Nordic Game Jam 2012

NGJ12 BraceletI attended the 2012 edition of the Nordic Game Jam at the IT University of Copenhagen from the 27th to the 29th of  January. I was helping out during the organization of the Nordic Game Jam, as well as volunteering and jamming during the actual event. This meant that I attended organization meetings from as early as October in order to discuss how to best organize such a large event. I was also assigned shifts for helping out in the preparation of meals and in the kitchen, as well as actually participating in the Game Jam by creating a game.

But before the actual Nordic Game Jam itself, it’s important to mention the SpilBar and the Pre-Party which occurred on the 26th of January. SpilBar 8 featured the favourite gaming moments of several people involved in games, such as several people from Danish indie companies, as well as the Dutch indie company Vlambeer.

Friday, 27th of January was the official day of the Nordic Game Jam, and it started out with several talks from both professional developers as well as indie developers. There were a total of 11 talks, where 6 of them were in the Main track, and the rest were in the Indie track. The talks from both tracks occurred at the same time however, so I had to jump around from one track to another in order to get the most out of the speakers’ talks. There were some interesting topics raised, such as the ability to work around constraints when making games, rapid game development in Unity, as well as the concept of intellectual property in games.

Eventually, it was time to form groups and get to work to make games. I decided to make a board game, so I headed down to the DesignLab and eventually ended up in a team of around 10 people, all of them pitching ideas that they encountered from the group forming process. Eventually, one of the group brought over a board game from the resource pile that contained hexagonal tiles, and these were quickly used  as our constraint to make a game. We then split up into two smaller groups when it became fairly clear which people wanted to work with which ideas.

The idea we formed around was one where there could only be 3 hexagonal tiles in play, and once one was placed, another was removed. We quickly jumped to the idea of having smaller hexagonal tiles inside the large hexagonal tile, and after some discussions, the game slowly started taking shape.

Mussades Early Prototype
An early prototype of our game

Above, you can see the first prototype of our game, where players had to draw cards and move their characters through hexagonal grid. Dice were used to hold the paper prototype down, since it was small and fiddly. After going through several iterations of our cards, and realizing what worked and what didn’t, we realized that our room tiles were too small to be usable and too unwieldy to comfortably playtest, so we created larger versions of the room tiles. We also found better pieces that could reliably represent players in the game.

Mussades Second Prototype
The second prototype of our game.

The second prototype also allowed us to avoid half-hexagonal tiles, since we cut those out. This allowed us to  connect the rooms in various interesting ways. However, playtesting showed that the first player was being removed from the game fairly quickly, but the rest of the game dragged on indefinitely. The longest play session we encountered so far was at 45 minutes! We realized that due to feature creep, we needed to rethink the cards as well as the movement system. By allowing cards to double both as movement cards and as special action cards,  games started to become much quicker. Another feature we added was the idea that the game would end when the 7th tile was picked up, which we dubbed the final tile. This would stop players from going through the same tiles and thus go on forever. We also realized that once a player was out of the game, he did not have any interaction with the rest of the players still in the game. To counter this, we added what we called Guilty Conscience cards. These cards allow players that have left the game to have an influence on the players that are still in the game.

Mussades Third Prototype
The third prototype of our game.

We eventually settled on an Arabian theme for the game and explained to players that they were a group of bandits that were running through the palace to escape after a foiled robbery of the Caliph’s palace. The artwork of the game was therefore Arabian inspired, as can be seen in the picture above. This eventually led to us deciding on the name Mussades as the name of our submission, as well as Sugarush as the name of our team, since we were operating on very little sleep.

After a long Saturday night, where I slept for 1 hour in an auditorium (usually used to give lectures), and 2 hours on a sofa in ITU’s DesignLab, we had the rest of Sunday morning to polish up our third prototype as well as hastily create and submit a trailer for the game before the deadline, as required for the Global Game Jam submissions.

The contestants were split up into 3 different auditoriums and had to give presentations of the games they had created over the course of the Nordic Game Jam. 3 different games were voted as the best from the audience each auditorium, as well as 1 game selected by the jury, meaning that 12 games were chosen as finalists. These were:

Eventually, the award ceremony began, where the team behind each game had to first give a presentation in front of all 300 of the participants. The first awards to be given out were the awards for the separately running board game competition:

  1. Mussades – Sugarush (Youtube link)
  2. Blue Print – Hexagonians (Youtube link)
  3. Ring the Gong – The Brotherhood – Part1Part2 (Youtube link)
  4. Who Took The Apple – Lau’s Fantastic Team (Youtube link)

The winner of the Nordic Food game competition was also presented:

After that, the jury (made up of 4 different people) chose one game each as their favourite, as well as giving an explanation of why they had chosen that particular game. These games were:

And finally, we progressed to the Audience’s Choice awards, where the audience could vote for their favourite game from the finalists presented. These were:

  1. Simon Gustafsson Two And A Fjers Men [Haha] – Redgrim (Youtube link)
  2. Spelunca – Spelunca Habitante (Youtube link)
  3. Who Took The Apple – Lau’s Fantastic Team (Youtube link)
Sugarush Team
Sugarush, the team that created Mussades during the Nordic Game Jam 2012

All in all, I felt that attending the Nordic Game Jam was a fantastic experience, and any budding games designer or developer should consider attending a similar game jam, as you get the chance to meet new people, as well as work in completely different environments.

(Thanks to Anders Lystad Brevik for the run-down of all the winners in the awards ceremony.)

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