GMTK Game Jam 2021 – Re-Joined

In 2020, my colleagues from my daytime job planned to participate in the GMTK Game Jam and asked if I wanted to join, too. If you aren’t familiar, the GMTK Jam is the second biggest jam around the world. It’s a game-making competition where teams of any size can put together something playable in under 48 hours, and the game should be based around a specific theme that’s only announced at the start of the jam.

Eventually, we decided to give it a go, wait for the theme announcement, then do a brainstorming session, discuss all the ideas we got, and see if we wanted to make any of them. At that time, I also worked together with a writer and an artist on a game idea, so I got them on board, too.

After a long discussion, we eventually decided to move forward with the jam and start working on the game, which 48 hours later turned out to be Waste Waster. We had a lot of fun while making it over the whole weekend, and reached a place of 973 / 5416. You can read more about the creation process here.

This year I had the thought of the GMTK Jam in my mind but I’m pretty overwhelmed with everything going on in my life so I didn’t consider joining. I just knew I wouldn’t have the mental capacity of brainstorming, planning, coordinating, designing, and coding over another full 2 days period to make a game. So I didn’t actually note down the dates of the jam.

Fast forward to last Friday, I learned that the Jam is taking place over the weekend. I already had plans for Sunday so I knew I wouldn’t be available, but still, I was interested to see what theme this year’s jam will have, so after the announcement video premiered, I tuned in to find out the theme will be “Joined-Together”.

 

I’ve never been a huge fan of puzzle games, but lately, I started enjoying them. I already finished The Witness and recently got all endings in The Talos Principle. So maybe because of that, after seeing the theme I already got a simple puzzle game idea in mind, where the player can control two different characters, which react to the same input differently: while one character performs the moves as they were pressed, the other one is doing the exact opposite. And as an extra twist, the goal of each level would be to rejoin the characters at the same position, in the center of the level. It’s always nice to not only have the theme in your core gameplay mechanics but also in your setting, too.

Although the game is pretty simple, I knew I wouldn’t have the time to fully make it in only one day, especially since I wanted to put some more focus on designing and balancing the levels instead of programming this time. So I reached out to an old friend and ex-colleague of mine and asked him if he wanted to participate. The last time we worked together was 5 years ago, so we can say we Re-Joined (hah!) our forces once again. He was free on Saturday, so I quickly pitched him the idea, and then we decided to make the game in under a single day, and whatever the result will be, we will go with it.

On Saturday morning I started with looking at all the 2D tile maps I collected over the past years. I usually buy stock art in various sales as they usually come in handy for prototyping ideas, and it’s always more satisfying to look at properly drawn assets compared to blocks and circles. I was looking at two different settings: I wanted to make a game where the two characters were past and future selves of the same player, while the other idea I had was much more approachable: a boy lost his dog in the forest and they need to find each other. Eventually, I found I have more assets to support the forest setting, so I loaded up the tilemap and started painting a level.

For level creation, I went with the simple idea of using separate layers of tilemaps. I first placed the two start positions (marked with the water lilies), then created the optimal path I expected players to follow (marked with the water tiles). While developing these paths I also had the option to define what type of challenge I want players to face. Once I got the paths figured out, all I needed to do was to add the obstacles to the level.

re joined editor screenshot

I had three different challenges I wanted players to face in this short demo of 5 levels.

1: The first two levels are pretty straightforward. The idea here is that each character has more space to go to, and none of them is restricted to a single path. However, when looking at both sides of the level at the same time, only a single path can be taken. So these levels essentially demonstrated the idea that a player needs to look at both sides of the screen and “overlap” the two different levels on top of each other to find the right path. 

2: The next two levels present the idea of the two characters not moving together, and that the connection in the controls can be broken. In both of those levels, one of the characters should be periodically parked in a corner or a dead-end while the other character could perform moves that won’t affect the first character. Finding where to park the characters while moving the other is the key here.

3: The last idea I couldn’t fully develop was to show that a character can move into the other character’s area to solve the level. I only made a single level here, where without moving one of the characters to the other side of the level, it’s not possible to solve it.

As I mentioned above, I really wanted to focus on designing for this jam, so I had a lot of fun creating the levels. After each level was done, I had to come up with a maximum number of moves allowed for each level. Without a max. move count, each level would be too easy, so I had to add some extra pressure to keep the tension up. After finding the right number of steps, I also added a few extras on top to compensate for possible errors, and also to add the option of finding alternative paths for each level.

At this point, I started looking for the characters, and while I originally wanted to make the game for a boy and his dog, I couldn’t find a good dog sprite around, but I eventually stumbled upon two goblins that served a different narrative perfectly: they were patrolling the area and got lost on a tiny island. They need to find each other, and the exit, at the same time! To account for the maximum moves, I also added the explanation that they can’t stay out of the village overnight.

re joined screenshot

By the time I got all the levels done, my friend also finished implementing the core gameplay and the controls, so all I had left to do was hook up the game flow, add the UI screens and overlays, as well as to select the music and the sounds for the game. A bit before the 8 hours mark we already had the game in a good shape we were both happy with, so I went on creating the store assets and uploading the builds for Windows, Linux, and OSX platforms.

