Game Jam Junkies - Casual Connect SF
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Transcript of Game Jam Junkies - Casual Connect SF
My name’s Dave Bisceglia and I’m the Co-Founder & CEO of The Tap Lab. We’re a mobile gaming studio in Boston, the creators of Tiny Tycoons, and we’re here at Casual Connect presenting our upcoming release Bigfoot Hunter in the Indie Prize Showcase.
I’m here to talk about how we can all apply game jam principles to improve our development process and be more innovative as an industry.
WHAT ARE GAME JAMS?
When I say Game Jam, I mean exactly what you’re thinking, a bunch of developers getting together to make games. These range from major public events like the Global Game Jam to holding small internal jams in quickly prototype new concepts and features. Often these jams are themed to focus on new software, new hardware as well as setting specific rules to create artificial limitations that force developers to be creative.
There are a few core principles that make the game jam process effective. In a game jam environment, no idea is too strange, too stupid or too difficult. Divergent thinking is required. Game Jams are defined by short dev cycles that require you to iterate quickly and control scope. Be sure prototype your concepts at the lowest level of complexity and cut any features that aren’t essential to the core concept. The key is to focus on finding the fun. Get feedback as soon as possible. Invite your friends and fans to playtest your prototypes during the jam or open it up to the public. Pull new people in whenever possible. Game jams are a chance to collaborate with people outside the studio. We often invite our mentors and friends to join the process. It’s a great way to get a bunch of great minds together working on early stage concepts. It’s also a great way to find new talent.
Our buddies at Vlambeer, the guys who made Super Crate Box and Ridiculous Fishing, participated in Mojang’s 72-Hour Mojam and pulled in a sound designer they had just met for the project. They ended up hiring him to do all the audio on that game, which became the Steam hit, Nuclear Throne. I recently asked Rami how they apply game jam principles to their development process and he told me that almost all of their game concepts come from internal jams.
IN YOURDEV PROCESS
Game Jams don’t need to end when all the devs pack up and head home - the same methodologies can and should become a part of your development process. Get access to dev kits, and set aside time for your team to explore new platforms and hardware. If you’re struggling with a certain tech or design problem, set aside time to jam on it. Also, don’t over commit to new features too early. Use game jam principles and prototype multiple versions of the feature before asking your artists for final artwork. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it. Many larger studios, Ubisoft, DeNA, Harmonix and others, have begun hosting internal jams to identify new concepts for future titles, test out new features for existing games and as a tool for recruiting.
One of my favorite examples of an internal jam comes from our friends at Double Fine, who after years of working on the same project, decided to split up the studio into 4 teams for a 2-week game jam they called Amnesia Fortnight. That first jam was so successful that Amnesia Fortnight became an annual event at Double Fine and nearly every game they released since then was originally prototyped during ones of those jams.
There’s tons of other examples, but you get the idea.
Image by Andy Reisinger
So, we’re all here at Casual Connect because we’re passionate about making games. And yes, we’re all here to make money and we all know it’s much safer to to port existing games over to mobile or to fast follow or clone successful games. But, as developers it’s up to us to move the industry forward. New and evolving technologies like wearables, beacons, and virtual reality could represent huge opportunities for gaming. Building games for these new platforms involves many unique technical and design challenges that we need to overcome as a developer. And I’m confident we can do that.. But to get there we need to change our way of doing things, embrace these new technologies and apply game jam principles to innovation.
INNOVATION ≠ FUN
I need to clarify that innovation alone is not enough. It’s our job as designers to identify new opportunities and, most importantly, create truly fun experiences for our players.
Location-based games have been around for over a decade... It all started with PacManhattan back in 2001 when a group of developers turned the streets of Manhattan into a massive game of Pac Man. And they did it all on feature phones... Things have come a long way since then... Ingress by Google’s Niantic Labs, is a great example. The game requires players to physically move around in the real world as they interact with each other and takeover nearby portals. They just released the iOS version last week and it’s definitely worth checking out.
