It is done! 180 people this year, 160 of them on-site. And amazingly, with 35 more people than TOJam 3, it actually felt less hectic. The organizers were more sane and better rested, and actually had time to sit and chat more.

Pro Tip:Talking to Jim McGinley for 30 minutes or so when you are exhausted to the point of passing out will generally restore your energy for the remainder of the day. Or at least long enough for the caffeine to take over

As always, I had an awesome time, even if I was more tired this year than previous years. That largely due to the fact that I was up until 3 am the night before the Jam trying to get SVN set up on my machine so that Alex and I could forego the USB time sync. Irrational Escalation at its finest.

Alex covered the event really well with some video blogs. Find them here.

There were some fantastic games out there, I sunk quite a bit of time into Michael Todd’s dogfighting game. Shawn McGrath’s game would probably conquer XBox Live Arcade if it were to appear there. Some screenshots and description of our game after the cut

Our game this year was “Reentry” a game about misplaced guidance systems and creepy starship pilots. This year had a lot of ups and down for us.

Good: Sound and music

This year’s game used more sound assets than all 4 of the previous games I’ve worked on put together.

Reentry Title Page

Alex worked with a friend of his to record voice tracks for the main characters who I have dubbed Captain Helium and Lt. Commander Creeper McShady. The voices
add a lot to the experience. The game feels a little dull without them, but that’s in line with our plan. The characters are a big part of the design.

We also got a great music track from chiptune artist OxygenStar and editted it into 3 loops connected by transitions. It turned out great.

For sound effects, we used SFXR, which belongs in every indie developer’s toolbox. Thanks to Steven Hill for throwing that one our way. All of the sound effects in the game were generated by Alex using this tool. I’m excited to try out the music creation tool Musagi by the same developer

Bad: Source Control

If you ever think about trying to set up SVN the night before a 72-hour game development event, and further think about starting at 11 pm, with no prior experience doing so, do yourself a favour and don’t.

Reentry Screenshot

Our hackjob solution made me worry quite a bit but ended up working out. We set up the Flex project on Alex’s computer in a network share folder and both pointed our environments at that location directly. There were some hiccups where one of us would temporarily break the build for the other, but I don’t think we lost more than 30 mins over the course of the Jam. That’s much better than what we wasted with our USB juggling last year.

Next year I’ll try to get SVN set up again, but this time a month in advance at least.

Good: Scope Control

We wanted to aim for a smaller game idea this year. We have trended towards big ideas before, and felt that it didn’t leave us enough time to refine the gameplay for the actual fun factor. I think we pulled it off this time, despite ignoring a game breaking bug right until the end of the event.

Reentry Screenshot

Balancing ship movement to be challenging without killing you was very time consuming You have to click the appropriate thruster and hold the mouse down (not necessarily over the thruster) to keep it firing. There are two thrusters that push your ship side to side, and two more that control your rotation. Figuring out the right amount of force for each engine to apply, as well as turbulence and impacts took up a pretty significant chunk of my time at the event.

Next time I’m adding some mechanism to adjust these values in the game itself, to make tweaking less time consuming

Bad: Miscommunication

This mostly happened prior to the event, but apparently everyone had a different picture in their head of what the game would actually look and play like up until the week of the event.

Reentry Screenshot

It wasn’t until we actually started sketching out the game that everything became clear. Lesson learned. The storyboard comes before everything else. It’s much harder to have a misunderstanding based on visual information than written or spoken information.

Things To Change Next Year

Based on my experience this year, there are several things I want to keep in mind when TOJam 6 rolls around. Some good practices from previous years were not observed, and they proved their value in their absence.

  1. Use an engine. Not using Flixel this time made sense, but the decision should have come earlier, and a more appropriate technology selected. The best games every year leverage existing technologies. Motor physics really gave us a leg up last year.
  2. Simple gameplay. We went simpler this year, in terms of number of mechanics, but we didn’t actually choose a simpler mechanic for the core of the game.
  3. Revive last year’s formal approach. Alex and I both work better against a well defined schedule. Not having one this year wasn’t a good change
  4. Prove it’s fun ahead of time. We took a risk on this one with a small idea and really only one major mechanic that we hadn’t seen much of elsewhere. I liked doing this, but there should have been some pre-Jam prototyping just to be sure that the idea was actually a good one.
  5. Consider abstract graphics. Every year so far I’ve worked with representative graphics, and it can be limiting in some ways even if it brings a lot of benefits along with it. Besides, if Miguel Sternberg can make a game without developers, we need to show him we can make a game without artists!