It's been a while since I've participated in a game jam! Usually once a year the Excalibur.js team gets together in person to do a game for the Ludum Dare game jam. In 2020 we didn't participate since it's usually in April and well, yeah... you get it.
Ludum Dare is split into the "compo" which is 48 hours for a single person and the "game jam" which is 72 hours with a team. We've always done the jam but if I find a spare 48 hours in the future, I'd love to do the compo myself.
For 2021 we decided to participate and it ended up being a larger team of 8 people. That might sound like a lot (it is!) but since not every person worked all 72 hours, it ended up splitting up duties nicely. For example, I mostly worked nights and then spent the day Monday on the game.
The theme of the jam was "Deeper and deeper." The game we came up with is Meerkattika and it is a metal-themed meerkat digging game. Yep! Dig your way through the underground to perform your sets and avoid Snek, the mecha snake.
I will say I did not expect to be working on a metal-themed game featuring meerkats but I love metal so I'll take it. It ended up being a lot of fun! My major contribution was the underground sets that damage the snake by using the power of metal 🤘 Using the hilarious meerkat assets created by Carolyn, I was able to piece together a semblance of a metal concert that twists and damages Snek using a freebie pack of heavy metal music samples.
Contributing the underground sets
My contributions to the game were done Friday-Sun evenings and then I took a day off work Monday to focus on it and that's when I was able to finish the underground sets. On Monday morning, there wasn't a ton of "metal theming" yet but since Carolyn had created the band assets over the weekend I could basically run with it and add SFX to give it the metal feel.
The underground sets were done by transitioning to a new "scene" in Excalibur. The meerkats dig as a group and so my thought was it would be funny if they fell through into a cavern onto a waiting set, play a quick riff that hurts the snake, and then have to escape the snake once more by digging out.
With the time constraints I had, it wasn't exactly how I would have loved to see it but hey! It's a game jam so MVP is the name of the game (literally). I basically did some iterative coding where each run-through was still a completely playable game but with the niceties missing. As I had time, I added each thing I wanted: playing instruments, tumbling around, messed up snake, etc. Overall I'm happy with how it turned out!
The other smaller contributions I made included the name of the band and the font selection, the tunnel "edging" (the dirt edges of the tunnels), and some of the final metal sound effects.
Friday evening was spent brainstorming. We had several solid ideas:
- Metal meerkat game (the one we decided on)
- A tree-root growing defense game
- A dream-hacking inception-style game
We had many other ideas but we usually like to go with ones that are less obvious and more uniquely themed to try and stand out. A game with a metal meerkat band was sufficiently unique I'd say!
This is actually the second jam we've done where most of us have been remote. We usually love to get together in person or even do a "retreat" like going to one of our cabins to do a jam. Obviously given the circumstances that wasn't an option (hopefully 2022!).
To coordinate with 8 people, we set up a Trello board and then we used our existing Discord server with a dedicated voice and text channel to hop into whenever someone was working. The Trello board made it easy to see who was working on what and what was already done so we could hit the ground running whenever we had time.
Tools and tech
For sound editing I usually use Audacity since it's simple and free but to generate sfx, we use tools like Bfxr. For this game, the backing loop was done by Alan's own fingers on his guitar (of Sweep Stacks sound effects fame) and then the rest was some of Erik's mouth sounds (😅) plus the heavy metal samples.
Until next time!
You can view the source code on GitHub but don't take any of it as "best practice" as it's far from it 😉 It is totally a 72-hours-to-write-a-game kinda code and shouldn't be let anywhere near a production game codebase!
It felt amazing to finally make a fun little game again and I'm looking forward to getting back together in person for the next jam in 2022!