Jammed

TOJam, this city’s premiere game industry event, has come and gone. As you may well know, the jam is a weekend-long expo where game developers young and old (but mostly young), male and female (but mostly male), from all walks of life (but mostly white) descend on an ever-changing venue with one purpose and one purpose only: to consume ungodly quantities of Cool Ranch Doritos (but mostly to make games).

This year’s event, the fifth annual, was held at the new George Brown campus on the second floor of the Autodesk building, where i taught Flash in the school’s new game development program before opening my big fat mouth. The facility is brand-spanking new as of January, with four classrooms filled with obscenely powerful computers running Maya, Max, Flash, Photoshop, and all the other goodies you could hope for. Jammers had the choice of using the school’s computers or bringing their own. i was tucked into one of the two classrooms where the monstrous monitors had been removed, and we set up our own equipment.

Autodesk Toronto

The turn-out this year was huge. The 180 slots were handily packed up, with another 20 or so on the waiting list. The sponsors, including Tall Tree Games and Big Blue Bubble, kept jammers stoked with junk food – candy bars, energy drinks, chips, Chinese food, and pizza. Two jammers brought in their own baked goods, including chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and 200-odd cheese tarts. My body was screaming for a sprig of broccoli by the end of it -i nearly ate the foliage outside the building to keep from passing out. But cheese is a definite crowd-pleaser.

Exodus from ScaryTown

There were some misgivings, including by the organizers themselves, that the Jam had lost its soul by moving out of Innovation Toronto, a terrifying warehouse in the rapey-est part of town where the last two Jams were held. i disagree – i think the only thing we lost by not being in that building was the constant threat of tetanus. This year, the toilets worked, the stairwells were devoid of dead rodents, and no one had to climb on the roof to secure a tarp over the skylight to keep the rain out. The only real drawback was the classroom layout of the campus, which meant that we couldn’t all be together in the same room. But as the Jam gets bigger, i think that’s just going to be a necessity … unless and until the organizers attain the legendary goal of booking the Toronto Convention Center for the event.

Innovation Toronto

Innovation Toronto (photo by NotSoftGames, who i believe were gunned down in a mafia street war moments after taking this picture)

Every year, the organizers choose a theme to guide the teams’ creative output. This year, the theme was “Missing”. Apparently, what i was missing was the focus and wherewithal to produce a decent game. i found the theme really challenging this year, and i’m so focused on our current project that i worry my heart wasn’t completely in it.

But some teams’ hearts WERE in it, in a big way. Here are a few of the games that i enjoyed playing during the Sunday night wrap-up:

Throw That Fight!

This was my fave game at the event. It was very clever. It had a 1930’s theme and style. You play a pugilist who has to throw his boxing match for some reason involving an orphan … the story copy was a bit screwed up at the beginning so i missed the rationale, but what followed was my favourite line from the game from your trainer: “Remember your signature punches: up, left, and right.” (HAHAHAHAHA!)

So it was a rhythm game with the exact same mechanic as Elite Beat Agents, except that you weren’t allowed to play it properly, because you’d accidentally win the match and punch the other guy out. And you couldn’t play like ass either, because the game would say you made it look too unconvincing. You had to screw up the rhythm game just enough to throw the fight, and to not let on that you were playing badly on purpose. FUN.

Elite Beat Agents

Innovation Toronto (photo by NotSoftGames, who i believe were gunned down in a mafia street war moments after taking this picture)

It wasn’t an incredibly compelling game that i could play for hours, but it was a perfect snack-sized experience for the Jam. i got the concept from the title alone, and figuring out how to play properly was a joy. Good work!

Rider Saves the World

Crazy French-Canadians. This game was from a visiting Montrealer (was his name Rennault?) who created a pretty uninspiring obstacle avoidance game that was delightful in spite of itself, thanks to its ridiculous writing and theme.

You play Rider Motorcycleson, a 70’s-style biker with an afro and a red headband, charging through space astride an angry-looking missile, on his way to save his love. In the second level, you have to take down an alien mothership. The cut-scene introducing that level includes the line by the aliens “We are going to destroy you etc.” i laughed HARD. The cut-scene for the third level is a one-liner where your girlfriend simply says “i’m pregnant.” Again, it had me in stitches. But maybe i was overtired?

Easy Rider

Imagine Easy Rider in space, with witty writing.

The game had some nice touches. When you died, each Continue screen borrowed the mechanic from the level that preceded it. The graphics were very silly. The gameplay was varied. The creator was insane. Lots of pluses there.

i guess i’ve learned that i really favour games with funny writing. Hmm!

