The Epic Mega Jam
What a jam it was.
This blog is going to take a bit of a detour from War Ender and talk about a totally different project. I'm referring to Intense Security at Burnwick End, a game created for the Epic Mega Jam. If interested, head on over here and give the game a whirl. Now, why am I talking about this? Well, it's because I worked on it! Marketing! :P
But seriously, I'll link this and War Ender at the end. For now, let me tell you the tale of my intense seven days working on intense security. It was very intense. (alright, I'll stop) I hadn't been in any jam since I was about 17 or 18 years old. So we're talking AT LEAST four years since I took on any kind of jam. For those not in the know, a game jam is an event where, typically over the span of two or three days, an individual or group work on a brand new project, usually one that has some theme tied into the game. In this case, the jam went unusually long, going a whole seven days. In addition, there were a couple other unique points about this jam. First, the project HAD to be created in Unreal Engine 4, and the theme of this jam was "However Vast The Darkness, We Must Supply Our Own Light." As jam themes go, it's a pretty broad one, and extremely open to interpretation. I learned of it through a friend whom I had worked with several times in the past, and being in a very new place in life (more on that in a bit), I joined his team as programmer. At the time he had also already gotten a couple sound and music guys to help, and he was working on finding an artist for the task. It wasn't long before we found an artist, and from there it was just a matter of waiting for the jam to start.
Once the theme was announced, we went straight away to deciding what kind of game we were going to make. We quickly settled on the idea that you're playing as a person working some kind of office job, where he can send mail and packages as needed. From there, it was a matter of working out how that can tie into the theme. There's a few different ways I feel we did this: one, in the game, as the player plays, the lights will brighten or dim depending on how he's doing, so the idea was to encourage the player to do a good job to keep the lights bright. You could also argue that, given the many inspirations from WWII we had when coming up with story and atmosphere, that the game also works into the theme in a very metaphorical way. The current war (it's not explicitly WWII, but again, heavily inspired) is leaving many in a dark, hopeless place, but through your small actions you can bring a little light into the hearts and minds of the people around you.
With a game idea in mind, everyone begun working. Within twenty four hours, I had cooked up the absolute basics of the game: sending items to departments, and using various machines to test if it's okay to send or not. Much of the second day was spent adding onto those mechanics and making sure they function properly, at least for the most part. This was about as good of a start as one could ask for in a jam. Some polish work was needed, sure, but we were well on our way to making levels for this game. There was still no name for the game yet, but it would come over time.
I'd like to tell you that the successes kept building and multiplying after that, but to be honest, that's about where the good part of the story ends. Things began to go downhill after about the third day in. For starters, I was quickly noticing how much more tired and "out of it" I was beginning to feel. You have to remember that, up till this point, I had never found myself working on a game project for more than ten hours a day before, and I think doing that day in and day out was wearing me down quicker than I expected it to. I also noticed that we were still in a phase where we weren't even really working in any kind of "official" game room. We were still working within this prototype stage that I had cobbled together in a few minutes, and I think that the lack of even making a basic room that meets the space requirements we were going to give the player was causing a slight slowdown. It seems small, and it is when you say it out loud, but had we gotten even a simple, bare bones room in the game, it might've saved us some headache later as far as going in and having to scale object sizes because it turns out they were too big or too small or something else entirely. This wasn't really bothering me though, because in my mind I had a plan and everything was going to work fine.
Things kinda kept on normally from there. The game grew and levels were beginning to be made. However, we were reaching the five day mark, and we had originally planned it out so we could start playtesting the game and polishing it by that point. I think that's when I truly began to notice that we were behind. Whether it was something I did in my planning, the famous feature creep happening, or something that was out of my hands, something was beginning to go wrong and we were falling behind. Noticing this, I started putting additional time into the project. I took virtually no breaks other than to eat and sleep and staying up a bit later than I normally do. It seems like it helped, because we quickly caught up to a reasonable point by that time. But now were about 24 hours from the deadline. There were still a few missing levels and assets, and we had barely playtested. On top of that, life was happening around me, some moments good, others bad. Things were really beginning to get crazy. But somehow, we pulled through, and with a handful of hours on the clock left, we had all the levels made, had collected the different music and sounds, and there was only a handful of art assets needed. Even then, those were mostly for decoration purposes. I had made the second EXE file in the whole jam and sent it to everyone for testing. Things were going pretty well.
