Global Game Jam 2014 Postmortem

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 3.44.41 PMThis year’s Global Game Jam is over, and from my perspective it was a raving success. I took part with the other IGDA Twin Cities folks, as part of a relatively large team focused on making a local multiplayer game using Xbox controllers. (Click the image to read more about the project I worked on.)

The weekend began on Friday night with everyone “pitching” at least one idea for a game in front of the group. As there were about 40 people there, this took quite a while. Then people started splintering off into groups. I went into this year’s Global Game Jam with several “agendas”. (Incidentally, I probably wouldn’t recommend this for beginners, but this was my third year taking part, and at least my sixth game jam, so I felt it was okay for me to have some goals.) Here is a list of those goals, in order of importance to me, and whether or not I felt they were achieved:

  • Use Unity – Before this year’s jam, I had really only dabbled in Unity development. I’d watched a few tutorials, installed it a number of times, played around in a couple of sample projects. I went into this year’s jam with the intent of glomming on to someone else’s project who “knows” unity, so I could learn from them and hopefully make some contributions. Status: Wildly successful! I now feel like I know my way around Unity, and can at the very least make sense of projects when opening them. (This was not true before, as I had no idea where to look for things.) I could now easily make a Unity game on my own, and have some plans to do so in the not-so-distant future. All the developers on my team were experienced Unity developers, and I learned quite a bit over each of their shoulders.
  • Make a game using controllers for input – This was a secondary goal, for sure, but it turned out to be not-so-hard to find a group who had this same agenda. I have big plans for this year and multiplayer games, so I needed to have a better sense of what is easy or difficult about using controllers. Status: Definite success! I not only got a sense of how to “manually” implement controller input in Unity (watching on Friday night over Ryan Schaefer‘s shoulder), but then spent an hour or so mucking around with Patrick Hogan’s InControl project, and pretty easily got that working also. (We ended up not using it, because I had some problems initially, but I think they were local to my machine/setup.)
  • Make a “Candy Jam” game – If you haven’t heard of the Candy Jam, essentially, this is a game jam protest of’s attempt to trademark the words “Candy” and “Saga”. There is a lot more information if you follow the Candy Jam link, but if anything, I think the case is not stated strongly enough. The problem is not just with, the problem is with the system of trademarking as it applies to games in general. Similar to the way patents are given for too general concepts in the tech industry, trademarks on single-words are also far too general, and allowing them hurts the industry in my opinion. Anyway, I wanted to join this protest and contribute a game to the jam. Status: My teammates easily agreed, and this was a success also. (Note that we have not yet submitted the game “officially” to the Candy Jam, but that will happen soon!)
  • Design an “action” game rather than turn-based game – Designing a game definitely took a back-seat to my first two objectives for the weekend. I pitched a game idea I had on Friday, but it was pretty simple, and I’m not terribly surprised nobody seemed super excited about it. Then during the after-pitch process, I had a lot of design ideas for another “asymmetrical” multiplayer game. (4-players each with their own objectives for scoring.) I actually still think that idea has a lot of potential, but it was fairly complex. We ended up sorta waffling on what idea we were going to make, deciding we should all just get started, and work on independent “scenes” in unity. None of the games I helped make were my design, so I can’t really say this was successful. Status: Definitely thought about it, but ultimately did not achieve this.

As I mentioned, Friday night was pretty “unfocused”, but I still felt like it was worth it, because I got to learn a lot about controller input in Unity, and thus, also a lot about Unity in general. I was also instrumental in setting up version control for the project on Friday night, but I’m not sure that was a “success” really. I’ll say more about that in a bit. When I left around 4 AM on Saturday morning, there were somewhere between three and five independent “ideas” getting floated around our group, but only one (Bird Drop) had anything appearing on the screen. When I showed up again on Saturday, Bird Drop was playable, and quite fun! I spent a few hours implementing the score display, as well as the system that triggered the game over screen and restarted the game after about 10 seconds or so. Eventually, I also worked on the over-arching menu system, as well as implementing sound effects.

In addition to my personal goals, here are some bullet points about “What went right” from our team’s perspective (although this is all still “in my opinion”, I’m not speaking for the team here or anything):

  • We made a game! – Not only a game, we made (more or less) 3.5 games. There was even art for a 5th one that never got much past an empty scene in Unity. Probably more impressive, we made a menu and stuff. It really helped that Bird Drop was playable (and super fun) on Saturday, and that game got a lot of polish.
  • Bird Drop is awesome! – I think everyone, even those who never worked on it directly, can take some amount of credit for how great it was. Although of course Ryan and Bill (programmer and artist respectfully) are the ones who deserve the most accolades, as the game was truly “theirs” from the start.
  • teamwork! – I truly think we worked well as a team on this, with everyone contributing whatever they could (and often whatever was asked of them) to the overall team effort. This was a lot of people, certainly the largest group I’ve ever “jammed” with, and it was surprisingly painless. Certainly nobody tried to take over the project or had overactive egos or anything like that. A lot of credit should go to Zach, (who also organized the Jam, and runs the local IGDA chapter). He was probably the “glue” that kept the group together.

