I attended Guildford Game Jam in November. It was good.

Despite attending and running many of my own hack events, I’d never actually participated in a game jam. Not being a game developer of any real merit beyond a few experiments, the prospect was a little intimidating. But I had lots of enthusiasm and thought if I could collaborate with others then maybe I could learn a few things and hopefully contribute to some degree.

Fellow Moov2-er Joe was keen to be involved, I also managed to talk the very experienced Gareth (creator of upcoming indie game Jarheads) and the incredibly talented Dan R Paulsen (who I met recently at our Rocket Jump Event in Bournemouth) into coming along. So we all headed off to the fantastic Rocketdesk venue to see what we could come up with.

I had a seedling of an idea born out of wandering around game exhibitions seeing queues of people waiting their turn to test out the latest VR experience, twiddling their thumbs or checking their phones. I wondered if there might be an interesting mechanic in allowing the audience to interact with the game world currently being experienced by the VR player via their mobile phones.

We had done a little prep work before the jam and deduced that websockets could offer a fairly ubiquitous, low-friction input opportunity for such an audience, accessible simply via a web browser would mean not needing any app download. We had some prior experience with SignalR, a .Net websockets abstraction and found there was a Unity support library on GitHub.

So like all terrible ideas, we started with the tech first but still had to think of an actual game to apply it to. The theme of the jam was “Two choices” so after a typical round of “No idea, bad idea” we finally settled on the concept of an FPS dungeon crawler where the audience vote between two generated room options to determine the fate of the player.

Dan P dived into some character artwork whilst Gareth fired up Unity and got to work on random room generation. Joe and I took responsibility for the mobile web app and netcode to get everything talking to each other. Splitting up responsibilities like this worked well and allowed the team to break down the challenge into digestible chunks. We set up a dummy Unity client to experiment with sending data to/from it via a basic SignalR web app we hosted on Azure. After a slow start due to some data parsing complexities and dependencies management we eventually figured out what we needed and were happily sending the data we needed to between Unity and a web app via SignalR.

In the meantime Gareth had created a rather slick room generator with randomly placed doors and enemies. He was using Unity to take a top down snapshot of two generated rooms and have that image available for us. We were then able to send this to the server and render the options as images onto the web application to poll users to select their preferred choice. By the end of the first day we had a working prototype which put us in good stead for a day of polishing and refinement. We did start seeing some issues with the web app but this turned out to be us hitting the limits of the free Azure account we were using and fortunately these limits all reset at midnight for the following day.

Throughout the second day we were able to add various other aspects such as obstruction walls, treasure chests and a player health bar which was shown on the mobile app depleting as the player took hits from the killer cacti Dan P had created.

mobile app screenshot

The jam concluded with a show n tell where we were able to demonstrate the app with around 15 spectators all voting on the room options which worked well. There were several other game projects shown which were all amazing ideas realised in a really short space of time. The show and tell was a real highlight of the event with everyone showing enthusiasm and support for each other’s work.

Guildford Game Jam was an excellent event and I highly recommend anyone with an interest in game development get along to one in the future. Even if you’re not confident in your own skills it’s a great environment to learn from others and experiment. Follow them on Facebook to find out when the next is.

P.S. Dan R Paulsen has written a summary of the art side of our project which is much more interesting to read about his amazing work on the project. Check it out.

Jumping cactus

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