have finished in time.
It was so much fun to learn about creating scripts, learning about C#, learning about prefabs, using buttons, and putting it all together into a workable game. I decided since the two characters were using old terminals to communicate in the game that the screens should be reminiscent of old DOS screens and green fonts.
I am pretty sure that the technique I used to create the different rooms and items and how they all interacted could definitely have been done in a much easier and more simplified way. However, I had no idea how to do it. I had to use my own logic and skills to figure out a method that at least worked.
One Day to Go
Down to the last day and the story, and how everything would connect, finally started to come to me. Revision after revision, going back to make sure there was continuity. These were super important to me. To me, I wanted to make players think and read carefully. There are a few items in the game that will help the player progress.
Wanting to replay a game is also very important. No one can make it all the way through on the first try. Some of my favorite games growing up were Resident Evil and Grand Theft Auto, simply because there are secrets hidden throughout. The more a player explores the world, the more they can reap. I wanted to include those aspects, plus having players find the right path through trial and error, in order to complete the game.
Probably too hard for most, but I never liked games where I didn’t have to think. I was hoping I could find a small niche of people who would also like it.
As the last stretch of the game jam approached, I ran into a bug. I couldn’t get the one of the key items to work properly. With a sigh, I submitted what I had, still proud that I made it this far. I turned off my computer and receded into dream land to rest my brain from all of the excitement.
There is a lot, and I mean a lot, I could do to improve the game. Especially the look. But, to me, that is the point of a game jam. To find out your strengths, where you are lacking, and to get us all out of out comfort zone. It is always important to try new things.
I also found myself getting a little discouraged after submitting the game. Not finishing and also creating a game that potentially few people would want to sit down and play made me worried I wouldn’t get enough critical feedback to help me improve.
However, the genuine happiness making a game brought me, makes all of it worth it. Do the things you like. Thanks for reading about my experience. I hope I can help you in some way, too.