So just over 2 weeks ago there was an interesting little idea known as the “0h Game Jam”. This game jam had participants create a game within the hour where the clocks go back (as part of the DST time shift) – effectively allowing someone to complete the production of a game in negative time. I thought I’d try my hand at this, but not before trying some tests in Construct 2 first.
I failed miserably.
The quickest I could get anything playable and at a state I was happy with was around 5 hours, and that was with some preparation both mentally and in regard to resources. This just wasn’t my jam. It didn’t seem to be many people’s jam to be honest; naturally, most of the games sucked. However, there was one stand out to me, “Hotline Trail”, a top down, mouse driven, driving game with a Hotline Miami aesthetic. Very polished considering the time available.
Give it a try here: http://rezoner.net/labs/hotlinetrail/
After my 5 hours or so of work trying to make something playable, I realised that the second Game Boy Jam was gearing up to begin. I was a little disappointed I missed this the first time around, so I put my work from the 0h Game Jam towards that to avoid future disappointment. I began work on an infinite runner, or auto runner, or run and jump game… I didn’t know what the genre was, but I wanted to make one. Outside of Canabalt and Jetpack Joyride, I think they’re all pretty shit – generally appearing on touch devices and host to on screen dpads or buttons. Disgusting. So I wanted to try my hand at a control method I felt allowed for a little more than just ‘auto run + jump’. I wanted to add an attack, and I wanted that attack to steer the focus away from ‘distance traveled’ as the sole score provider.
The first 5 hours
This first version was simply an auto runner and represented those first 5 hours from my 0h Game Jam tests; complete with fixed jump height, fixed speed, and randomly generated platforms with varying widths and heights. The player’s distance was displayed on screen and the Game Boy aesthetic already in place.
The game was called “Noonanrun”.
With the base in place I needed to add the attack. I had already decided that the input method had to be a single tap or key press, so I thought the best implementation was to add an attack that happened whilst the player was mid jump. This is where I started to think about Castlevania with it’s strict jump heights and whip mechanics. So I gave my character a whip and something to hit, in the form of candles.
Whilst testing the whip I thought I’d give myself moving targets, further continuing my homage to Castlevania. I added a bat, though quickly decided against the inclusion of enemies both due to the purity of scoring within the game and the scope of the project – I only had a week, after all. So the bat became my Duck Hunt dog, taunting players upon failure.
In this version I increased the speed and made a ridiculously hardcore hitbox for the whip, whereby I was only detecting collision on the tip of the whip rather than the full length. I was already too close to the game and making it increasingly more difficult in an effort to challenge myself.
The game was still called “Noonanrun”, had a “Sean Noonan” title screen much in the style of the original Game Boy boot sequence and a huge picture of my face as a loading screen. Seriously.
After sending the build around some friends and coworkers I realised my mistake in making the game to suit my personal difficulty level – it was barely playable for other people and nobody really understood how the whip worked or what the candles were for. So I added a tutorial in the title screen. I was determined to avoid throwing up controls or instructions for the player. I wanted players to work out how to play for themselves. The tutorial forced players to jump due to it being their only possible action. Then at the height of their jump they were required to hit a candle to start the game. It was pretty successful for the most part.
I updated the art a little and added an on screen counter for candles whipped, which resulted in an obscure reference to British comedy of old.
The game was now called “VIDEOGAME !!! by Sean Noonan” and I removed my face. Getting slightly better.
At this point my confidence was growing and I knew where I was going to go with it next. I added jump heights based upon the amount of time the player held their jump input for and made the game increase in speed over time. This resulted in the game feeling pretty tight - the player had an increased level of control but was also being challenged over time. It started to feel like a game.
I also added the score system to the game in an effort to include replayability and challenge. Basically the score was calculated as follows…
Distance + (Distance * Candles) * Accuracy / 10
The idea was to keep the player wanting to get as far as possible, but for their run to mean anything they had to hit candles. Now when I was testing, some people would whip during every jump… turning the game into an auto runner and whipper(?). I wasn’t overly happy with this so added accuracy as a means of discipline for the player to focus and be more precise – the accuracy would basically determine how much of their final score they would receive. The 10 at the end was just to keep the score at a manageable number of digits.
Still no name for the game.
The art pass
I updated the football headed main character with something a little easier to animate (the hat in particular), the placeholder “FIRE” effect was replaced with a small explosion and an animated melted candle, and I added four new layers of parallax and an animated background to look as though there was lightning flashing at different points.
The title screen adopted grave stones with “RIP” for this version only. Stupid idea.
The “Sean Noonan” Game Boy boot screen was changed to better match it’s Nintendo counterpart with “Noonan”. The game still lacked a name.
Ridin’ on cars
At this point minor changes started to take a lot longer than expected. All vector fonts were removed and replaced with pixel fonts. That process took a lot longer than I had hoped it would, but it was uncharted territory.
I added rain, though this became a huge performance hog due to me not removing any drops that had been created.
The game was now known as “Jump ‘n’ Whip Man”, an homage of sorts to that video.
Jack B. Nimble is born
I finally came up with a name, theme and anchor for my game in “Jack B. Nimble”. I added a variant of the children’s nursery rhyme to the title screen and a small animation of the character walking in. All very cute.
I also added the dog laughing sound from Duck Hunt for when the bat passes the screen sound as a placeholder for…
I had been talking with Barry Topping (of Gamewank and Epoch fame) to do some audio work for Retirement, but with that somewhat on hold I asked if he was interested in working on my jam. He agreed. He fucking nailed it.
I also polished up some of the art and added some foreground parallax.
The polish pass
The game was pretty much ready at this point, just polish remaining and the possibility of a score board.
With the final addition of some title screen art, some parallaxes and minor animation tweaks, the game was ready. I added a personal best score to local web storage and created a Game Boy overlay to surround the game in the web player.
Working on Jack B. Nimble was an excellent learning process and a great way to meet people in the indie/enthusiast community. I’m incredibly proud to have made a game on my own (with a little musical aid from 'Barry of course) and I plan to make another soon. I realise this hit TLDR territory long ago, so I’ll finish with some bullet points.
What went right
- Visuals – both the cute and ‘dark’ features
- Polish – responsive control, easy to understand mechanics
- Audio – Barry's music was phenomenal and the sound was on par
- Time management – I rarely felt rushed or the pressure of the deadline
- Stuck to the theme – I never needed to compromise the design to meet the jam rules or restrictions
What went wrong
- Visuals – there wasn’t a defined style; whilst fine themselves, my flat shaded characters and level art didn’t marry that well with the dithered more realistic backgrounds
- No online leaderboards
- I wasted some time early on to include an easter egg featuring Chet Speedrider from the Ubisoft Montreal Game Jam
- Too great a focus on minor technical problems that ultimately didn’t matter (I’m looking at you, Construct 2 scaling issues)
All in all a great jam. Cannot wait until the next one…
You may have noticed that I’ve intentionally skipped over anything new or interesting about Watch_Dogs, Ryse, Streets of Rage, One Day From Retirement or anything my grubby hands have touched in the past – that’s for another day. I plan to address at least some of these soon!
Now I have a PS4 to go back to… ahem.