Over the weekend, I had the awesome experience of being able to participate in the UAT summer game jam. A game jam, for those of you who don’t know, is an event where teams are challenged to create a game with set restrictions in a short amount of time. For this game jam, we were given the theme “Abstract Art” and were given 48 hours to make a game around that theme!
This semester here at UAT, I’ve had the opportunity to take some really cool classes. I’m now in my sixth semester, which means I’m taking some of the later courses in the average student timeline. This semester I got into some of the big ones like Game Production Studios (GAM281) and Student Innovation Project/Portfolio Presentation I (SIP401). Alongside those, I also took Technical Writing (ENG301), Communication in Technology (COM226), and my personal favorite, a very unique class called Game-a-Week: Rapid Prototyping (SPT323). I want to go a little bit more in depth, so I’m going to briefly talk about my experience with each of these classes to hopefully give you an idea of what you will learn when taking the courses.
For many years, game developers have run into the same problem over and over again: How do we explain our game without boring the player to death? Nobody wants to read a manual on how to play your game and nobody wants to play a 30 minute tutorial. A good game should be able to teach you how to play the game naturally in a fun and engaging way. This idea of how you teach the mechanics of your game is called conveyance and it’s a big part of what separates a mediocre game from a good one!
Competitive gaming has been growing massively in recent years. eSports are becoming very popular among the younger generations. With new competitive games coming out every year, the old ones tend to slowly die off. With games that never hit the mainstream eSports scene, that death happens even faster. One game, however, stands out to me. Released nearly 20 years ago, Age of Empires II has earned its status in the gaming community as not only one of the greatest games of all time, but one of the precursors to modern eSports.
Designing video games can be a difficult challenge. You may need to plan out exactly what the player will do while figuring out how to challenge them and keep them interested. You’ll need to design puzzles, enemies or other obstacles to keep the game fresh. Some designers spend hours just ensuring that the enemies will behave in the expected way to provide a consistent player experience. All of this time and effort results in a game where every aspect feels very intentionally planned out and meticulously designed, which can be a very good thing. But what if you could just let your game design itself? Rather than design every single thing in your game, let the systems take over and play themselves, making way for emergent gameplay.
In recent years, the popularity of competitive gaming and esports has skyrocketed. People want to take playing video games and push it to that next level with competitions and tournaments popping up all of the place for a wide variety of games. One that I’ve recently delved into is the bizarre underworld of competitive classic Tetris!
Good puzzle games are difficult to come by. Having the right balance of challenging puzzles, while not being too frustrating, is a difficult thing to achieve. Zachtronics, however, have really nailed this formula. They’ve created some of the most intriguing, creative, and most importantly FUN puzzle games of the past few years. Games like Opus Magnum and SpaceChem have been received with overwhelmingly positive reviews and are thought of as some of the best puzzle games out there today.
Participating in game jams is a big challenge. You spend a full weekend working as hard as you can to make a complete game. When I was 16 years old, I was just beginning to learn programming games, but I really wanted to participate in a game jam to test out my skills. I had seen people participate in the Ludum Dare jam before, but had yet to do it myself, so I set out to participate in the Ludum Dare 30. For this jam, I decided I’d team up with my good friend, a very talented artist named Devon. He and I had never worked on a project together and were both nervous to see how it would go. August 22nd, 2014, the Ludum Dare 30 announced the theme “Connected Worlds” and we set off to create our game!
Have you ever made an entire video game from scratch in two days with your friends? We do all the time at UAT. It sounds like something that should be left to the professionals and experts, but that’s just not true. I believe that every single game developer, new or experienced, should participate in game jams when the opportunity arises.