There are tons of things we could further polish both in terms of presentation (better art, nicer UI, movement effects, etc…) as well as from a mechanics point (powerup that could give additional moves, that flips the control of one character so they move at the same direction, walls that can’t be touched, etc…), but like with every jam game, it’s a matter of balancing time and resources wisely, and since we only dedicated a single day to the project, we knew we wouldn’t have time to go the extra mile of polishing or adding more gameplay elements.

Overall we are happy with the result, and we look forward to seeing how others will find the idea.
If you wanted to give the game a go yourself, you can check it out here: 
https://overheadgames.itch.io/re-joined

RPGScenery – a quick way to illustrate scenes and battle maps

During role-playing, I often feel that while having a visual illustration of the characters helps to immerse myself better in the adventure, being able to see the scene my character is currently in would also enhance the experience. I’ve been on the hunt for tools that let me do just that – illustrate the locations – for a long time. There are a variety of battle maps out there, but I was looking for something that’s not only a fixed top-down map-view, but can also be configured in various aspects, and preferably being able to look around in 3D is also an option.

 

Fortunately, I found RPGScenery not long ago. This tool allows me to jump around beautiful and complex 3D environments, letting me pick the location that fits my needs exactly, and show it animated, in real-time. I can fine-tune the weather, the sun position, and even add small touches like wind and fog. And once story-time ends, I can flip to a top-down view of the very same environment, with configurable grid types and sizes, so the fights can also be easily modeled!

RPGScenery change time
RPGScenery adjust snow

 

What I also like about this tool, is that it can be used to queue different scenes one after the other, and save the presets on all of the scenes. This way, I can configure the locations and fine-tune them even before starting a session, and while being together with the party, they’d only see each location in the specific way I imagined and already set up.

If you’ve been looking for a similar tool, check out their Patreon page for more info: https://www.patreon.com/rpgscenery

You can also download a free demo with 2 scenes and all available features here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/38458757

GMTK Game Jam 2020 – Waste Waster

In the last couple of years, we never took part in game jams, as we always preferred spending our time on actual projects rather than throwing away 2 days of development in an experimental idea we might not take any forward. A lot of things have changed in the past though, as in 2020 I started focusing my efforts on a new project with a new team, so when I was asked by two of my colleagues if I wanted to participate in an upcoming jam I was a bit hesitant. For those who don’t know what a game jam is, it’s typically a 48-72 hours game-making marathon, where each team needs to create a game from scratch based on the theme that was given to them by the organizers. For the new game I’m working on, Unity is being used, and I figured it could be a good idea to dig a bit deeper into the engine and potentially learn new aspects of it. I also figured it could help to get the team together a bit more, as I’m working with a narrative designer and a new artist on the game, so getting them involved in the jam with quick design decisions and project turnaround could also be a good idea. So I figured the team I would join the jam with my colleagues tentatively; we’ll wait for the announcement of the theme on Friday evening at 21:00 local time, then if we can come up with a good idea in the next 2-3 hours we’ll make the game, otherwise, we’ll continue working on our own project over the weekend, as we normally do.

The jam we took part in was organized by Mark Brown, who runs the Game Maker’s Toolkit youtube channel. It’s a really good source for game design, so I’d recommend it to anyone to check out. This jam was the biggest online-only jam ever held, so without further ado, here’s the theme announcement video.

 

Since the theme was Out of control, and I always loved simulation and tycoon games, we ended up creating a game (which was actually a bit similar to an idea I was prototyping way back in 2015) where the main character is driven by a basic AI, and the only influence the player has over the character is to place powerups in specific points of the map. When a powerup is placed, the character will move towards it, so this gives indirect control over the character, otherwise, it always tries to move away from the enemies and will cut through them when cornered. Powerups stack up over time, but the monsters get tougher too.

Waste Waster Gameplay

If you are interested in how we created the game and what stages we went trough during development, you can check out the developer diary I recorded. Our youtube channel has also just been launched, so hit Subscribe if you want to get notified of new videos.

 

After the 48 hours period has ended we were left with 7 days to play and rate each other’s games. We got lots of feedback and rating and people seemed to love the idea. We got quite a few coverages by streamers playing games created during the jam too. Once the 7 days period ended we concluded with 92 ratings and made it into the top 100 most popular games of the jam. Mark then played the top 100 community-rated games and picked the top 20 he liked the most. You can watch his recap below.

 

We finished at an overall ranking at 973. out of the 5416 participants, which puts us in the top 20%, which is nice. The originality of our game was ranked 473, which is in the top 10%. Considering how unprepared we were to the jam and how much time we wasted on things we could’ve finished in a matter of minutes if we were more adept in using the engine, we were more than happy with the results.

If you want to check out the game you can give it a go here: https://overheadgames.itch.io/waste-waster

All the feedback and the final ratings can be found here: https://itch.io/jam/gmtk-2020/rate/695723