Then the last six hours happened.
I had set aside the final morning to finish work on some final assets and then playtest the game until it was time to submit, fixing whatever bugs were found. However, life had other plans. For starters, all the audio mysteriously went missing. I promise I didn't move or delete it, but they just up and vanished from the project. So I had to go and redownload sounds and reassign EVERY sound to its corresponding object and action. That took a while. Then I had difficulties getting some final art assets in. We had been having trouble with getting art into the game plenty of times before this, but the issues I was having here were bigger than before. With only about three hours left, I said to myself "apparently I can't get art into this thing. Fine. What we have still looks good and it can work." So I started packaging the game's EXE and braced for a rapid playtesting session.
We could not make an EXE.
The error message I got simply said "Unknown error" and that was all we had to go on. From there, it was a mad dash to Google to figure out how to fix this. And of course, because we were at the end of a project, not one solution worked. The clock was starting to move noticeably faster. We were running out of time. I was told that EXE 2 (the one I uploaded the night before all this happened) did have most everything in there and we could at least upload that. Totally sound plan, but not something I really wanted to do if I had anything to say about it. If I present something, I want to present the best version of it possible. Anything less feels like a disservice to the audience, in my eyes. Unfortunately, to wrap up this story, the final EXE could not be made. There was nothing we had time to do to fix the issue. I even tried creating an entirely new project and moving everything in there, but no dice. There was twenty minutes left by that point, and like I said, there was nothing else we had time to try. And so, our second best version got sent in for the jam. My friend started a Discord call to lift my spirits, reasoning that at least we got something entered, what's there is still good, and that it had most everything. Even though he's right, I couldn't get over the fact that it didn't have EVERYTHING that, in my opinion, it should have had.
By this point, the jam was officially over. I explained to everyone else what went wrong and then left. I spent the rest of the day frustrated, though as the day went on it hurt less and less, but I still went to bed feeling bad. Even now as I write this, I'm still disappointed. Between this and recent life happenings, I was feeling pretty low. This had just come off the back of leaving my day job in order to further my programming abilities. I thought this project would be a good first major undertaking since making that bold decision. And believe me, it absolutely was a good, major project that I'm glad to have done, but I would've liked it more if it ended in a triumphant shout rather than a sad whimper.
I told you I'd connect this with War Ender somehow, someway, and now I'm going to fulfill that promise. Since the jam ended, I have been thinking of what lessons to take away from it all that I could apply to War Ender. I was honestly using this jam as a way I could get more word of War Ender out and about. It didn't necessarily need to win, but maybe the simple fact that it exists and is, in my opinion, a good game would help out War Ender a little. However, I think the major takeaway from all this has been really quite simple: no, you're not going to get what you want all the time, and often things are going to seem like they're falling apart somewhat. But...that doesn't mean you shouldn't shoot for the stars.
I mean, what would have happened if I didn't work on this game? Well, for starters, we'd have an actual development blog. Seriously though, the skills and experience I picked up here is going to aid everything I do from here on, as a project should. Fun fact, this is the first 3D game I've ever done. I had entertained the idea of doing something 3D after War Ender is complete, and now that I have some background in that kind of environment, the idea of doing a 3D game seems much more possible. I picked up some new tricks, both for just general game development, and with Unreal Engine specifically. It was also a nice reminder to MAKE SURE YOU HAVE LOTS OF TIME TO TEST THINGS BEFORE SUBMITTING. Even if I must delay War Ender a little, always remember the words of Miyamoto.
"A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad."
Not trying to say Intense Security is bad, by the way. I think it's pretty good. In fact, if you don't believe me, go play it yourself here. You know you want to...
We'll have a regular dev blog a couple weeks from now. Until then, stay awesome!