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I spent 1 week making a game about managing 4 survivors who are attempting to repair their vehicle while under attack from an onslaught of zombie hoards!
Godot Wild Jam had their 65th monthly game jam this January that took place between the 12th and the 21st and had over 150 entries! I had a late start and began the jam on Monday the 15th and spent the entire week focused on completing my submission: Through the Forest.
The theme was "Overload" and the wildcards were "The Good Ending", "Unspoken Stories", and "Choose Your Fighter". As always the wildcards are optional for the game jam, but I really enjoy the added constraints and creativity that comes from trying to include them in my projects.
When I first got started on this project I was thinking of something along the lines of a Bullet Hell, Rogue Lite, Shoot Em Up type of game; but as I started piecing ideas together and tinkering with the prototype it just kept changing.
Through the Forest ended up being a mix between zombie survival, tower defense, and sim management. I started playing with concepts like being able to setup a character in a position to defend against the waves of zombies coming at you, which is when I thought i'd be making some type of tower defense.
Then as I started expanding on the idea, I thought it'd be fun if you had to position and reposition each character to give you as the player more of a sense of feeling overloaded with your role. I really enjoyed the feeling of commanding the actions of the characters and decided to create more of a needs/satisfies system that would allow me to expand on the Overload theme a bit more. Not only are you now command where they go, but also ensuring the needs to follow a command are met as well: supplies are stocked, I have ammo supplies etc.
This pivot in design moved us more into the sim management category and ended up closing the game loop a bit better and felt like you were always doing something and moving things in a forward direction. You've got to fetch the supplies to repair the truck, but you need ammo to defend the position, you also need to heal your runner before he can safely fetch more supplies.
All of these ideas started working well together.
One of my favorite things about the Game Jam process is how it puts constraints on both time and ideas. These arbitrary constraints may seem weird at first, but they really help you narrow down your focus, strip the problem to essentials, and prioritize the task you need to work on. I've had many game jams (This one included) where I had spent more time a feature or piece of art that was a complete throw away, or didn't make the final cut. I'm still learning how to make the best use of my time, but the process of a game jam helps me refine those skills and always teaches me something as a take away.
If you haven't taken part in a game jam, they happen all the time, almost on a daily basis at this point. If you just pop over to Itch.io's jams page you'll see a calendar for potential jams you could consider joining. These vary in themes and constraints and some may be more interesting to you. Take a look and see if you'd be interested in trying one for yourself.
I've enjoyed the process of doing the Godot Wild Jams as they are on a predictable monthly cadence and follow the same duration each time. The use of wildcards in addition to the main theme always makes for an interesting outcome!
While working on the project I would hit these lull periods where I didn't feel motivated, or was just spinning my wheels thinking through a problem. I decided during those periods to change my focus towards the pixel art and the "game feel".
By making the mental shift away from features/bugs/coding etc I was able to get myself into a creative flow state that started with art, but would end in massive amounts of coding/refactoring/feature work getting done. I would make most my progress during these flow states.
Every time I did this, I felt even more excited about the direction of the project. Even though I didn't always know what I'd be working on or towards, I was having a good time!
My excitement for this project even bled over to my kiddos, as my son decided to make the background music for me!
Having been able to submit for a few jams at this point, I usually have the same big takeaway: "Scope Creep". This one is a big issue for developers alike; Software, Games; I feel we all can tend to struggle in this area. If you try and put everything into your game jam that seems like a good idea, you'll likely run out of time long before you realize it. By keeping the scope of your game idea small, you can ensure that you really get the core of your concept down.
I really wanted Through the Forest to include:
- An Introduction tutorial that ramped up as it taught you the game mechanics.
- A Score system that tracked all stats like number of supplies retrieved, zombies killed, heals performed, and repair amounts.
- A more engaging emotion/dialog system that told more of a story as characters move action to action.
- More than a single zone to defend and work through.
- Visual indicators for stock quantities and supplies that are being deposited after a run.
- Better audio for actions and further game polish.
- Pause menu, settings menu, and overall UI.
None of these were bad ideas, and some of them would probably really help users with my game jam (like knowing how to play the game before it ramps up to 100). However, by making the decisions to cut or not pursue some of these ideas, I was able to complete a small slice of my idea to prove out the core mechanics. Can a user play the game and get a full game loop and enjoy the experience? For this project I would say yes.
Now that the jam is over and I have some feedback from the jam; it will help me validate if I have a game play loop and game feel that people are interested in. I may have enjoyed the experience of creating the game, but it's early to decide if others would want to play a more polished and larger version of the same idea. Feel free to leave me some feedback on what you think of the gameplay idea!
Even if it's not the game everyone would want, there are several technical insights I picked up that will help me in future projects, and likely topics I'll cover in later posts for others to benefit from as well.
Overall I had a great time with the Game Jam and look forward to other jams in the future. I'll wait and see what the overall feedback of the project is like before I start making any big changes!
If you want to check it out you can head over to my Itch.io page and play it directly in your browser! I'll be working to deploy bug fixes, platform specific releases to the downloads, and likely some deployment automation to speed up delivery for anyone to get quick updates when I make changes to the game.
If you do check out the game, let me know what your thoughts are!
Is this a fun game worth pursuing or does it become another experiment collecting dust in my projects folder?
Thanks for reading!