This would not be a true postmortem without some bullet points about what went wrong over the weekend:

  • Git woes – I was one of maybe two or three of us who had used Git previously, and vocally advocated for using it over SVN for version control. I set up a repository on my bitbucket account, and initially it was marked “private”, which meant that I could only invite some small number of people to it. This limitation showed up in a couple of different ways, and eventually we resolved some of the problems with it by just marking the repo as public (which I should have done from the getgo). In retrospect, one of the other git advocates had only used Github before, and I didn’t want to use that because it’s not free, but of course it is free for public repositories, so we should probably have just used that, which would have allowed him to continue using the github app (and let some of the other devs use it too). Two of our most experienced Unity devs had never used Git before, and we wasted quite a lot of time getting tortoisegit working for them. I would NOT recommend tortoisegit in general, as I still don’t know how to view “git status” using it. Totally non-intuitive to those of us who basically only use the command-line git.
  • Too much polishing on Bird Drop – This is definitely my own opinion, but I felt like we maybe spent too much time adding “juice” to Bird Drop when we could have been helping out finish up the other game modes instead. Bird Drop even ended up a bit more buggy at the end of the jam than it was on Saturday as a result. The final build we uploaded has several bugs that were introduced toward the end of the project.
  • Not enough attention to the other game modes – None of the other game modes were really playable until Sunday, and subsequently were single-developer affairs until that point. As one of two “swing” developers I should personally have made more of an effort to help those other projects get finished faster, so we could have done more iteration on them.
  • No focus on Friday – We basically didn’t even start coding until midnight on Friday.
  • Too much time spent on infrastructure – While we were unfocused on Friday, I think we spent a lot of time talking about what code each of the game modes would share, and where that code would live. One of our developers spent a lot of time on that code, and it ended up only used by one of the games. That particular developer was WIPED by the end of the project, and it’s really only because he is an absolute rockstar that he even finished that game mode.

Overall, it was a great weekend, and I had a blast. Thanks to everyone on my team, and to everyone who participated at our location!

3 thoughts on “Global Game Jam 2014 Postmortem

  1. I agree, the jam was a wild success and a lot of fun. It was fun to work with you Marty!

    My main goal was to make/be a part of making a game that was complete, playable and fun. That was a success for sure, as Bird Drop is surprisingly fun (when it works). (I’m the Ryan that worked on Bird Drop.)

    A selfish goal of mine was to use Source control, but not manage it. In previous years I felt I wasted time dealing with it. I was excited to use Git since I’ve never used it in a group, and you “took control” so to speak. I wouldn’t say it was a bad decision at all because I think Unity just doesn’t work well with source control. I feel that Git could be a really for a single person project.

    I agree that Bird Drop suffered, along with the team, from too much polish. It was a victim of its own success. We had a working prototype early and we were play testing a lot. This was fun, but also “stole the show” in a number of ways.

    My biggest disappointment with the GGJ, and partially to blame for the Friday focus problem you described, was the theme. It feel that it really didn’t help inspire game ideas and the pitch session suffered for it. Perhaps this is more disappointment in myself since I was unable to come up with an interesting game idea.

    Along with that, I’m disappointed in the GGJ website. It is a giant mess and shows no improvement from last year. It’s very time consuming to find working (or at least playable) games. I spent a half hour with my three sons searching and downloading games in the “multiplayer” diversifier with little success. I’d estimate of the ~30 games we looked at on the site, 10 of them had working downloads and only 5 of them worked.

    I plan on going through the “mutiplayer” games (there are 718 of them). Hopefully I won’t go crazy!

  2. Woah! Going through all the multiplayer games would be a mammoth undertaking! I totally forgot to mention in my post anything about my previous track record of going through all the board game category. There are ~190 in that category this year, and I have very little hope of going through them all (but plenty of interest!). We’ll see.

    Anyway, I look forward to benefiting from your multiplayer research! hehe.

  3. Great recap here, Marty. I didn’t know you went by Marty but notably enough it is also my middle name.

    Thank you for writing this post-mortem since I was only able to make it to the location a few hours to see what you guys were up to (training for the USA memory championship!). It turns out you guys and gals were up to a lot! I’m impressed by how talented and willing to help and learn the group is.

    I like that you entered with goals and don’t think that limited you. Neat to see 3/4 come through for you, too.


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