The Average Gamer

ExPlay ’11 Game Jam

The weekend before last, I was down in Plymouth for the Extended Play Festival 2011. Games developers, students and general industry hangers-on (like yours truly) gathered in the National Marine Aquarium over cocktails and coffees from Falmouth’s gamer-themed Loading bar to talk about game design, the business of gaming and, in some cases, make games.

About a third of the ExPlay ’11 attendees signed up for the Plymouth Games Jam. Over a day and a half, they clustered in their groups to design and develop a game around the theme for the weekend. To prevent people from cheating by building things in advance, the theme was unveiled on the morning of the jam itself – Colour.

Each game was judged on 3 criteria: Innovation, Fun and Concept. A panel of four experienced games developers discussed each of the submissions and considered how original they were, potential for fun, final execution during the jam and how well the game related to the given theme.

“What ties it all together is whether there’s a theme to the game; a reason for things that are happening,” said Ed Fear, producer at Curve Studios and one of the judging panel. “Personally, I think is important to make games that are coherent. A lot of people like completely abstract games but if you just have somebody jumping around the environment it doesn’t make as much sense as, say, [gamejam entrant] ‘Pantene Pooch’ where it was a dog that was colour blind and you had to ‘Woof’ into the microphone in order to see colour. You could see the blocks that had been desaturated were now different colours, so you could see where to go. They made a character and they made a concept around the game. It’s especially amazing that they managed to do that in a day and a half.”

“Creating a joined-up bunch of mechanics is impressive enough. It becomes something more when you have a strong theme,” continued Andrew Smith, creator of Hard Lines. “It permeates every single element and yeah, these teams of two and three people managed that. There were maybe four or five that you could see being launched on Kongregate tomorrow and actually playable. I find it fascinating that we’ve got a point where you can “jam” like a music band, throwing ideas together and seeing what comes out in a really short period of time. It’s heartening for the future of our industry that the young people are coming up with such wonderful ideas. Genuinely. It sounds so corny but it is”

In consultation with the other two judges, Paul Taylor of Frozen Synapse fame and Ana Kronschnabl of Fluffy Logic, the overall winner of the Plymouth Game Jam was declared to be a Power-Rangers inspired game snazzily entitled “Team Ranger Team – Radiant Spectrum Rangers” Developed by Oliver Carson and Bradley Hartigan, these two have worked together on a number of small projects in the past and had the benefit of attending a previous game jam. The biggest thing they took away from that? You can’t think too big.

Hartigan said “There’s always a lot of things to do that you don’t really think about so you structure out your time thinking ‘Yeah, it’s all right, we can go to sleep now and do that in the morning.’ When we got up the next morning there really wasn’t time.” The final idea was actually one they had had kicking about for some time. “When we heard the theme was colour, we were really psyched. We finally get to do that Power Rangers idea.”

Carson added “Having giant robots is quite cool to a lot of people. We’re big fans of the old Power rangers series. We thought it was funny that they have all these dramatic poses and stuff so we wanted to make a beat-em-up where you basically just control the poses of the characters.”

Carson and Hartigan actually did upload their game to Kongregate the very next day. Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges but you can play its “Endless Battle” mode right now. Hop on over to try out the Plymouth ExPlay 11 Game Jam winner.

For those of you who want to know more about game jams, Jon Brady has recently published a book based on his weekend at the Global Game Jam in Scotland in January 2011