Making games in 3 (+3) hours
During the last month I challenged myself to get better at prototyping games. To do this I decided to enter a gamejam every week – the jam I chose is Trijam, a 3 hour game jam. I’ve noticed that I developed some interesting patterns during these jams and I will discuss these here.
<figcaption id="caption-attachment-81" class="wp-caption-text">Sketching out ideas is the way I start my designs</figcaption></figure>
Let me preface this that the structure of Trijam allows you to do “some” parts of the work outside of the allocated 3 hours. This primarily includes brainstorming ideas so usually I come into the 3 hours having a good idea knowing what I want to make. However, I do try to keep the brainstorming time limited to a span of 1 hour and I primarily try to look for inspiration outside of games. I do this as I try to avoid doing the “easy” 3 hour prototypes that don’t really differ from each other – endless runners, top down shooters these are the most common of Trijam entries.
Bare basics #
Because of the 3 hour time limit I am forced to strip the game to it’s very core idea. This means that any sort of “extras” and “variety” is stripped away. Does your game include different “extrapolations of clicking”? That’s not going to be included in the prototype. Is there a randomly generated level in the game idea? That is not going to be in the prototype.
Variety makes games fun, without them they would be dull – I mean imagine if you could only pick between 5 champions in league of legends or play only with one gun in CS:GO. It would not be nearly as interesting as it is right now. However these are 3 hour games and the goal that I have here is to create a GAME and not a system! I understand that 3 hours might be enough to code 3 quick variations of an enemy or a system that generates a level – however it is not enough time (at least for me) to do that and make a GAME.
Core mechanics of my 3 hour games:
Heal the Peasants – Press the correct button to heal the peasant, pressing the incorrect button wounds him.
A cozy storm – Point and click on objects to get descriptions of them.
Bomb the gum – Turn based movement with bombs that destroy their surrounding.
The Night Shift Cycle: Reach the end of the map however you only see things when you move.
Six Waves: Tower defence where you need to defeat 6 waves of enemies.
Late Time: An evil twin mirrors your moves with a delay. Kill him without killing yourself.
Making Games #
The reason why I am capitalizing “GAME” in the previous paragraph is that I am trying to create a full game prototype. So something that you play and feel like it is actually a game, with some sounds, graphics with some juice. This is why usually I try to limit myself to 1-2 hours of programming and the remaining time being dedicated to polish. Fig. 1 has the exact same gameplay that Heal the Peasants had in the end, however it does not feel as much of a game as it did at the end of the jam.
The good #
The best part about this is that every weekend I end up with a working (for the most part) prototype for a game that tries to capture some form of vibe. It allows me to experiment with some mechanics and it is visibly making me better at quickly prototyping games. I (almost) always get something tangible at the end of the 3 hour cycle and I feel like I am always impressed by the amount of things one can do in 3 hours if you plan correctly.
When I really enjoy a game and feel like I have a good groundwork I usually spend 2-3 more hours the next day making the game feel better. Just small, juicy changes.
<figcaption id="caption-attachment-73" class="wp-caption-text">Adding a bit of particles and smoother UI transitions made Cosy Storm a bit more cosy.</figcaption></figure>
Interestingly enough, I feel like I started valuing sound and music inside of games a lot more since starting to participate in Tri jam. Having a game with sound makes it feel a lot more like a game and music is key to creating a good atmosphere. I usually use SFXR to create quick sound effects and when I’m set on the theme I try to spend some time on the Newgrounds music portal to find a song that would help “sell” the game.
The bad #
While this definitely made me push myself in prototyping speed one thing that I became a bit more afraid of is trying out completely new concepts. This is the most apparent when I try coding something completely new because OBVIOUSLY it is going to be way worse than something I already
<figcaption id="caption-attachment-71" class="wp-caption-text">No cycling was done that night</figcaption></figure>
know. With The Night Cycle I ran (cycled?) in a bunch of bugs which caused me to not have a working game in the end.
While Late Time managed to be exported in the end I wouldn’t necessarily say it is a stellar game considering I spent 2+ hours working on a mirroring system that did not end up working.
The results #
After 6 weeks of active participation in Trijam I am more than happy with the results. I’ve became much more swift at transforming ideas into code and I’m more confident in my abilities to actually code a game into existence. I’m looking forward to attending more Trijams – they have become a good habit that I look forward to over the weekend. I would encourage you to do the same and if you wanna see some of my results go ahead.