Monday 18 July 2011

TIGJam UK 5: We came, we jammed, we conquered!

This article was featured as an Indie Game Link by the weblog and in Rock Paper Shotgun's Sunday Papers feature

This weekend the
CB2 Bistro in Cambridge UK was overrun with indie developers working on small mini-projects, socialising and generally having an awesome gamedev experience! 35 indies dropped in on the Bistro, home of the CB2 Indies meet-ups, from all around the world. Some developers had come in from Cambridge and London, others (including myself) from UK counties further afield. Some even flew in from Germany, or joined as part of their round-the-world travels.

Friendships were formed, awesome games were made, coffee and beer were consumed! Altogether a fantastic experience and highly recommended. And I was there, camera in hand, pestering people to be photographed - the results are below:

Just a Simple Game We Play

Every few hours, Stephen (also known as increpare) would come round with three jam themes, randomly selected from our own suggestions. We'd have three hours to make a game based around these themes. A lot of us ended up focusing on just a couple of themes, and extending them beyond the three hours if we liked them enough - there were no rules, so the atmosphere was relaxed and sociable, and everyone got on well, sharing ideas and working together.

I was particularly intrigued by Paul McG's game, 128 Boxes per Minute - a rhythm-action maze game, were tiles on the map would become dangerous in time with the music. A very simple game that clearly had potential to be expanded, and which I look forward to seeing more of in the future!

I was also very impressed by Adam Vian and Rauri O'Sullivan's magnetic fishing game. The art and animation looked gorgeous, as did the rope physics on the fishing line. The player has to catch the evil robot fish to feed to his pet tiger, and would need to identify the good fish from the bad before they rammed into his fishing boat. I can't wait to have a go at this once the win/lose conditions are in place!

Alan "Draknek" Hazelden and Ashley Gwinnell collaborated on Needy Bankers, a twist on my own Greedy Bankers series. The gem-merging mechanics were in place when I left on Sunday evening, Alan promises he'll have some playable puzzles very soon, and the gleaming gem animations are very attractive!

There was even an iOS game in the works! Joe Bain teamed up with artist Catherine Unger on a pogo-stick stunt game. Yet more lovely animation work on this one, with graphics and physics implemented through Cocos2D. I wonder if this'll develop into a full iPhone release? I sure hope so!

Around the world in 35 indies

As I mentioned, people had travelled from far and wide to come to the event, including Thomas Trocha and Johannes Stein, who had come all the way from Germany. I had a fascinating chat with Jordan Magnusson and his wife Marissa, for whom the jam was part of their round-the-world tour! Jordan makes games about his travels, the people he meets and the situations he encounters, which he uploads to his website, Game Trekking. Take a look, it's very interesting.

I also had a good time meeting up with some old friends from previous events. Hayden "Docky" Scott-Baron and I had our seemingly-obligatory discussion of Sonic the Hedgehog. I enjoyed hearing about Jasper "Superflat" Byrne's current projects, and discussing the extent to which financial pressure effects our approaches to indie game development. I enjoy finding out about other indies' perspectives, especially when I can compare their own experiences to mine.

Dave "Bluescrn" Reed showed me his current iOS project, Hurry Home Mr Squirrel, and gave me an opportunity to test out Greedy Bankers vs The World on an iPad 2. Dave has a pretty extensive arsenal of home-made tools for creating his games, which are very impressive indeed! Having worked in the industry for 10 years, he's clearly built up an excellent practical programming talent, and is now working as a full-time indie on iOS. Despite being a programmer by trade, his hair-driven artwork on Mr Fluff was very stylish.

Phill Webster showed off his shader for visualising music with julia sets. This awoke the mathematician in me, although he insisted it was simpler than it looked. I detect too much modesty amongst programmers!

Beyond Coderdome

Of course, the event didn't just take place with coding in the bistro! On Saturday I set off with Ed Key, George Buckenham and Alan Hazelden, to play real-world games in Parker's Piece, a large green not too far from the event (or Subway - I was hungry!). We played Lemon Jousting and Ninja, with numerous variations. I was crap at all of them, but had a lot of fun. Ninja was my particular favourite, a turn-based game where you have to hit the backs of your opponents' hands and are only allowed limited movements to attack and dodge. Something about merging the turn-based play with the fluid physical real world appeals to me a lot.

George also created an interesting card game, "Fight or Flee" for one of the jams, which I will definitely remember for future. It started off simple enough, but as we played it turned out to be a game of mind-reading and deception. Great stuff!

I also had a good chance to test out Greedy Bankers vs the World, and to take some footage of the game in action. I managed to fill a good set of notebook pages with people's suggestions, and got a clear idea of how to improve my game. The key message I took was that I needed some way to encourage more stealing, as that's my favourite mechanic but is currently a sub-optimal strategy in most cases. Luckily, I got some good suggestions for how to fix this too. I got some great advice on how to make the gem-grabbing more tactile, which is important on a shared board with two players jostling for action.

And, of course, the pub!

As a full-time indie living in a quite isolated part of the country I found myself more drawn towards the social aspects of the event than the programming. So the pub ended up being a natural environment for me this weekend! I also like a good ale.

Many important topics were discussed. GDC, and the experiences of those who have been before, looking like an idiot while testing Kinect games, good games that reviewed badly, bad game controllers, how removing a sock made me more indie, and infinite monkeys. Our theorising went beyond the typing out of Shakespeare, and onto more important issues. How much would it cost to feed these monkeys? How could we monetise the monkeys? Is there a way for each monkey to eat other monkeys in a way that there would be finite monkeys remaining in finite time? Answers on a postcard...

A big thanks

I had such a great time at TIGJam UK 5, and I can't wait for the next one! I met a lot of awesome people and saw some really cool projects in the works. A big thank-you to everyone who helped organise the event, including Stephen "increpare" Lavelle and Terry Cavanagh, and also to Alan "Draknek" Hazelden who took on the unenviable task of organising accommodation for us! You guys are awesome!

Finally, of course, a thank-you to the staff at the CB2 Bistro, for providing the delicious wraps, spicy chips and milkshakes that provided us with the energy we needed for a weekend's coding!

I'm going to be at Develop this Thursday with Greedy Bankers vs the World, so let me know if you're there. Happy gamedev, readers, and I hope to see you at a future jam!