Monday, January 30, 2017

Global Game Jam '17 Writeup - SOS dot WAV

Hey guys, I'm here with my third blog post of the month. I thought I was setting some kind of personal record, but I realized I had 6 posts between February and March 2014. I guess I have a lot to live up to! I felt very inspired reading old posts and I really want to keep this frequent posting thing up throughout the year.

Today's topic of discussion is Global Game Jam 2017. For those who don't know, GGJ is an annual event held every January where developers from all around the world come together to make video games. It's not a competition so much as it is a challenge. There is a universal theme that everyone has to use in their game, and you get 48 to develop the game from start to finish.

This was my 4th time participating in the event, so I had a pretty good idea what to expect. This year, I collaborated on a project with my sister, Michelle Rakar. We developed a short adventure-puzzle game called SOS.WAV using RPG Maker MV. (You can check out our submission page and download the game right here) Our project last year had some complex mechanics with a lot of maps and the framework to be a pretty large game. Although the idea was cool, as a prototype it wasn't all that nice to look at. So this year, our goal was to create a more compact yet polished title with all of our own art assets.


The theme of this year was "Waves." We figured most jammers would make games about the ocean or even the act of waving, so we tried to think of an outside-the-box way to approach the theme. We came up an idea centered around the computer extension ".wav" and made sound files an integral part of the game. (Kinda punny, but it was a pretty unique interpretation).

SOS.WAV takes place on a remote island from our fictional universe, The Nays. You play as Mr. Dude, who is taking a break from all of his stressful duties as World Leader. He comes across a mysterious SD card that washes up on shore. After plugging it into his phone, he discovers that the only thing on the SD card is a single file named 'SOS.WAV.' Listening to the sound clip reveals that someone nearby is in danger and needs his help. The sound file also gives hints on how to solve the puzzles of the island.

We created an interesting mechanic in order to deliver help to the player. You can listen to the sound file at any time, but some of the hints are too fast, some too slow, and others reversed. You won't be able to understand the hints until you unlock the proper playback upgrades for your phone. This took a bit of sound editing to create, but it was really fun to see the mechanic come together.

Overall, there are 4 puzzles (well 3 and a half, the first one isn't very difficult) on the island, and it is mathematically very hard to solve them without first hearing the audio clues. This provides a nice gating feature to prevent the player from breezing through everything, but also gives the player the freedom to try and solve the puzzles by guessing. I think the puzzles are pretty diverse so I'm happy with the interesting designs we were able to come up with in such a short time.

The majority of my time was spent drawing out the backgrounds. As you might imagine, making a bunch of full blown tilesets in a single weekend is virtually impossible, so I instead created parallax images in Photoshop that could then be placed in to RPG Maker as a single image. The style is a bit simple, but it was the perfect amount of detail for the time constraints. Even with the shortcuts, it still ate up most of my time. I also worked on design elements, puzzle mechanics, and sound editing. Michelle was responsible for character animation, character portraits, dialogue and all of the UI elements (plus a lot of the design brainstorming too!). I think we split up the work pretty well.

To better suit the parallax background style, we also tried out a plugin that breaks free from the grid of RPG Maker. One of our goals was to avoid that stigma of being "just another RPG Maker game" so we really wanted to push it as far from the stereotypical RPGM look as we could. This multi-directional movement script helped a lot with that and setting up collisions wasn't as difficult as I expected.

All in all, I was really happy how our game turned out. I dare say it is the most complete and polished Global Game Jam project I have submitted so far! GGJ is a great event and every year that I participate, it reminds me of how much I love developing games (...even if it means not sleeping for an entire weekend...).

Words and screenshots only tell you so much though. To really experience the game, you have to play it for yourself. A download of SOS.WAV is available on our page. It is completely free to play, can be completed in roughly 15 minutes, and should run on just about any Windows machine. Give it a try and let us know what you think!

Hoping to continue this schedule with another new post soon. I have a few ideas brewing about what to cover next, but I'm not sure which one will be next yet. Right now I'm thinking about either explaining the cel shading techniques I'm using for a current UE4 project, talking about my adventures in SNES programming, or trying my hand at a process video where I demonstrate how I develop 3D characters. Let me know if any of these topics sound interesting to you in the comments section. Until next time... Adios!

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