Main » 2013 » July » 14 » On mini jams

2:49 PM
On mini jams
I saw a presentation by Christiaan Janssen (here), one of the founders of the Berlin Mini Jam. He asked for some feedback on it, so I decided to write him and we talked a bit. He suggested I make a blog post about it, to bring the discussion out in the open, so here it is.
I thought it would be a good idea to illustrate how collision detection overlaps disciplines so I made this little test in 2 hours (and wasted about 6 hours on finding and creating this blog). I stole most of the code and the cloud graphics from here.
It is by no means the only way to do collisions in a game.
Unfortunately it also doesn't illustrate my point very clear so it kind of is a failure, but you can very quickly test how games can feel very different from eachother.

First, click on the flash window to make sure the keys do something.
Left, right and space move the player.
So first off, you will notice it is pretty shitty.
It is slow.
So turn up the speed to 480 or so by typing into the speed field and pressing the update button.
That's a bit better, now jump onto the platform. (Increase jump accel. to increase jump height)

As you can see, working with block shapes is pretty easy. You can fine tune it and then it controls ok.
Once you are on the platform, you can get the rayman gba effect by setting the zoom to 2 (and press update).
Now you can't see the ground anymore, which is bad because you just took away the player's decision to decide on what to do. The only option is a leap of faith. And if you're a bastard you would make the ground all spikes and the player would die of frustration.
So set the zoom back and now, to get the old SNES-THQ game feel, set the width to 80 and click the toggle sprite button. I stole the sprite from this old guy davinci. So now walk up to the only block with eyes, he looks mad, he is the enemy. You'll get hit even though your arms and legs are clearly not touching him. That is a box collision detection and it sucks, but sometimes you have to use it. So shape becomes very important.
You can fiddle around with it some more.

Excerpts from the discussion:
About Systems:
"I want to make a sort of philosophical note about systems and games. First, in pragmatic terms I think Christiaan is right about systems. Within the context of a mini game jam, new systems quickly take too much time to develop. But I think the point could be to create a system instead of a game. The term game may be sort of getting in the way.
Quick link (look for: leaving video games" behind)
What I mean is that a lot of interesting people might get turned off by the term game. Art games, Systems, Educational programs, maybe even sims, are all things that may not really fit within the term 'game'. But there might be a lot of people who can find themselves in those things more easily than with the word game. I think in a broad sense, it is mostly interactivity that inspires ideas and attracts creative people than does the game element. That just attracts gamers.
And the other way to see it of course is that games are for gamers, by gamers. And that we will expand the term game and gamer to people who use apps and other programs by calling everything we make a game.

So I'm unsure about what the goal is for the mini jam, I am kind of worried that it has 80% programmers and it becomes a tech thing. I think embracing all disciplines is a great thing, but at the same time there is also the danger of falling apart if the core or the glue between those disciplines isn't strong enough if you leave out the context of a game.

So concerning systems, I think that if your goal is exploring a system, then it can be interesting and that is a valid thing to do. The space between two people for instance

On working together with people from different disciplines:
"It is mentioned that people in general don't know much about programming. So that could be opened up a bit more. There's logic, not magic. And certain things take a lot of time to program. Especially game designers should be very aware of this. It is a very valuable skill to have this knowledge. And for artists it is very valuable to know how collision detection works for instance because it is something where disciplines cross. A programmer implements it, but a designer need to think about how it should work and tweak it afterwards, he also needs to determine the size of the shapes and communicate with the graphic artist, and if there's a sound effect, the exact moment when it triggers also needs to be determined, and ideally this is not just quickly done by the programmer.
As examples there are so many 2d games where this is wrong and it ruins those games. Take any old thq game for the snes (family dog, rocky & bullwinkle, ren & stimpy). The same way a bounding box can make things feel off, the size of shapes or camera has a really big influence. (rayman on gba has great graphics but you can't see where you're jumping). And that is what happens when people do not talk and understand each other."

Category: Experiments | Views: 538 | Added by: Garfunkel
Total comments: 3
Thanks for your trouble getting your reply here smile

Haha yeah... What I intended to illustrate was how collision detection is too often
programmer-only turf, whereas it actually deals with a lot of other
disciplines. So I wanted to open it up a bit, so non programmers can
play with it and realize how much of an impact shapes and sizes and
everything else can have on gameplay. And that they should keep it in
mind and have a say in it.

Yes I'm telling people to hassle programmers smile
It's with the intenton to make development more cross-discipline. At least to raise the awareness of it.

I think words and terms often get too bloated and get misused, words
like love and art for instance. With the word game there is a long
discussion to be had.. and gamasutra has a long history on it,
interactive toys etc..
In practice however your free approach to the minijam seems pretty much perfect so in that respect I wouldn't
worry to much about it.
It's connecting to non-gamers I'm still unsure about. When trying to expand games I think a lot of people won't
think about them as games. So then a disconnect happens. Because "games
are for kids" right? smile So that expansion might not be seen as a game.