At The Tap Lab, we build location-based technology and games that allow players to virtually travel around the world and interact with their favorite real world places. We’re also really excited about indoor location... Last year Apple acquired a company called WiFiSlam for their indoor location technology. This technology will allow us to knock down the front door and actually play games with maps of indoor places. Imagine turning your house into a game world with enemies hiding in certain rooms and obstacles laid out along the way.
iBEACON & BLUETOOTH
When Apple announced iBeacon last year, we instantly started thinking about how we could use it in gaming. And in true indie form, we did an internal jam and hacked together two new features for our location-based empire building game, Tiny Tycoons. We did an experiment with in-store beacons... As you can see on the slide, when you walk into an iBeacon equipped location you receive a push notification with the name, owner and price of the property as well as a meaningful action you can take in the game. We also built local multiplayer match making. Nintendo 3DS has a feature called Street Pass that allows you to interact with nearby players to play games together and exchange resources. We basically built Street Pass for iOS in a weekend using iBeacon.
There are 200 million iOS devices with iBeacon out there right now. If two of those devices have the same app installed, they are now intimately connected. Major brands like Major League Baseball, Macy’s, and Target are starting to roll out beacons in their locations and will be searching for new ways to engage consumers. Games could be one of the core drivers.
These days when you hear Virtual Reality the first thing that comes to mind is probably Oculus.
But, there are many other exciting things happening in VR. Sony’s project morpheus, ANTVR and many others. At The Tap Lab, we’ve begun developing lightweight VR experiences on mobile using the gyroscope and accelerometer for motion controls that let the player peer through their device into a virtual world. In fact, the idea came from a game jam prototype. We all played Pokemon Snap as kids and were wondering why a game like that didn’t exist on mobile. For those of you who don’t know, Pokemon Snap was a photo safari game for N64.
We looked at our phones and realized... we have a game console, that’s also a camera and has sensors in it that allow us to use the device as the controller. We knew what we had to do and 24hrs later we had the first prototype of our new game. Now, we’re not the only ones thinking this way... Google recently announced a way to transform your Android device into a VR headset using a foldable piece of cardboard. It’s no Oculus... But, it’s another great example of how VR is quickly becoming a reality.
This is a screenshot from one of my favorite Freddie Wong videos. It’s a vision of the ultimate augmented reality experience. Unfortunately, this is still years off... But, exciting none the less. Now, most augmented reality experiences today still feel like a cheap gimmick. But, there are some emerging technologies that show a lot of promise... Google’s Project Tango involves a next-gen mobile device that has human-like understanding of space and motion and will allow for much more compelling augmented reality experiences in the coming years. With highly detailed 3D maps of our surroundings, game developers will be able to integrate assets into the real world, rather than simply placing overlays on your screen and blocking reality.
Google Glass also represents a potentially huge opportunity for gaming... I expect the first gaming applications on Glass will be complementary to core game experiences on other platforms. For instance, your playing a game on your TV, computer or mobile device and the HUD is visible on your Glass. There are a few companies including Mind Pirate that are focused on creating games specifically for Glass and I’m really excited to check out what they come up with.
Mobile devices are revolutionizing entertainment even in the living room through second screen gaming. Ubisoft speaks extensively on this. They have 4 games with robust mobile companions: Watch Dogs, Assassin's Creed IV, The Division, and The Crew. Cross-platform gaming means building a connected universe for your player, and increasingly for a lot of people, mobile could be their first entry point.
Second screen gaming represents an exciting opportunity for Indies as well.. With easier access to consoles through XBLA, PSN, and Ouya and the proliferation of cross-platform development tools like Unity, I think we’ll see a lot of indies adding mobile counterparts to their console games and vice versa in the near future.
WEARABLESThere’s a lot of hype right now around smart watches and other wearables. Due to limit screen real estate, the first gaming applications we’ll see on these devices most will likely be really simple games as well as heads up displays or notification centers for games you’re playing on other devices.
They could also be used as input devices or controllers for games you’re playing on other screens. There’s already a few great examples of apps that gamify fitness, like Zombie Run, that tracks how fast you are moving as you run away from a virtual horde of zombies. I expect that we’ll see more creative experiences like this when the next wave of wearable devices hits the market.
I don’t know about you, but I love robots... When I first heard about Romo, a robot that brings your phone to life, and Sphero, an intelligent orb that you can control with your phone, I immediately pre-ordered them for myself and some of my robot loving friends. The incredible success of integrated smart toys like Skylanders, Disney Infinity, and Telepods is a testament to the great potential of peripherals. Other examples like Anki Drive, the iPhone controlled RC cars debuted at WWDC last year, could redefine existing genres and open up new categories of games on the App Store. Which is a great segue into my final point...
I challenge all of us to start incorporating game jam principles into our development process, begin exploring these new frontiers and focus on working together to move the industry forward.