This post mortem describes the development of the game Bee a Hero which was created for the Global Game Jam 2020 in Graz over the course of 48 hours. As usual this document is structured into two parts which describe what went right or better than expected and a part which describes what went wrong or could have been better. Everything that’s written here is from my perspective but I hope that my teammates think the same.
What went right or better than expected
Networking before and during the jam
The plan for this game jam was to drive to Graz with one of my university colleagues, but unfortunately he decided to skip the jam a few days before. My motivation to go there was a little down, but I stuck to my appointment and went there because I wanted to see the game dev community in Graz and do some networking. And that’s what I did. Before the jam started I got to know a handful of people. One of them was a good musician, which is a rarity at game jams and I hoped that we will be in the same team later. I continued the networking throughout the game jam and also afterwards which got me into contact with some cool and talented game developers.
After the brainstorming phase, it was time to form teams around the roughly 20 ideas written on the black board. I picked three of the games which I thought could be fun to implement. One of them was the game I pitched, but there was no big interest and my focus shifted to the other two game ideas which were “Virgin Bee” and “Otter Space”. As usual for game jams, there were way too many programmers and I feared that it was finally time to work together with at least another programmer. I was able to avoid this scenario for all my other game jams, because I didn’t want to waste too much time with merge conflicts which can be a pain in the ass. However, I decided to work together with 2 other programmers, a 2d artist and a musician, which turned out to be Michael who I met before the jam. All of them really looked talented to me which turned out to be 100% correct.
After finding my team, it was time to get to work and make an awesome game. The first step as always is to refine the concept and get everybody to understand it, which was done fairly quickly. After that I usually start to program the fundamental game mechanics and try to get them right. However, this was not the case this time, because Fabian, one of the other programmers, pushed us to do paper prototyping. I learned what paper prototyping is about in my Game Studies and Engineering course, but I was thinking that it does not make much sense and, therefore, labeled it as useless. To my surprise it turned out to be the complete opposite. First of all, it was a lot of fun to cut out all the pieces, draw the play area and test it out. We came up with some additional game mechanics, like the mite, which all of them turned out to be in the final game. So. 100% not useless and I think that I will use it for future game jams and game ideas.
One very important topic for game jams and basically for every project is the task assignment and tracking. I usually use Trello for this purpose because it is set up very quickly and people easily understand how to use it. Additionally, I had to use it for a lot of my game jams because they were online. For this game jam however, Fabian decided to choose a workplace close to a wall or window, because he is a big fan of physical Kanban boards. And what can I say, I’m a fan of them now as well. It was a total blast to see the window fill up with post its and moving them around feels so much better than just dragging the cards around in Trello. In addition, people are really using this board because I have countless examples of people just ignoring Trello and not filling out any cards or moving them around. In the end we really managed to put all tasks to the done column and only reject a handful of tasks which were no real game changers for the game.
Now to one of the topics I was most afraid of, having multiple programmers. It turned out very quickly that we were only two programmers because Peter, the organizer of the event, signed up for several game ideas and we told him that it is fine if he works on one of the other projects and that two programmers should be enough for this game. So, there was only one other programmer I had to work with. We both were happy with using Unity as our game engine, Github for version control and Google Drive for sharing graphics and music assets. The project was quickly set up and I directly split up the scenes because I know that these can cause the biggest problems when merging. Afterwards we made a clear distinction who was working on which tasks. Fabian was responsible for the game mechanics, with me laying the groundwork on the first day, and I was responsible for everything else, including scene transitions, animations and implementation of the graphics, music and sound effects. We managed to work very efficiently on our tasks with only having 4 merge conflicts which were solved within seconds. Overall it was a real blast to have Fabian in the project, because he is very experienced and I could trust him fully on his part. In addition, I could fully focus on implementing all the assets and make everything look as beautiful as possible, which is often left behind because I have to program the mechanics too when working alone.
Working with random people on game jams is always a little tricky because you don’t know how good they really are in their field. But there was no need to worry, because Daniela is a graphics designer in her daily work and as soon as she pulled out her huge drawing tablet, it was sure that the graphics in our game will be top notch. At the start she quickly put together some placeholder graphics, so that Fabian and I could start programming. Afterwards she experimented a little with different concepts for the play area and the characters, switching the standard bee hive idea with trying to reach the queen into having space bees that try to repair their ship to escape. The game area was kept in clear colors and forms, but the background was the part where Daniela really showed what she was capable of. It just looks amazing and got the little extra with the moving planets. Additionally, working with her was really nice, because she instantly understood what parts I wanted to have changed and she was providing updated graphics very fast, which speed up the whole game development process a lot.
Now to our last team member, for whom I, again, only have positive things to mention. First of all, he is fully specialized in music production and he was super dedicated for his first game jam. He brought a microphone, keyboard, guitar and ukulele (and maybe some other instruments which I didn’t see) to the game jam. It might have been a bit of an overkill, but it shows how serious he was about the game jam, which I love, because I share the same attitude. Working with him was, similar to my other teammates, really awesome. He quickly threw together several tracks for the background music, then worked on a different and more relaxed menu music and several sound effects. All of the sounds really fit together perfectly, which from my experience is most of the time not the case. Due to him being this experienced, he was also able to help out another team with music for their game, which is also really cool from him. Helping others is important and very welcomed at game jams.
What went wrong or could have been better
I really had to think hard about what I could put into this part of the post mortem, because the overall experience was super positive. However, I found three topics with which I was not fully happy with. The first one was the brainstorming phase at the start of the jam. I grouped up with the three people sitting around me and we started to come up with ideas for the theme “Repair”. Peter introduced us to a different approach for brainstorming, which we did not try out, but I think we should have. For whatever reason the ideas were only flowing slowly and some of them were kinda boring and not worth pitching, at least from my perspective. I don’t know why we had problems coming up with ideas, but I have to admit that I was not feeling very creative that day. So the blame is for sure also on my side.
Right from the start of the paper prototyping it was clear that we would go for a very random based game regarding the mite positioning and the generation of the tiles for the user. Fabian added a weighing option for the probability of the different tiles (1 to 6 open doors). But as seen at the play testing, it was clear that sometimes you are just not able to finish even the first level if the luck is completely against you. We then increase the chance of the tiles with more open doors which made it more likely to get good tiles, but especially in later levels with having more mites it could turn out impossible again. Unfortunately, the time was too short and we were not able to come up with another solution to reduce the randomness. However, the balancing issue is something that should be focused on heavily, if we decide to work on the game in the future. Maybe we should change the game system to having predefined levels.
As with every game jam, it is difficult to really implement the theme into the game. With some themes and game ideas it is easier, but with others, only part of the theme is implemented in the game and there is a lot of room for interpretation. I think our game falls into the latter category because the “Repair” theme is not clearly visible, although mentioned in the queen dialogue. However, the game idea is brilliant and the mechanic is very interesting and it is often better to stick to a good game idea instead of restricting yourself with the theme too much. This game jam was just for the sake of making games and it had no competitive aspect (voting at the end) and, therefore, deviating from the theme is OK for me.
It should be rather clear from the amount of positive and negative points that the game jam was a very positive experience for me and I’m quite sure also for my team. It was a real blast to work on our game and I would not say not to work on other games or projects with Fabian, Daniela and Michael. Now go and check out our game and all the other games we have created so far.