So by abandoning "game" you kind of force people to look harder and
understand it a little bit better. How would people describe something
like windows, serious games, a sim, or Jane McGonigal's "games for
change" games..
I think what the game developer magazine staff is saying is that forms of games or interactivity will be everywhere and
the term game becomes to big for it's own good.

But maybe the problem will sort itself with the younger generations.

On multi-disciplines:
I very much agree.
And yes definitely, one fundamental thing of working together I always
found working well is to 'leave your ego at the door'. But, this is in
total contrast to the 'author' persona that has always been fundamental
to art. And it's an interesting situation. Group dynamics in creation
can be very fascinating and total magic, and sometimes complete apathy. I
do not have a handle on it, a magic formula.

Thanks again,

Thanks for taking the time to post this. Not only did you write the blog post, you also made a prototype! smile

I'm not sure about how the prototype illustrates the points though...

I read the link you provided about "Leaving video games behind". It got
me thinking for the past couple of days. My opinion at this moment is
that I don't agree with what they said. Explaining why would be a long
rant; I only have half-formed thoughts by now. I will have to leave a
detailed discussion for later.

What I can say, in connection to our jams, is that we understand "game" to have a rather broad meaning,
encompassing all the examples that you mention and many more. We
explicitly tell the participants, in every jam, "do whatever you want,
don't stress over making a finished full game". We never give a
definition of what "game" means, and we welcome any contribution of any
kind. On the other hand, taking part in a jam is always more gratifying
if you have something to show at the end of it. So, even though they
don't have to, I would suggest participants to focus on small prototypes
that can be easily understood by an audience when shown through a
projector, if only for the reward of the reactions from the public.

That being said, games are still our primary focus, and as you point
out there would be a risk on blurring the focus of the jams too much. We
still feel that we need to have the word "games" in the name, with the
hope that we can attract a public interested in "playful interactive
works", to call them somehow.

If the general understanding of "game" is too narrow, I prefer the approach of exploring what else games
can be, and trying to change preconceptions by creating examples that
challenge such definitions.

The "leaving video games behind" link, though, argues the opposite of what we are saying. They argue that
the term "video game" is too generic and we should split the whole
scene in mutually exclusive factions, based on genre. E-sports on one
side, hardcore shooters in another, and so on. I have several qualms
with such idea, but I need to reflect some more time to figure out how
to put them into words.

About the jams being too tech-focused, that is something we also worry about and try to prevent. We take part
in other activities and make a concious effort to promote the jams among
other communities.
(Comment too long... continued below)

About your second point, I agree: multi-disciplinary teams should communicate
well and use the project as an opportunity to learn about each others'
work. Exchange of ideas and knowledge is always positive and one of the
goals of our jams.

In the presentation, I didn't mean that teammates shouldn't criticise each other's work, although I see how it
could come across like that.

My point was rather that there's a difference between the types of criticisms I will receive as a
programmer, and the ones a graphic designer gets. The reason for this
difference is perceived barrier of entry. Programming is seen as hard
and people are hesitant to comment on it unless they already have some
background in the field. In contrast, choosing the color of the clothes
of your character is something everyone feels entitled to have a say in.
However, when an artist chooses one color above other, that decision is
informed by an understanding of color harmony and a sense of balanced
composition, and an idea of the direction the visuals of the project are
going, etcetera. There is something behind the decision that is not
easily seen by the untrained eye, yet it makes a big difference.
Personal taste also has a part in the choice, but it's not the only

My point in the presentation was to ask people to respect this fact. Often everything comes into place when the piece is
finished, then all the design decisions taken during the process make
sense in hindsight. During development, you don't have to refrain from
commenting, feedback is always welcome. But you should keep in mind that
there is a (quite literal in this case) big picture yet to be seen, if
you have a different opinion on how the visuals should look, try at
least not to be too stubborn about it.

I appreciate and respect the work that graphic designers and visual artists do. I find it hard.
When I have to work on the composition a scene, I can see if it "feels"
right or it "feels" wrong, like everybody can, but it's very hard for me
to point out why, to figure out what element has to be changed how, in
order to correct the mistakes. I try to be aware of this limitation when
commenting on someone else's work.

Compared to that, in regards to my work, looking at a blob of 500 lines of code is always
intimidating, even when it's your speciality. I have the luxury that
observations on my code come from people who do give very valuable
feedback when they do, because of this "barrier of entry" I was talking
about. (Although it can still happen: a pointless discussion based on
gut feelings about how things should be done. Programmers call it

Best regards,

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