You get a whole room full of programmers, designers, artists, and sound engineers together, add wi-fi, give them a theme, and watch them go! In just 48 caffeine-fueled hours, a group of game developers all got together and made games. iPad games, PC games, top-down RTS, fighting, adventure, and all in just a weekend.
This year OrcaJam was part of Thinklandia, a companion festival to Rifflandia, but for ideas instead of music. It took place at ViaTec’s offices with help from their staff, who were fantastic. They made sure we had all the equipment we needed (you wouldn’t believe how many power bars it takes to run a game jam) and were generally a huge help.
First we met at the Moon Under Water for the usual drinks and appies mixer (if you weren’t there you missed a good party!), then we were off to the jam itself, which started with a quick opening address from The Honourable Andrew Wilkinson, Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services. We’re all legitimate and stuff now (and a little worried how we’ll top that next year)!
This year’s theme was “Island”, which people ran with as you’ll see when you take a look at the games. It’s always fun to see what people do with a theme. Some developers take it very literally, but others… you’ll just have to play the games and see for yourself.
Aside from the awesome new venue, a few other things were different this year too. We had talks, a set of generously donated prizes, and a panel of judges from local game studios. Judges and prizes are new to OrcaJam, but we were happy to see that they didn’t change the collaborative spirit of the jam. Some really fun games came out of the jam and it was great to see them get some recognition.
We had two talks this year. The first was “From Tourists to Tetris – Redefining Victoria as a Game Development Destination”, about how Victoria isn’t just a tourist destination anymore, it’s also becoming a game development destination.
Chris Tihor moderated and the panellists were Eric Jordan (DJ Arts), Edoardo De Martin (Microsoft Studios Victoria), Paul Hill (KIXEYE), Alex Mendelev (TinyMob Games), and Tim Teh (KANO/APPS).
One of the most interesting points the panellists made is that Victoria has an especially collaborative game development community. People from other studios will treat you like a colleague, not an enemy. We’re told that even Vancouver isn’t quite as friendly, so we can give Victoria credit for that instead of just chalking it up to good old Canadian niceness.
The second talk was “Bring Me The Brain! On the Mad Science of Game Design”, about the practices and pitfalls of game design. Just about every game developer out there struggles with this sooner or later.
The panelists for this talk were Ashley Blacquiere (KANO/APPS Game Designer), Andy Moore (Radial Games Founder), Chris Hoefgen (TinyMob Games CTO), and Ben Hesketh (Microsoft SDE). They had some great tips about how you know when you have a good idea for a game, finding the balance between not giving up too easily and clinging to an idea that just isn’t working, and how to balance working on games all day at your job with working on your own projects in your off hours.
Another highlight of the jam was the 5 minute game challenge. This challenge was inspired by a presentation where a group of indies “made” a game in about 5 minutes. That presentation was just a sped up video of the game being coded, but it made people wonder how fast could you really make a game. One of those people was Colin Northway, and at the first OrcaJam he dared Andy Moore to make a game in just 5 minutes. Andy didn’t quite make it, but he did prove that you can prototype a game mechanic in well under 10 minutes and that programming can be a spectator sport. This year we even had a five-minute song!
At the end of the jam, everyone presented their games to our panel of celebrity judges. Andy Moore (Radial Games), Ira Willey (AddictingGames.com), Eric Jordan (DJ Arts) and David Sandor (Inlight Entertainment) were kind enough to donate their time to OrcaJam instead of going outside and enjoying the sunshine.
First place went to Jacob Schwartz and Steve Carpenter for their game Cyclobster Island. In this game, you’re an archer defending yourself from a terrifying Cyclops/lobster monster, as well as menacing pterodactyls. Why pterodactyls? Why not? This team kept the scope and concept manageable so they could focus on gameplay, which earned them first prize.
Second place went to Hook Up! By Anglerfish Matchmakers Curtis Smith, Sarah Roland, and Kirsten Grove-White. Hook Up! is the anglerfish dating sim mentioned earlier. It’s charmingly odd and full of fish puns. If you’ve never played a game that mentions the poet Sharkespeare, you need to check this one out.
Third place went to Mario Benedict and team’s ipad game Flux. Another simple game that focused on game play, this one was especially well polished. It’s a two player, one iPad game where you each tap your ships in the right sequence to send a pulse to the other player’s ship and destroy it.
Fourth place went to Boar Island, a fun little game about running around on an island trying to get to the boat before the wild boars get you. But watch out, the boars can swim!
The coolest part of a game jam is seeing what everyone created. You can see the games that people posted on the OrcaJam site here: http://jam.orcajam.com/submissions.
Some really cool games came out of OrcaJam this year. I’m already looking forward to seeing what everyone makes next year. Maybe I’ll even see you there next time!