From Friday evening to Sunday afternoon I was one of four games writers taking place in the first ever Journo/Dev job swap game jam. The idea came from Will Luton who tweeted during Develop that journalists have it harder than most devs think. This controversial viewpoint kicked off a fiery discussion, that ended with Luton proposing a game jam in which journalists wrote games, while a selection of professional game makers pretended to be journos, covering the event as it progressed.
It was a great idea, Ukie backed it, and – long story short – it happened this weekend. Me, Rob Crossley from CVG, Lewie Procter from Savy Gamer and Dan Griliopoulos from Rock, Paper, Shotgun represented the press. The game people were Andrew Smith from Spilt Milk, Peter Theophilus-Bevis from Blitz Studios, Jim Griffiths from Mediatonic and last-minute ringer, Mark Backler from Lionhead Studios.
The real stars though, were the students from Derby University who helped us writers actually code the games. We were each assigned one ‘full-time’ programmer and then shared a selection of extra artists and coders. They were committed, friendly, passionate and talented. They worked and worked and didn’t stop. They were amazing.
For all of us it was a fascinating, eye-opening, challenging and exhausting experience. We had laughs. we ate a lot of sweets and we made some games and some articles. I got paired with coder Theo Chin who was just utterly amazing. The theme of the swap was – of course – ‘swap’. I stated out with this ridiculously ambitious idea about social inclusion, in which the player would have to create different masks to get on with various different peer groups. It was madness, yet Chin nodded his way through my impassioned pitch, before thinking for a bit and saying, “why don’t we make an endless runner where you swap the character’s position on a 2D plane?” Yes, I said. Yes, let’s go with that.
Later, we added a new wrinkle to the endless running game: controlling two characters simultaneously. Within four hours of the jam beginning, Chin had a working prototype, functional and playable. Immediately, we knew it worked, that it was compulsive and that people would compete for highscores. It was thrilling.
Theo handed art direction to me, so I went out onto the streets of Soho, where Uki is based and where the jam took place. I photographed manhole covers and steel plates. I wondered a sort of grim futuristic industrial look. And Derby uni artist Jake Woodruff then worked with my huge folder of assets to craft the background textures and robot models. Then we play tested and tweaked and play tested and broke it, and play tested and fixed it again. For hours. No wonder there are so many indie coders. What an amazing feeling of accomplishment. I know it’s not always like this, that there are many frustrations and failures in the game design process, but there is also a sense of satisfaction and joy that must be astonishingly addictive.
Oh yes, and we won. Me and Theo won. All the journos made interesting games, but I think we did the right thing really early on: we came up with a simple idea that Theo knew he could code, then we iterated on that bastard until we were exhausted.
Anyway, you can play Double Droids and the other games here (you’ll need a Unity plug-in, but it’s very small). Watch out for the obstacles coming at your droid – the normal ones drive you back, but the ones with the radiation sign on will immediately destroy you. It’s unforgiving and the difficulty curve can ramp up viscously (turns out creating a smooth sense of progression is quite a task), but it’s pretty good fun. My high score is 6590. Beat that.