Over this past semester, I’ve participated in a number of game jams. In a game jam, you’re given a theme, and then you have a limited amount of time to create a game based off of this theme. You can either participate by yourself or you can create a team to jam with.
In this article, I want to examine the first game jam game I participated in and talk about what I learned from it. I’ll talk about what I think turned out well and what I think could have been improved.
It’ll help if you have some additional context by playing this game before reading on, so click here if you want to to try out the game in your browser.
The game jam we were participating in was called GMTK 2022. The theme we were given was “Roll of the Die,” and we were given 72 hours to complete our game. We ended up making a game called “Cow Catcher”. In this game, you play as a UFO abducting cows while avoiding the wandering photographer farmers.
I was the head programmer and a friend, Marguerite Naaden, was in charge of graphic design. She also had some experience with Unity, so she was able to help with parts of the project whenever I hit a roadblock that even the almighty Google couldn’t handle. We grabbed the game’s sounds off of various websites (which you can find listed in the game’s credits on itch.io).
This was the the first game jam I participated in. I made this game after
cramming learning Unity in the two weeks leading up to the jam, so this jam was a learning experience for me. I found these videos by Jonas Tyroller and Brackeys to be very helpful in learning the basics of Unity, but I started learning most when I just jumped into coding a full game.
Since the theme was roll of the die, our idea was to divide a field into 9 sections based on the spots of a die. Every 10 seconds, the die rerolls and the spots shown on the die determine what zones cows are spawned in.
Ultimately, the game turned out well, especially for my first game jam! There were, however, some improvements that I think could have been made. In this post, I want to go over what I think turned out well and what I think could have turned out better in this game’s development.
One thing that came out well was the pixel art used in the game. The sprites and animations were made by my teammate from scratch, and they turned out to be amazing!
Another thing that turned out well was the pathfinding. This was my first time implementing pathfinding in a Unity project, so I needed to look up tutorials on how to best do this. While most tutorials tried to push me towards A* Pathfinding, I found the simplest solution was NavMeshPlus. While the farmers have a simple AI (choose a random cow, go to it, choose another random cow, etc.), they need to avoid some fences placed around the map (which the player can fly over) and to navigate around other farmers and cows. After watching a few NavMeshPlus tutorials, this was surprisingly easy to implement.
I also really liked the music we found for the game. The song Alien Blues by Clemens H (sauer2) really fit well into our game’s theme.
Finally, the control scheme ended up coming together particularly well. I took some inspiration from the past game jam game Invalid Break by maybell for the controls, particularly for how the game’s boundaries were handled. I was worried that our specific mouse-based control scheme would be hard for people to pick up or that it would feel awkward, but it seems from the reviews that people picked it up rather easily.
The first thing that could have been improved was the tutorial. Since we didn’t have time to implement a proper tutorial, we added a big wall of text that shows up on your first playthrough. This was acceptable given our limited timeframe, but it certainly wasn’t an elegant solution, and no amount of jokes in the body could fix this.
Another thing many people pointed out was that the theme didn’t seem well-integrated into the game. While we did have die mechanic as listed above, most people didn’t pick up on this connection. I added an effect to the sectors which were spawning cows, but this still wasn’t too obvious to most players. A minimap emphasizing the spawn sectors could have helped fix this. A minimap also could have given us an opportunity to make the farmers’ positions more obvious to the user, another frequent suggestion among our playtesters. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we were unable to add this.
Finally, I think the farmer’s AI could have been improved. The pathfinding worked excellently, but it would have been nice to have the farmers start chasing the player if they get too close or to have a wider range of view than they currently do.
Of course, there are plenty of other improvements that could have been made to this game, but these were the main ones I noticed during or after the jam.
All in all, the game turned out very well for a first game jam game, especially right after my first learning Unity! I look forward to hearing from you: what do you think of the game? Do you have any ideas for how to make the game better, or is the game completely irredeemable? Leave a comment below with your opinion!