Platform Game



i didn’t catch the name of this one, but it was fun. It’s 2-player game with one black character and one white character. You have to co-operate with the other player to reach the top of the vertically-scrolling screen by jumping on platforms. Platforms are either black, white, or beige. The black and white platforms are transparent and you fall right through them, unless the black or white character is standing on the platform. So the black guy could jump up and stand on a transparent black platform to make it solid, so that the white guy could jump up and join him. It was a constant back-and-forth between the players, who essentially had to open doors for each other throughout the level to reach the top. Very nice! And in a few instances, you and your partner had to communicate to time a jump together so that you’d both wind up on the same platform at the same time. It was just pure, wholesome, playable fun. Well done!

My hat’s off to so many people this year – from the organizer who put on this incredible event with NO CHARGE to the participants (??!), to the teams who turned out some great (and many horrendous) games, and to nine of my former students who showed up to give it a shot. (It was great to see them taking the initiative that i accused them of lacking!) Thanks to everyone i met this year, and i hope we can continue to foster a relationship through the monthly Toronto Hand Eye Society meetings until the next jam.

The TOJam Arcade, the public exhibition of the games that were created at the event, is coming up next month. Be there!

Further Playing

The TOJam 5 games will be up on the site eventually. In the meantime, here are the titles i created in past jams:

TOJam 2: Two by Two

Related articles:

TOJam 3: Here Be Dragons

Related articles:

TOJam 4: Bloat.

Related articles:

TOJam 5: Heads (coming soon!)

18 thoughts on “Jammed

  1. Rob Segal

    Another year another jam another crazy Creighton game. I was serious about your game. I’ve always loved adventure games and am really keen to see what you come up with for “Spellirium”. You did have some of the numbers wrong about attendance. About 180 people showed up give or take a few and probably about 20 on the waiting list. I won’t hold this against you though.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Thanks, Rob!! i’ve changed the post to reflect real numbers. Spellirium (note the legally-mandated name change) is going to rock the Casbah. It’s not an adventure game in the strict sense, but it’s more of an adventure game than an RPG, if that makes sense. It’s not kill-monster-level-up like Puzzle Quest was, to give you an idea.

      New prototype is out tomorrow. We’re gonna keep hammering away at it until it’s perfect… then we’ll start dressing it up.

      Reply
  2. Chris Harshman

    By that sunday, with so little sleep I pretty much tryed no games, I do intend to fix that that problem once they are posted on the website, and play every game I can.

    The theme was definately challanging, and being this was my first, even with two veterans, I learned alot, like reusing old code doesn’t always help, at least a dozen times I had to fix bugs with a sparse animation framework for XNA I built 6 months ago, and forgot how it worked. That really slowed down work, and it would have been faster to start from stratch. Also, with several programmers keeping everyone’s version up to date is a hard task which takes up time.

    Definately the most fun I have had programming in quite awhile, to bad it was trapped between final projects week and final exam week, which only compounded the tiredness.

    One thing I found was that those last few hours it went like fix 1 bug and three more were found. I have two versions of the game currently one that is the copy from sunday night, and a second which is for additions changes for the arcade. There is also a third version which fixes sunday nights bugs so that the game actually plays. I will send it that one to the website, mainly because the other one didn;t actually run because of a game breaking bug in the last 10 minutes :(.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Chris – i shared some of your issues. i was reusing some code that i haven’t touched since Christmas, and it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. Still saved me a lot of work though, and let me concentrate mostly on animation. Remember that TOJam is happy to let you keep working on your game, and to submit regular updates. It’s not a contest – it’s an intensely focused period to help you start, and hopefully continue, a project.

      Reply
  3. Snottlebocket

    Does your intro mean you got the boot from your teaching position? (personally I’m surprised the students didn’t pool their pennies to hire a ninja to slash your tires)

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Snottlebocket – you guessed right! But to my surprise, it didn’t start from the bottom up, but rather the top down. The Dean of the school found the posts – i presume through Google Alerts? – and called for my head. It wasn’t an enormous shock, and i tried to make clear during my departure that i wasn’t trying to slag off her school in particular, but was rather trying to call attention to a deficiency in ALL Ontario schools running these programs.

      A colleague later counseled me that colleges are old-guard advertisers, and they need desperately to control the message. They’re not comfortable with their schools being talked about through social media, and Herve Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined particularly hated my crowd-sourcing for help with grading the students’ papers. i’ve since seen more evidence of this – i found a forum thread on a privately-owned digital art site where a prospective student was asking about a particular animation school. i’ve hired two students from that school, so i chimed in with my perspective: school turns out good fine arts grads, but their animation is surprisingly weak.

