Global Game Jam 2018 @ USC LA

My take on my very first game jam!

Over the weekend, I took this year’s Global Game Jam at the University of Southern California. If you don’t know what a Game Jam is, it’s an event where developers, designers and people from a variety of backgrounds come together to concept, design, develop and create a game in short set time frame.

The Global Game Jam (GGJ) is the world’s largest weekend game jam event taking place in over 800 sites across 109 countries all around the world. Participants are given the opportunity to form teams and are tasked to create a game in 48 hours based on the year’s given theme(starting on Friday 26th of January and finishing on Sunday the 28th). While I’ve participated in many hackathons designing mobile apps, website, animations and card games, Global Game Jam LA 2018 was the first game jam I’ve ever been able to experience.

Away from the familiar game dev community in my hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, I stood in a crowded room filled with over 300 unfamiliar game jammers getting briefed with was to come for this weekend. After getting over my initial shyness of the new environment, I started team hunting and eventually found my team of 7 on the event’s online discord chat. For 5 of us, this would be our very first Game Jam we would be participating in, so it was a relief that others were in the same boat as me.

This year the GGJ theme was ‘Transmission’. For the remaining two hours on Friday, our team threw around a couple of ideas before landing on the idea of the transmission of messages between the living and the dead.

“I Hear You” is a 2D puzzle game about a young girl who has recently lost someone she loves. Equipped with a portable radio station, the little girl sends out waves to the universe. The lost loved ones (the stars in the sky) are responding with their own waves, delivering her lost loved one’s final message to her. However, the messages aren’t very clear from afar and can only be heard in fragments from different parts of the locations — each bright star in the sky is a syllable of words in a message.

The player will have to move the little girl throughout the game and remix the sounds from stars to hear the syllables of the words clearly to rebuild the message.

Within the next 40 hours, we were off creating assets and sprites, designing the levels, building the base code and voice recording/editing. I worked together with Stefanie and Soojung to figure out the visual aesthetic of the game deciding on a simplistic flat gradient style. I then took the initial level design sketches and digitised them to match our chosen aesthetic. Dario, Po-Hsun and Eric took to coding everything from the mechanics to visual effects to pulling the game together. We decided to stick with an Minimum Viable Product of a tutorial level and a main level due to time constraints, but left opportunity to expand on more levels if we had the time to.

We made our game playable in 7 different languages — aiming for the Polygot Diversifier (Localize your game in to at least two other languages). As our team was built up with international members from Europe, New Zealand and Asia, we were able to create multiple variations of the two levels voiced by each member of the team. While I voiced the English version of the game, it was also playable in German, French, Korean, Chinese Mandarin, Chinese Cantonese and Filipino Tagalog — all of which was recorded, edited and implemented by David (alongside star audio effects and keeping our developers on track). It was such a treat to see players playing and succeeding the game in Chinese, Korean and German during the Open Arcade after the event.

Putting the game together definitely had it’s ups and downs. Saturday itself started off roughly as David and I forgot our Europe and New Zealand AC adaptors and had to run out to Target to buy a new one. However, after a lot of stressful moments of merge conflicts over GitHub, yelling “don’t pull” and “I swear this is the last commit”, we finally submitted our entry.

While there’s still much polishing needed (and also a lack of forgetting to put in-game instructions — oops), our team still did pretty well! Our team ended up scoring high in Innovation, Accessibility and Art and we got picked for Excellence in Audio which is pretty awesome for our first shot at a Game Jam. Our game also got a lot of positive compliments from our fellow game creators and GGJ judges from EA and Riot Games so it was incredibly satisfying to end the game jam on such a high note.

Thank you again to my amazing teammates who worked awesomely together over the weekend! Thank you as well to @MEGA_USC and @USC Games who did a great job hosting us this weekend. I had a fantastic time at GGJ and can’t wait for the next one!

Small, curious kiwi designer who loves all things UX, photography, video games & hackathons