Ten years ago, I played a game called Uplink from Introversion. Fantastic as the game was, and still is, it’s not the point here: Introversion is. For a while, I fell a little bit in love with the small team at Introversion, mostly because they described themselves as “the last of the bedroom programmers”. By that, I suppose they felt they were the only true indie developers out there at the time. Perhaps that was true at the time, to be honest I’m fairly certain it wasn’t, but it certainly isn’t now. Indie games and sensibilities fill the industry now, and I think few things show this more than game jams.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with these events, they’re essentially a weekend of game making insanity. Teams of developers, artists, designers and just about anyone associated with game production try to build a working game over the course of those 48 hours. By that, I mean a real game. Not a tech demo or a prototype for something bigger, a fully working game with mechanics and gameplay. That may seem tricky to say the least, and it certainly is. But fear not, for now there’s a book to help guide any would be jammer through the process.[drop2]Part case study, part diary, Global Game Jam: 48 Hours of Persistence, Programming and Pizza at Scottish Game Jam charts the progress of, you guessed it, the Scottish branch of the Global Game Jam from January of this year. Penned by gaming journalist Jon Brady, the book aims to provide a series of does and do-nots for anyone looking to either take part in a game jam, or organise their own (you don’t have to be part of the global one, anyone can set one up) as well as giving a sense of just how crazy it can be to build a working game over such a short period.
In an aim to provide an almost blow-by-blow account of the event, much of the book was written in real time. This really becomes evident about halfway in when, understandably, sleep deprivation starts to effect Jon in a pretty significant way and the book starts to get a little rambling, although it should be praised for never becoming disjointed. It does repeat itself in a few places, which becomes a little irritating, but usually some information or anecdote is only repeated the once, and often with more detail or an expansion on the context; it’s not just the same facts verbatim.
Overall though, the whole thing flows better than perhaps could be expected from a book written in this manner, and realistically it probably works better written as the events unfolded rather than in retrospect. It makes the whole thing feel a lot more personal, and steers it away from becoming a dull text-book or ‘How To’ guide.
The downside of the personal approach though is that, at times, the book focuses on the activities of the author rather than those of the game jam participants. It’s by no means the majority of the book, the games and their creators are still the stars, but there are occasions when you’re left to wonder about what’s going on with the games and teams that the book follows for the majority of the time.
Although many games and teams are mentioned in passing, there are six teams that are focussed on and, conveniently, most of them take a different approach to the task at hand. These approaches range from taking a simple core mechanic and building it on technology the developers are already familiar with, to taking a wildly ambitious idea and deciding that it needs a completely custom engine built to support it. I’m sure you can figure out which of those actually worked out well by the end of the jam.
The progress of these teams is followed via a combination of anecdotes and short interviews that, while doing their job of keeping you up to date on the progress of a game, can become a little frentic or confusing at times. It’s useful then that after updates have been detailed from the six teams a short table appears that gives you a brief summary of what they’ve been up to and where they’re going. It’s essentially retreading the same information that had appeared earlier but it’s much easier to digest in this format and serves as useful points to refer back to as things move along at a fairly brisk pace.
Whilst Global Game Jam does its best to be open and easily readable, the audience for this book is still going to be fairly niche. That’s not a criticism, the book is meant to deal with a very specific topic, but more a friendly heads up. If you’re involved in the creation of games then the book’s probably worth picking up, even if you don’t have any interest in taking part in a game jam it has some useful information on rapid development and prototyping and there’s almost certainly something in it that will pique your interest.
For those of you not involved in the creation of games (probably most of you) this book will probably be of interest if you’ve got an interest in indie games, or in the creative process in general. Whilst not a guide to larger scale games development by any means, it’s an easy read, well paced, interesting and whilst not laugh out loud funny will raise a smile frequently and even the odd chuckle.
Disclaimer: Jon Brady is a friend of several members of staff and has appeared on the podcast in the past.