i know i dole out a lot of advice on this blog, sometimes sloppily. It may be wise to heed my tip about not coding on the Flash timeline, but that nugget about coming up with new game ideas with your head in a chest freezer was not necessarily one for the ages. But if you follow one piece of advice i offer on this blog, at any time, make it this one: TOJam 5 kicks off at the end of April, and you gotta be there.
Plus-Pump Le Jam
Have you ever made a game that you didn’t finish? Made it through (or nearly through) one of Ontario’s many terrible game design programs? Found yourself listless at your triple-A desk job modeling background foliage? Got stuck in a position creating enterprise database solutions when you really just wanted to make games? TOJam is a salve to your soul. It’s the Toronto Independent Game Jam, where a group of like-minded independent game developers get together to make games. It’s happening this April 23-25 at Hervé Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined – and by that, of course, i mean George Brown College.
i’ll likely have to wear a disguise so i don’t get shanked.
Many developers go to the event because they have a small game or game mechanic idea, and they want to see if it actually works. Others go because they’ve been procrastinating, and need a weekend of focus and discipline to finish something. Still others go to hone their skills, and to prove that they still got it, baby. i’ll admit that’s why i went my first time, at TOJam 2 – i had finished a year of non-stop documentation on a huge multi-player game we were building at my last job, and i was starting to worry that i’d lost my actual production skills.
Welcome to the Microcosm
Over the years, i’ve mellowed out on that, and i attend TOJam for different and better reasons. i spend all of my time making Flash games, the majority of which are free-to-play online games that people discover by cruising through a sea of thumbnails and clicking like crazy as if they’re compulsively ripping Keno tickets. It’s kind of a depressing world, and the way people play punctuates how crucial it is to create game that’s sticky within the first five seconds of gameplay.
My God … it’s full of crap.
On the last night of TOJam, the developers walk around and play each others’ games. Every station represents a Flash game portal thumbnail. If people don’t get your game within the first five seconds and start having fun, they’re off to the next game … just like in real life. i’ve learned so much at these jams about game tutorials, parceling out features, ideal game controls, game development tools and basic human nature that has been invaluable to me in my career. A f’rinstance:
The first year, i created a game called Two by Two that i thought held its own very well against the other games. It had multiple skill levels, a graphical timer, some neat fake 3D in Flash, colourful visuals, sound effects and animations – all cranked out by a one-man-band, whereas most games were built by teams. But when it came down to everyone choosing their three favourites, Two by Two got overlooked. One theory i’m positing (aside from the fact that maybe the game’s not great … i’d never admit to that ;) is that my workstation was against the wall, and people just didn’t see it. This is analogous with portal placement – if you’ve ever heard iPhone devs complain about the fact that you can only survive by being promoted by Apple or being in the top 25, you’ll know what i’m talking about.
Add to this the fact that TOJam is one of the best – probably THE best – networking opportunities in the city, and you’ve got a must-attend event on your hands. Did i mention it’s FREE … and co-organizer Jimmy McG gives you BACK-RUBS while you work? i didn’t? Well, that’s key i guess.
The theme this year is “Missing”. As i did last year, i’ll run down a few interpretations of the theme to get the creating juices flowing.
Escape the Room
What a great theme! The first thing that comes to mind is an adventure game, since i’m a fan. “Missing” calls to mind titles like Deja Vu, Innocent Until Caught and The Last Express. The governor’s daughter is missing, the crown jewels are missing, etc etc, and you have to combine the paperclip with the key and dip both in a homebrew acidic solution to make your own semi-conductor to power the broken-down jalopy so you can get that missing thing back.
Playing Gabriel Knight 3? Your best course of action is to type “quit game”.
It’d be a simple thing to do a pattern recognition game – circle, square, circle … what’s missing? Or a picture of a tree with a silhouette of an owl, and the kid gets three animal choices to figure out which animal is missing. Lots and lots of complete-the-picture/theme/pattern/answer fill in the blanks kinds of games are possible here.
The giraffe says “______”.
You could do something with a shooting game where the goal is to miss. There’s a lot of potential here that i’m too lazy to explore, but i thought i’d bring it up in case it sparks something in you.
The world needs another pretentious artsy indie game like it needs a kick to the neck, but “Missing” sounds like the angsty title of just such a game. Be sure to include pixel art, a piano-only soundtrack, something about death, and the image of a dying daffodil that somebody steps on, and you’ll be good to go.
Crappy Puns and Wordplay
Make a game about a Chinese landlady named “Miss Ing”. Make a plant care game involving misting. Make a game featuring Will & Grace star Debra Messing. Do a karaoke game where the goal is to screw up the song. Call it “Mis-Sing”.
When she grabs a power-up, she gets warped to a better teevee show.
Whatever you decide to do, and even if you DON’T decide before April 23, fill out the form and plan to be there. Everybody who’s anybody in the HUGE Toronto indie game dev scene is there, and we want YOU there too!
Don’t be a nobody! We don’t want you missing it! (SNORT! Me make hilarious joke!)