IGDA Toronto: Tiny TOJam Postmortems, June 8 2011
On a Thursday evening in Toronto, a journalist told an assembled group to “kill your babies” and everyone seemed to agree with her. No, this wasn't some infanticide advocacy group; this was IGDA Toronto's “Straight Outta TOJam: Pint-Sized Postmortems” event held at Metro Hall on June 9th, 2011. The event was organized to showcase a few of the stories and lessons learned during the recent Toronto Indie Game Jam.
If you've never heard of TOJam before, here's the brief: it's an annual gathering of programmers, artists, designers, musicians, enthusiasts, and anyone interested in making video games, who get together for three days and do just that. Hosted this year by George Brown College and attended by over 200 people, this year's “Sixy Times” jam resulted in the creation of over 80 games. During the Tiny TOJam Postmortems, we had the opportunity to hear from just a few of the teams and volunteers who participated.
The evening began with Team IBEHARD, a group featuring two journalists who had no prior experience making video games. Referring to themselves as “The Experiment”, the pair presented the lessons they had learned crafting Bacon Shark, a reverse-time puzzle sidescroller. First and foremost among those lessons was to not try to make a reverse-time puzzle sidescroller during a three-hour game jam. It was Emily Claire Afan who uttered “kill your babies”, referring to the editorial practice of sacrificing or cutting what you might love about a project that is ultimately hindering it. The team emphasized the importance of positive reinforcement throughout the creation process, and demonstrated how a clever hook and persistent tweeting can generate a significant amount of buzz for a game before it's ever completed. Bacon Shark had become an indie darling even as Team IBEHARD was knee-deep in crafting its time paradox sandwich gods and jet-propelled pork-product protagonist. They closed their segment with advice from Joseph Ducreux: “Hatred originating from disreputable gentlemen is going to continually persist.”
Next on the mic was one Troy Morrisey, a sound designer and composer as well as the CEO of D.A.R.C. Productions. Troy wasn't part of a team, per se: he was a floater, a volunteer who could (and did) help out several teams with his particular skills. As someone who already works in sound & music production in the video game industry, Troy got a chance to be involved at a much earlier stage of a game's development than he typically would. He encouraged developers to involve sound & music production earlier in the dev cycle; he felt games are still being treated like films with respect to audio, and that approaching these elements near the end of the cycle misses opportunities. Managing to sleep for only four hours over the entire weekend, Troy managed to compose dozens of songs and hundreds of sound effects (some while he was unconscious, apparently). Only a portion of these found their way into TOJam games, leaving Troy with a hefty addition to is production repertoire.
Randy Orenstein introduced us to Team Discovery Channel (not to be confused by the Capybara's Team Discovery Channel HD), which attempted to bring us a game of moral choices based visually on Heironymus Bosch's striking painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights”. It was nice to see Randy living up to the challenge he posed to the community during last March's Open Mic rants. Unfortunately, Team Discovery Channel was unable to complete their game during TOJam, and Randy presented their failures as essential lessons for future Jammers. The hardest lesson learned was the value of proper pipeline management. Ensuring that the right resources were being developed at the right time, and ensuring they were being done in the right format, would have gone a long way to turning their game (dubbed “Parable”) into a completed work.
In contrast, Team Golden Slug took what they had gleaned from prior Jams and put it to great use crafting Poppycock, a Victorian-esque sidescroller involving dapper werewolves and Dread Cthulhu. Consisting of a subset of Golden Gear Games, the team kept their project scope reasonable and effectively managed their pipeline using SVN. Screenshots from various stages of the game's development helped give us a clear idea of how Poppycock progressed from concept to prototype to completion. The team shared some of the lessons they learned from prior, less successful Jams, such as establishing common expectations with your team before the event (so you don't end up with, say, a team member having to leave each evening to DJ and sleep through the remaining days).
The final presenter of the night was Damian Somner, a solo Jammer responsible for the punishing co-op platformer A Friendship In 4 Colours. Damian had a project well underway when he realized it just wouldn't work in the time available, causing him to abandon it and start fresh. Once he got things rolling again, he managed to make record time and finish early. However, he later discovered a fatal flaw involving controller support when he had precious little time to fix it, showing us all the value of using available time to test and polish. Naturally, Damian's presentation came with a little pimping: he and Jason Kaplan just released Flew The Coop, an iOS game involving escaping chickens.
The ceremony was mastered by Ryan Henson Creighton, who proved he still had all the coins by detailing the growing media attention surrounding Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure (he's talking toys and TV shows at this point). The congregation retired to Bar 244 for $3 beers and some stimulating conversation over above-regulation-volume music. A few laptops were whipped out and some TOJam games were on display, as well as They Bleed Pixels (currently under production at Spooky Squid). Toronto ex-pat Erin Robinson, visiting from Phoenix, polled the crowd for feedback on her upcoming game.
(Edit: The survey is now complete. Thanks very much to all filled it out!)
For all those who attended the event, a survey has been posted to pick the best presentation and collect suggestions for next month's IGDA Toronto event. A ticket to the IGDA Summit in Seattle is up for grabs, so follow this link and leave your feedback!
Thanks to the fabulously good-looking and always entertaining Ryan (and, to a far lesser extent, Lesley) for organizing the event.