      Soon after, one of the brass at the school, who i know, wrote me up and asked me why i’d resurrected a “dead thread”. (There’s no such thing as a dead thread on the Internatz, sweetie.) She wondered why i was criticizing the school, when earlier i had approved a testimonial that they published on their site. i told her that my recommendation still stands: i hired two of her students for their fine arts skills, but from what i’d seen, i wouldn’t tap the school for an animator, because the work was weak across the board. Another example of the college desperately needing to control the message; apparently, she trolls message forums everywhere her school is mentioned and admonishes all criticism. A “dead thread”, to her, is one where she’s had the last word, and she doesn’t have to manage the conversation.

      i was invited by the students to do an extracurricular Flash tutorial for the members of the gaming club, but that was before they learned i’d been axed – aside from a few emails from a few students, i haven’t had much interaction with them until i met those nine at the Jam.

      Reply
  4. aBethke

    Cool post Ryan.

    Rennault (I thought it was spelled Rennauld for some reason) was more commonly referred to as “Monster King”. Weird, weird frenchie, but damn if he was not hilarious to be sitting near and listening to throughout the jam.

    I ended up picking up the opportunity to talk to the George Brown Game and Design club students. They seemed like a solid set of guys, the ones that were paying attention at least (Seriously, why bother showing up if you are just going to space out?). Enjoyable experience for me. I will admit I got rather ranty about the flash Timers and why they should NEVER BE USED.

    Some of the comments relating to your time as a teacher is news to me. Sounds like you got screwed because of stupid politics. Sorry to hear that.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Alex – naw … i’m pretty sure that if i were the dean of the school, i’d fire me too :) And you’re right – the students who bother to run the club and attend TOJam are the ones you want to spend your time talking to. Their hearts are obviously in the right place.

      Reply
  5. Jimmy McTOJamOrganizer

    Great post as always! I’ll be linking to it shortly.
    I never got a chance to play the games but some looked amazing.

    Given the magnitude of students (50+) and number of new people, I was concerned the jam might lose some game making focus. Even worse, due to final exams and projects, no students were able to take advantage the early Friday start (10:00am). As a result, the 2 early bird classrooms were mostly filled with older veterans, and the remaining 2 classrooms (that were not free until 3:00pm) were mostly filled with students. We wanted a better mix, but it was not feasible.

    Turned out to be a needless concern. I was impressed with the focus and determination of everyone that attended, especially the students. My larger concern now is competing with them for a chunk of the real life game playing market. We might need a new jam that teaches how to fail at making games.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Joe – you have singlehandedly summed up the “What’s Wrong With Ontario Colleges?” issue by answering the “what’s wrong with game development students?” question. You stopped jamming when you decided it wasn’t fun. That’s like deciding to stop cooking crystal meth when you discover you’re not getting high any more. You’re not supposed to get high. As the dealer, you’re facilitating other people getting high. Your reward is watching them get high, and then taking their money when an ATM machine crushes their heads.*

      *exerpted from “All i Ever Needed to Know About Game Development i Learned from Breaking Bad

      Reply
  6. Chris Harshman

    I know that you can keeping working on the game, I was meerly sticking to the spirit and not added a bunch of features for the submitted version, the arcade version will have more features, but it most likely won’t go beyond that mainly because I already have a full time job developing games, and I want to teach myself flash with that so I am not stuck with XNA.

    That sucks about GB, but really not unexpected, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good thing; what you were doing. That is part of the reason that I would like your assistance with ‘lobby group’ for my school Centennial College, since I am a student and most of us in the group are students and future grads/ working in the games industry we really don’t have to worry about keeping our mouths shut/towing the line. I deally we would like to make Centennial College and example for others to follow.

    I can send you an email if you want, but one of the concepts is being entirely open.

    Reply
  7. Joseph Cassano

    I appreciate the humor, Ryan. I responded to your response on my blog, and bringing it up here would basically mean re-posting the whole thing since it covers the same ground, so just re-check that page. In short, I think we’re having a miscommunication about what I meant by “fun” (which is probably my bad). =P

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Andy – that trailer looks GREAT! You guys did an awesome job on your game. You’re right – you’ve come a long way since that Space Invaders/Tetris mash-up from yesteryear that didn’t quite … you know … work. :)

      ima embed your game trailer in the post.

      Reply
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