FGJ 2017 Postmortem

Thanks to my friend Jasmine, I was able to participate in the Finnish Game Jam 17 at the Next Games site. It was really convenient because the office is really close to my place. I worked with Jasmine and Áureo at Remedy, and we had been talking of doing something together again. We were open to have other people on the site to join us, but our group seemed quite balanced (2 programmers, 1 concept artist and 1 UX/UI artist) so jammers opted for filling in other teams.

This is my personal postmortem, not the team one. I will focus mainly on my takeaways from this experience, not necessarily on the most important features.

What went right

Schedule: The team was super happy with the schedule. For most of them it was their fist game jam, so I tried to keep our scope and timetable very similar to the one that I use for the Ludum Dare where I participate alone: have the gameplay working at Saturday lunch, RC before going to bed and expend Sunday polishing. As we didn’t plan to work Friday night, we just had dinner together and worked on ideation and finding the right idea for the game.

Theme: I am really happy about our chosen theme “a royal wave” although the approach changed literally overnight.  We wrote all the kinds of waves we could think about in post-it notes and triaged for the best ideas. When I pictured the game, I thought it would be a some cartoony king, but then we were considering using the Old Masters diversifier but then, during the night Aureo was thinking on the style and said “I want to do pixel art” and he moved the mood to something more interesting. For me it was really good that somebody else invested his mental energy on this topics and I think the end result feels much more iterated than my usual jam assets.

Figure out unknowns before going to bed: I actually did some coding the first night. My objective for Friday was just plan the weekend and go home to rest so we can work Saturday at full Steam. But then it wasn’t super late when I got home and I wasn’t that tired and I thought that maybe I can solve a couple of pending questions we had. So I fiddled a bit with Unity and did a first prototype of the controls. I think this was the best use of the first coding hours of the project. Just hack around and figure out everything you need before building the game.

Having more than one programmer: Jesper has done a lot of prototypes and small games in Unity, and he also had a different experience of learning Unity than I have. Even if we didn’t interact much and worked on different parts of the game, having extra coding power is always a relief and gives you some breathing space to invest some time researching and trying new stuff. In this jam I had some time to play around with the Audio Mixer.

What went wrong

My Unity skills: I haven’t used Unity in a while. Although I was able to write C# more or less fluently, I forgot about some really nice things that would have made some features easier (and cleaner) to implement.

I didn’t use Mecanim events even though I know the concept of events in an animation track (and I remembered having experimented with it on Sunday noon). Also I realized really late that Mecanim can handle nested Game Objects so with a single Animator for the carraige, I could have controlled the animation for all the parts.

As a positive point, though, with all this features I am starting to think that maybe Mecanim it’s a practical way of doing 2D animations. It’s not perfect, and the learning curve is a little steep, but I think I am at the point that I know the issues and I don’t loose too much time battling with the UI.

Video: We did the game video at the end and we had to re-tweak the visuals again because we realised there were some differences with the image effects between Win32 and WebGL . That was a error, we should have defined the “main platform” on Saturday and make sure the game looks great for it (specially because of the video).

Not thinking about touch controls: The game plays well with touchpad so it would not be too much work to make it work in tablets, but we didn’t thought about it during the jam (even though Jasmin and me work doing mobile games). I think it would have been a great 15-20 min task that would have made our game much more appealing to try, as it works quite decently on a phone (even though Unity says WebGL is not supported, it works in Chrome in my iPhone 6).

Startup flow: We had some time we could have used to polish and add a better startup flow, but we didn’t had the energy on Sunday to keep adding more features (it’s hard to do a jam between two normal work weeks). I think I need to try to squeeze the startup flow in the Saturday features or design the game with that flow already in mind.

Lost some of the social aspect of GGJ: People on Next Games site were really cool, but as we wanted to work with our team I didn’t “met” any new people. I  feel I lost something by not working with people I don’t know.

Conclusion

I have to give kudos to Ralf Baumann and Next Games for hosting a site for GGJ and to my friend Jasmine for inviting me to join them. I was happy to work with Jas and Áureo again, and I think the game ended up looking quite nice. I am even more happy of introducing Áureo to game jamming, and I hope I will be able to drag him to help me with graphics on the future.

I will try to book the FGJ18 weekend so I can join again next year. What I have yet to figure out is what I want from it. Will I join some group of people I don’t know or will I try to work with some friends? Maybe help the group of the kids from Gamedev-club? I have some months to think about it.