Best in Game Jam to Best in Georgia—Getting to Know the Teams
Ashley Stapleton, Game Writer
With Global Game Jam 2018 behind us, five teams forged ahead with their games to compete in the Best in Georgia Competition. Selected from each site, they have had the opportunity to further polish their games after the initial forty-eight-hour rush. With professional mentoring, they all created a piece worthy of distribution that highlights the best each team has to offer. Each game was judged on its merits in originality, gameplay, visuals, music/sound, and technical complexity. From there, one winner was judged worthy of the title “Best in Georgia.”
I was able to speak to representatives from these talented nominees for exclusive insight on the highs and lows of their experience, and just what it takes to make Best in Georgia. Congratulations to Team SCAD-Savannah for Best in Georgia winner Vacancy, and to all the other teams for their hard work and dedication on Trans Mission, Blind Justice, Humanfeel 5K, and Patient Zero.
- What sets your game apart from the rest of the competition? What makes it unique?
Nick Barber (programmer/designer): Vacancy stands apart from the other games due to its unique concept and visual style. Of the many games created [at Game Jam], Vacancy is the only puzzle game.
Monica Benya (artist): Even before Game Jam began, our team wanted to stand out both visually and mechanically. Having a game that incorporated both 2D and 3D assets helped us create immediate visual interest and just a little bit of intrigue. . . . We decided to build the game around one strong core mechanic, in our case being tuning your radio to switch between dimensions.
Trans Mission (SCAD-Atlanta)
Bryer Rossi (programmer): Trans Mission has a message about trans rights and a narrative that puts the player in a trans person’s shoes.
Blind Justice (GSU)
Team Flittermouse: It’s a first-person shooter, except you’re entirely blind. . . . You only see our world through sonar reflections created by the sounds of the player, the environment, and enemies. This mechanic forces players to rely on senses not often used to find their way around. While the idea of having the visuals based only on sound has been done before, none have used it in an action FPS. . . . At the Jam, the tone of our game was somewhat sillier than the others. This silliness really projects the joy and fun that we had creating it.
Humanfeel 5K (Georgia Tech)
Sarah Schoemann: Our game is an audio-based narrative game played on a hacked pink touch-tone phone handset. The game addresses the player as a cyborg taking a telephone-based test to become certified to provide human companionship. . . . By imagining themselves in the role of the cyborg (which, in science fiction, is often depicted as subservient), we are hoping to nod to some deeper issues around power, agency, and consent that have been on our minds lately. At the same time, looking at human social relations through the eyes of an outsider whose AI is still “learning” to make sense of it all can make for some absurd and funny mishaps.
Patient Zero (KSU)
All: When making our game, we wanted to focus on adding a lot of functionality . . . and [we] wanted to give a game to the player that they ultimately control how they play. We also wanted to focus on a quick-paced arcade-style game, and we think that set us apart from the rest. Of course, controlling over two hundred characters on a mobile device isn’t seen too often either.
- How many Game Jams, if any, have you done before?
Nick Barber: I have done at least eight.
Monica Benya: I have competed in Game Jam two times, this time being my second consecutive year and second consecutive win.
Bryer Rossi: The only previous Jam I have done was Global Game Jam in 2017.
Nick Shooter (game/sound designer): This was my fourth Game Jam.
Larry Smith (lead artist): This was my second Jam ever.
Mitch McClellan (environment artist/level designer): This was actually my first Game Jam.
Tahri Turner (AI designer): This was my first one!
Jonathan Hunter (lead programmer): This was my second Jam.
Sarah: We’ve both done one or two in the past.
Drew Savas (coder): Three.
Chris Zack (artist): Two.
Matt Lamneck (artist): Two.
Derek Martin (coder): Six.
All: This was our first one that we did as a team. This was also the first project where Chris worked on art, whereas he usually is one of the main coders in our group projects.
- What was your inspiration for your game?
Nick Barber: We initially used a radio transmission as our jumping-off concept; the concept evolved off of that.
Monica Benya: The original idea was based of off communicating with the dead, and I believe that is where the slightly eerie vibe our game has stems from. After some ideation, communication with the dead turned into somehow attuning yourself with the afterlife, which became shifting your reality, which culminated into transdimensional travel.
Bryer Rossi: We have multiple trans people on our team, including myself, and so breaking down the theme of Transmission to Trans Mission was a simple mental connection for us. That immediately set us on the path to making a game that dealt with trans issues.
Team Flittermouse: We were having some trouble coming up with an interesting game idea using the theme of Transmission, but then we noticed that one of the shaders Larry had been experimenting with had some components that made it perfect for producing soundwave visualizations. Our discussion then turned to the sonar mechanic from Subnautica, which gave us the idea to make a game based on moving around only using sonar.
Sarah: We were inspired by the kitschy novelty hardware of girls’ board games of the 1980s and ’90s such as Girl Talk, Dream Phone, Mall Madness, etc. Using an actual, working pink phone was in some ways an intentional constraint that we decided to work with to come up with something different than a screen-based experience.
