It’s day two of our winter game jam here in the Codemasters Racing studio, and we’re starting to see playable builds spring up from all the great concepts people are working on. It makes an interesting change from the rest of the year, where everyone has the same game build on one monitor, tools on the other. Now there are bright retro colours popping out of screens and guys with crazy peripherals strapped to their faces holding impromptu design meetings by the Christmas tree.
The game jam formula splits a large studio up into a number of very small teams, which means we get the opportunity to work with people that we normally wouldn’t directly interact with. As a game designer, I rarely have the need to talk to the artists or audio designers very much, save from when I come across a problem or at socials; but in our little game jam groups we work with each other much more directly. It’s a nice way to work, and the time pressure of the game jam makes it feel super exciting as my inbox gets flooded with new concept art, 3d models and music compositions on an hourly basis.
Our team is working on a little something called Unagi. Ten points if you get the reference.
Our focus is to create an interesting game experience using non-traditional control methods, something our friends at Special Effect are experts at and whose work helps people with disabilities to enjoy the same games as everyone else. In the case of Unagi, players will be able to control objects in the environment with the power of their mind! We’re utilising one of those crazy peripherals I mentioned earlier to read player’s brainwaves, and translate what it picks up into a control scheme for our game. The early prototypes yesterday looked very promising, and showed that we were able to control our test objects with a surprising degree of accuracy. Now that we know the tech can do what we need it to, the challenge lies in building a strong game around it.
Even with a small game made in four days, there are a lot of problems to consider…
Each of us in the team takes on a particular area of responsibility – game mechanics, art, audio, programming and so on – but we all have to stay in regular contact with each other to make sure we’re all going in the same direction, and that we’re all happy with the decisions that are made. Even with a small game made in four days, there are a lot of problems to consider and systems to put in place to make sure the player gets the best experience possible. How do we introduce them to our mechanics? What information do they need on screen? How can we use visual or audio clues to let them know when they are getting it right? How will our game cope if the player does something we don’t expect them to?
The only way to answer all these questions is to playtest and iterate on all our systems as quickly and efficiently as possible. Hopefully we’ll be conducting some important tests later today which will help us make some key design decisions, as well as bringing in first versions of the art and audio into the playable build. For now I’ll leave you with a great illustration from concept artist Tom.