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Great Wizardry, Average Sushi – Global Game Jam 2016

There is no better way to kick off the year than with a giant game jam that the entire world participates in. Global Game Jam this year was the biggest yet, with over 36,000 jammers making over 8,500 games in 93 countries. That’s a lot of games! The GGJ website probably has as many discoverability problems as the Steam Store…

Having only participated in the smaller Hectic Game Jams held at the same location, GGJ immediately felt BIGGER. There were over 200 jammers at the Sydney site alone, and the energy and creativity that everyone demonstrated throughout the pitching session was contagious. The jam location also felt much more alive when hosting that many more people, even if it meant much longer queues for the questionably cooked pasta.

This was the first jam in which we were also developing alongside some fresh faces, having expanded our ranks to include a designer and two programmers, which gave us a grander (and perhaps false) sense of scope when considering the ideas we could pull off. It was a pleasure working alongside Karel, Andreas, Robyn and Rachael – there’s nothing like sleep-deprived insanity to enforce sailing on the S.S. Friendship.

The theme this year was ‘Ritual’, although the only ritual I was performing was the magic voodoo dance required to get SourceTree to play nice with the government-issued computers. We were plagued by hours of technical difficulties that meant some team members couldn’t participate in the early design discussions, and pushing our first commit 6 hours after the jam had started was an empty victory.

Powered by instant coffee, determination, and a dwindling will to live, our team powered through the first night to have an almost-working cut of Wizushi by morning. A well-groomed wizard that just wants to be a sushi chef – it was already a fun idea to pitch. Combined with the maniacal pace of something akin to WarioWare: Touched, the whole team was on board with the goofy humour we were programming.

I believe our major failure in this jam was letting the scope slip a little too far from reality, and not getting together frequently enough to unite the whole team on what we would be publishing come 3pm Sunday. Some of us were working on cool feature X, but others were drawing cooler feature Y, and no-one was really concerned about how it was all going to fit together. The feature creep meant we didn’t have something playable end-to-end until Sunday morning. That’s a risky window to test a game loop.

Luckily, most of the pieces well into place without too much complaint. Surprisingly to all, the best part was the sound effects. One of the diversifiers this year was Loudmouth, a challenge mode extra that dictated all of the sounds in the game had to come from your mouth. We conducted an impossibly informal sound jam in front of a microphone and pumped out almost 200 sound effects in 20 minutes, including a single take of a beat-boxing humming match that became the soundtrack. The wackiness of the sound just amplified the visuals and kept everyone laughing as they playtested minigame after minigame.

We were programming right up until the buzzer (of course), but it built without errors and it worked and people sort of understood the fun. I’m bereaved that we didn’t get enough time to play anyone else’s creations, because as soon as the upload window had closed, the entire building deserted. We were happy enough to have something to show for ourselves, and happy enough that real sleep was only a few hours away.

If you’d like to check our Wizushi, you can check out the jam page here. As always, a giant thanks goes out to the organisers of these events – Geoff, Hugo and the team are the ones that make this 48 hour grind bearable and possible.

See you all at the jammies!

wizushi game home screen

wizushi game ingredient screen

wizushi game rice minigame

About James
I’m deeply passionate about the promoting and developing the social, educational, and creative potential of games. Through my work at Chaos Theory, I have only just started a journey to doing exactly that.
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