All: Initially we were focusing on a game where you can transmit your soul to other characters, and it slowly evolved into transmitting your ideas into many other players until it got to the state that you see now. Our group loves playing arcade games, so we were inspired to make an arcade game during this Jam.
- What was your biggest challenge in making your game? Were there any surprises along the way?
Nick Barber: The biggest challenge in any Game Jam is creative disagreement. Our team, like any other, hit a few dead ends and some people got attached to their “vision” of the game. But we ended up all coming to a conclusion that we could all agree on.
Monica Benya: I would say the biggest challenge was picking an idea! We all had a million ideas at once and were beyond excited to explore each one. . . . The biggest surprise along the way had to have been how well our pipeline worked and how quickly we were able to create art assets for the game. With Game Jam, you're always waiting for something to go wrong, but I believe we were in control the whole time and had an incredibly smooth experience.
Bryer Rossi: We ran into some issues when importing our animations into Unity and then getting those animations to play correctly for the NPCs.
Nick Shooter: Making everything so heavily reliant on sonar before we even knew if it was going to work was pretty stressful. It was such a relief when we realized a day in, “Hey, maybe this game will actually be playable.”
Larry Smith: Making the game itself was the odd part—it was a real roller coaster. We came up with cool ideas and kind of finished them before finding ways to make them fun sometimes.
Mitch McClellan: The fact that we had time to model, animate, and program a boss toward the end of demo was both a last-minute surprise and challenge.
Tahri Turner: I don’t think at any point during our development we had a point of regression, which is really impressive to me! My challenge was me attempting to learn Unity and C# over a weekend.
Jonathan Hunter: The main challenge was getting the sonar mechanic to work properly. Once we had that working, the game was mostly smooth sailing, aside from some hangups with the cutscene system and the player controller.
Sarah: The tech hardware was harder to wrangle than we thought! Two of our team members had been creating audio-based projects with the Arduino microcontroller for a while, but of course we still ran into issues figuring out how to integrate the game into the hardware.
All: One of the biggest coding challenges was to make the code for the mob efficient enough for it to be run on a phone. During the forty-eight-hour Jam, we were able to make the game run on PC, but even after one hundred characters were on screen, there was significant lag due to all of the computation each frame. After the Jam, [we] decided to deploy to mobile. . . . We had to rework almost all of our mob code to make it efficient enough to run on the phone. We were very happy to see that in the end, we were able to run more people on the phone than we were able to run on the PC in the initial build, and feel it shows our improvement.
- What is your biggest takeaway from the experience?
Nick Barber: I learned to work well with some close friends, and made some new friends along the way. I always say that the team you build is more valuable than the game you build at Game Jam.
Monica Benya: Be prepared, even when you don’t know what to prepare for. We had no idea what kind of game we would make, what the theme would be, or what our final product would end up looking like. However, that being said, we took every proactive measure we could beforehand. We assembled a team that balanced each other out, and we made sure that our team as a whole could cover any base. . . . We knew we wanted to do a low-poly style with a 2D character no matter what the game ended up being, so our artists had some time to prepare for the style. Finally, we had set up a loose schedule we knew we wanted to follow so that we would stay on track for every precious hour of the forty-eight-hour Jam.
Bryer Rossi: Working in a large group, things get lost. I didn’t even know that we had a player character modeled and rigged until after the Jam was over. He didn’t make it into the game because of this.
Nick Shooter: Don’t be afraid to start on a game idea not knowing whether it will even come together!
Larry Smith: Do small things with great effort.
Mitch McClellan: With the right group of people and motivation, you really can push yourself to create so much in not-so-much time.
Tahri Turner: I got to learn things that I don’t get to experience in my current professional career.
Jonathan Hunter: The biggest takeaway for me would be how little you actually need to make something cool.
Sarah: Always think smaller.
All: After every Jam, it is a relief to look back on the work that we were able to do . . . We were able to see the major improvements that we made over our last project. We were able to improve our retrospective facets of game development and learned a lot.
- As a team, what are your future plans for the game?
Nick Barber: We plan on polishing up the game for presentation for Best in Georgia. Later down the line, I would like to put the game on a platform like Steam.
Monica Benya: We would love to polish this puzzle game and put it on Steam after. . . . But for now, the plan is to make it as polished as it can be and see where it goes.
Bryer Rossi: We want to make the narrative more intuitive and really hit home that this is a game with a message.
Team Flittermouse: Our current plans are to try to bring the game to market. . . . We have a lot of plans regarding gameplay improvements that are out of scope for the competition, but well within our combined skill sets. . . . We want to keep building on our idea, and see what kind of wild stuff we can come up with on the road to a full release!
Sarah: We’d like to build out the narrative to offer more potential endings and are hoping to take the game to some smaller and more experimental game events like Indiecade or Queerness in Games Con. We’d also love to play-test it around town or maybe show it in an art/tech context.
All: We are all part of a game-development group [and] are hoping to make our own indie studio. [We] happen to have some other games we are developing now also, but we fully intend to polish this game up some more (and fix some bugs), then rerelease to Google Play and other mobile markets.