Game Jam Review – Broadcast Botany p1

I went into the Global Game Jam more prepared thanks to the lessons I’d learned from Awful Jams. I planned beforehand to work towards an earlier, simpler playable product, and to choose something with much simpler user interaction. The user interface I created for orders in the previous jam would be way too time consuming for a 48 hour project. I also scouted the list of optional diversifier challenges on the Global Game Jam site. In my experience having more restrictive direction leads to more creative ideas, and less downtime. So I set up a random selector app on my phone with a list of these challenges that sounded doable, and a separate list of extremely simple game mechanic concepts. I went in for the long haul, and prepared to try whatever with my digital drawing tablet, high quality microphone, snacks, caffeine, and supplies for paper prototyping.I went into the Global Game Jam more prepared thanks to the lessons I’d learned from Awful Jams. I planned beforehand to work towards an earlier, simpler playable product, and to choose something with much simpler user interaction. The user interface I created for orders in the previous jam would be way too time consuming for a 48 hour project. I also scouted the list of optional diversifier challenges on the Global Game Jam site. In my experience having more restrictive direction leads to more creative ideas, and less downtime. So I set up a random selector app on my phone with a list of these challenges that sounded doable, and a separate list of extremely simple game mechanic concepts. I went in for the long haul, and prepared to try whatever with my digital drawing tablet, high quality microphone, snacks, caffeine, and supplies for paper prototyping.

Brainstorming

The theme was “transmission” and we were off. I did 3 rolls each on my app for additional challenges, and for basic game mechanics, and added a few more challenges that I just liked the look of.

Challenges (rolled for):
– kindness transforms
– un-branching story
– stained glass aesthetic

Challenges chosen:
– 30 seconds to play
– indirect player control
– all sound effects vocalized
– rumble functionality on controllers

Game mechanic concepts (rolled for):
– precision
– pushing
– sequence completion

I kept these in the back of my head, and proceded with brainstorming on the theme with a mind map app, and pen and paper. I looked up a definition to clarify the difference between transmit, and transfer. Though I had sections of my mind map for gear transmissions, and biological transmission, I more quickly gravitated towards the possibilities under the “signal” section:

Signal

  • message
  • broadcast
  • searching for alien life
  • decoding
    • investigation
    • enemy message
  • waves
    • heat
    • light
      • color
    • sonar
    • electricity
      • Tesla
    • radar
    • resonance
      • buildings, Tesla
      • vibrate
      • shatter
    • radio
    • sounds
      • singing

I also honed in on the idea of tuning. Whether for sending, or receiving, tuning a frequency was an interesting mechanic I haven’t seen explored much in games. For simplicity of mechanical effect I landed on resonating frequencies and their ability to damage, or move an object at a distance. This was inspired by recalled stories of Nikola Tesla attaching a vibrating device to a girder in his apartment, and disrupting buildings blocks away.

Concepting

I wondered about something like an arcade-y tower-defense influenced game, but this idea started to line up with some of the guides I had decided, and rolled on earlier. Stained glass fit with resonance. Having liked the idea of the search for alien life, I was still thinking alien. So shattering, glass things through tuning resonance. But for “kindness transforms” and my own tastes I wanted a more productive central action.
Eventually I settled on shattering stained glass plants to help spread their seeds. Different plants would react in different ways, and your goal would be related to helping all the plants, rather than destroying any.
Control would be through dual-thumbsticks used as radio dials to tune in a wave to target, and activate a specific area on the grid. I liked the idea of needing to create, and shift patterns of stick orientation relative to each other as a minigame for properly resonating a plant to shatter. But this left too many axes of input for the player: x, y on the grid, 2 or more wave tuning, time, specific patterns to memorize, and communicate to the player. So I settled on the simpler idea of focusing just on x,y selection in the grid. Tentatively the player would control x, y, and frequency, giving only 1 new/unusual element to manage.
The hardest part of forming the concept was deciding on win/fail states. I quickly fleshed out a survey of possible objectives:

TypeType

  • point system
  • victory condition
  • high score

Metric

  • points
  • patterns
  • coverage
  • elimination
  • player choice
  • time
  • capital loss (ie: single/limited element that must be protected)

In the spirit of managing an ecosystem patterns felt the most fitting with a simple victory condition. I wanted to avoid a point system. The message of a game about natural balance should not reward players for weighing the sacrifice of one species against another. Survival was the goal.

Development

Very early on I set myself tentative time limits for brainstorming, concepting + finding references, and early prototyping. This worked very well, and I ended up under time going into prototyping. From here things were straight forward, and there wasn’t a need to keep a strict structure going forward. Though I did watch my time to pace myself, and prioritize important pieces.
With my recent experience working with grids from the previous jam, I made very quick progress with the underlying structures for this game. I was able to move onto the controls early, and had them working on the controller and keyboard by the first morning.

For most of the jam development was straight forward, and smooth. The only major hitch I ran into was on Saturday evening. The location I was at had become very hot, and stuffy. Between this, and distractions outside my control I hit a slump in productivity, before deciding it was worth the lost travel time to return home.
Fortunately my work had been efficient and well-planned enough that this was not crippling. Mainly it meant I did not have time to implement the sound effects I had recorded (all verbal per the challenge), rumble functionality on the controller, and not enough time to test, and debug all the content I added. Towards the end I was able to include a variety of plants, with different behaviours, and victory conditions based on a solid parent class. But pressed for time because of the above issues, one of them did not properly count adjacency to ‘water’ for its victory condition.

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