Game jams are a great avenue for established and aspiring game devs to learn, grow, and experiment. They providing the framework and motivation needed for quick iteration, working in teams, and focussed bursts of creativity and productivity. With this in mind, dot big bang Community Engineer Ashley Koett entered the Global Game Jam this year. The resulting game is “ESP”, a ‘single-player co-op’ puzzle-platformer on the jam’s theme of ‘Duality’ (play it here). We caught up with her to find out about how it went, and what unique qualities dot big bang brings to the table as a game jam platform.
Have you done game jams before? How was your experience?
Yes! I like game jams a lot – I always learn a lot and they’re useful for getting out of a rut if you haven’t felt inspired for a bit. I think they’re a lot of fun, especially coming up with a game concept based on the theme and seeing how much you were able to accomplish in a short period of time.
This was your first time using dot big bang in a jam, right? How was it different this time?
It was! This time was the first time I’ve collaborated with anyone in a game jam as well, and things went really smoothly. I could use the assets my teammate made the moment he was finished making them, so it was really easy to collaborate. Things moved along quickly because a lot of the basics are set up for you when you make a new game in dbb, like player control, collisions, physics, etc. I felt like I had more room to focus on the narrative and design of the game than usual because I didn’t need to spend as much time getting each mechanic to work. Most of my game jam games feel more like concepts than games, but this one really felt like a full game to me.
What were the biggest hurdles that you encountered in the development process?
The biggest hurdle was probably translating my puzzle design sketches into actual playable puzzles. When sketching out the puzzles I would sometimes get carried away and add way too few or way too many mechanics. When I put these puzzles into the game I would quickly realize that they just didn’t work, and would sometimes just have to completely start the puzzle design from scratch. You can never know how a puzzle feels until you’re actually playing it, and under the time constraint this probably set me back the most.
Were there moments where you were like “it’s happening!” and saw the game come into focus? Or moments of doubt where you were like “it’s not happening! Argh!”?
Definitely! There were a couple of “it’s happening!!” moments. Getting the dialog system working was a big one, it immediately gave the game so much character and got me really excited that the game was going to be able to have a narrative aspect. Also, finishing the first pass of the game felt amazing. I had finally implemented all of the puzzles, and even though none of the art was in yet, it was such a rush to be able to play through all of the puzzles from start to finish for the first time.
On the other hand, the most “it’s not happening” moment probably happened when I was implementing some of the last puzzles in the game. The sketches of the designs for those puzzles ended up not working very well in the game, and I had to redesign them on the spot while being really tired from building out all of the other levels. I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to make them work, but luckily things started coming together after a short break and getting a fresh look at the situation.
It seems like there’s a fine line between game–jamming and crunch, how was it from that perspective?
I think the line is drawn when you are doing something for yourself rather than out of obligation. When you participate in a jam, if you get too tired, you don’t like your idea, or you just don’t feel inspired for any reason, you can just stop! The point is to learn, collaborate with new people, and spark inspiration, so you can set your own goals, how long you want to work, and what YOU want to get from the experience. While jams are known for people working super hard for a short period of time, the distinction is that the people who work that way during jams do so because that’s what they WANT to do. One of GGJ’s diversifiers this year was to take breaks, because a jam should feel fun and rewarding, not reminiscent of crunch.
You mentioned that JoeyPrink’s streamed playthrough of ESP was the first time you’ve seen someone stream a game you made, how was that experience?
It was super interesting! It was so fun to watch someone solve puzzles that I made, and so interesting when they approached solutions in a way that I never considered when designing them. It’s always difficult for me to watch people play games I’ve made without explaining how to do everything to them, but since I watched the stream after the fact I couldn’t do that! So it was fun, although somewhat stressful, to see how they approached puzzles, where they got stuck, and where they found bugs. It was also so exciting when the puzzles worked exactly how I intended them to, and it just felt great to see someone enjoying a game I made.
Any advice for people using dot big bang for game jams in the future?
If you’re considering using dot big bang in a game jam, I would be sure to spend a bit of time familiarizing yourself with the engine, tools, and games other people have made with dbb so that you’re aware of everything you can do with it and how it could be done. That way you can spend the whole game jam just designing and working, and not have to worry about getting familiar with everything first. We’ve got some tutorials up on your YouTube channel and are always happy to chat with people in our Discord who have questions about how things work.
In my opinion, dot big bang is the perfect platform for collaborating with others in a game jam, so if you want to use dot big bang in your next game jam, it would be a great opportunity to make a team and work together! Multiple people can edit the same world together simultaneously, you can use voxel objects and scripts made by other people in your games, and even remix other people’s work, so the collaboration opportunities are endless. The dot big bang Discord server is a great place to find other dbb users and would be the perfect place to find teammates for a game jam.
Play ESP here. See Ashley’s YouTube video about her Global Game Jam experience here. Follow her new creations on dot big bang here. Ashley streams game development every Friday on Twitch.