Dusty pillows, jumbo freezie wrappers and empty energy drink cans litter the floors. Another TOJam has ended.
(technically, this is a picture of set-up, but any shot that’s not packed with slap-happy devs coding up a storm is equally forlorn-looking)
(Team photos were all taken by the super-talented Brendan Lynch, and unceremoniously snaked from his Flickr site. Environment photos come courtesy of Benjamin Rivers, who expertly captured the quirkiness of the Innovation Toronto space. You can see his whole collection here)
TOJam is the premiere game creators’ event in Toronto. A group of local developers – professionals, hobbyists and students – cloister themselves together for a weekend to make games. People work as individuals, as teams, or as floaters. Floaters are hired guns, mostly artists and musicians, who are drafted via sign-up sheets to create title screens, character animations and background tracks for the games. A late sign-up announcement and scheduling conflict with student exams brought the participation down this year, but TOJam 4 still drew ninety game devs for a weekend of full-frontal nerdity.
Enthusiasm, creativity, and a kitchen made from a Chrysler.
Teams, Themes and Lucid Dreams
Every year, the organizers choose a theme to help guide and unify the games. This year’s theme was “scale”. Before the jam, i brainstormed a number of uses of the word, and i received some flack from the other jammers when i suggested that “big stuff/little stuff” was the most uncreative deployment of the theme. And then i went ahead and created a big stuff/little stuff game. But i’m a worthless hack, so please don’t ever listen to me.
This year, it seemed like people were really playing fast and loose with the time. The jam space was largely empty for huge pockets of the weekend (most notably Saturday and Sunday AM), and as a result, it seemed that a much larger number of the games didn’t get finished. At the Sunday night show n’ tell, i got around to seeing most of the games. There were a few stand-outs:
Cheeseohol 2: The Actual Game
Team Happy Rainbow Panda Bears couldn’t let go of last year’s “Cheese” theme and created a sequel (read: finished last year’s game), calling it Cheeseohol 2: The Actual Game. You play a block of Swiss cheese scaling a mountain, throwing pick axes at bouncing goats-on-poles. A unique mouse-wheel control had you carefully metering out the number of shots you could fire, requiring you to carefully preserve your ammo for tougher goats. The game has a silhouetted Patapon-inspired look.
Pandemic! You Have Gone Viral
Team Awesomo, comprised largely of snaggle-toothed street vagrants, created Pandemic! You Have Gone Viral. It’s a four-player XNA game where your ammo buzzes around the screen using a flocking algorithm. You run around trying to catch the bird-like bullets to fire them at other players. The feedback was problematic with this one – it didn’t seem like i actually had control over whether the bullets stuck to me or not, and there wasn’t much visual feedback signifying that the characters were taking damage. The real hook with this game was a eye-poppingly gorgeous artwork, displayed on a five million-inch LCD monitor.
Team Stinker created a game called Scale Mountain, where you play a mountain climber collecting inexplicably mountain-strewn gems (?) while avoiding such perils as hawks, bears, and spiders. It reminded me of a scene from the Sierra Online adventure game The Black Cauldron, where Taran scales the castle wall on the way to defeat the Horned King. The team included a grappling hook mechanic and multiple levels with different graphics … i think they said five? Wow. The game is very large (i spent five minutes working through level 1), and punishingly difficult! Often, there was a large gem sitting right on top of an enemy. Harsh. The graphics and sound are rough, but Scale Mountain was still one of the most playable, enjoyable games at the jam.
Team Stinker (it’s nice to see foxy chicks in gaming, to prove that we’re not sexist)
Ass-Smashingly Awesome Ball Game
My absolute favourite game at TOJam 4 is a 2D game where your character is a ball. You click the left button on either side of the ball to roll in that direction, and right-click to jump. The level has a series of ramps and platforms that you have to get the ball through. The real innovation here, and the best use of “scale” i saw at the whole jam, is that you can roll the mouse wheel to scale the level bigger or smaller, but the ball stays the same size. So if there’s a tight gap that your ball can’t fit through, you scale the level up until the opening is wide enough. If your ball reaches a monstrous chasm, just scale the level down and roll over the tiny gap. Awesomazing! This was the only game at the jam that really surprised and delighted me, particularly when i thought i had made it through the whole level – my ball just stopped at a dead-end wall – and the developer said “now zoom in really close”. i spun the mouse wheel, and a complicated network of platforms and ramps grew up all around my ball, a whole level section that had been shrunk down to 1/100th of the size. Amazing!
This year, as every year, i have to hand it to the organizers, who pull off this amazing organizational feat purely out of the goodness of their hearts (and to pay off their debt to mafia-connected bookies). The amount of self-sacrifice involved in every TOJam staggers me, whether it’s a toilet that needs plunging, a fuse that needs fixing, or an underslept developer who needs a ride home. At one point, i saw organizer Jimmy McGinley tear open his shirt and suckle a crying baby. The personal care and attention that the organizers provide is one key reason why they can announce an event so late, and still pack the place with ninety people. In my estimation, this was the best game jam evar.
Jimmy McGinley: always quick to spare a square (or a nipple)
Look for our new game, Bloat., on the site later this week!