Friday, September 28, 2012

Boston Festival of Indie Games - September 22, 2012

Quite an exciting time this past weekend as MIT was host to the inaugural Boston Festival of Indie Games.  The festival was an effort put on by us Boston Indies to showcase the development talent available in this area.

I was asked to be part of the curatorial committee, which I was flattered and quite pleased to be a part of.  It wasn't much - just playing some of the submissions and deciding whether or not they should be included in the festival.  Unfortunately, I didn't get to see much of the festival proper, since there was a Game Jam to participate in!

The theme was "independence" (since it was an Independent Game festival, after all).  The group I worked with created a game we called Choice Blocks.  Effectively a Tetris-clone, but the idea was to include an "independence of choice", by allowing the players to augment their gameplay by choosing which blocks were included in the game.  After some amount of time, a selection window would appear, and players would select from some randomly-generated pieces using the points they've earned, much like the deck-building mechanic of Dominion.  These pieces, while awkward to place, would earn more points.

The game was written in C# using the XNA framework.  I worked on the piece generation bit, as well as the user input and state transitions.

The festival was only one day, which meant the game jam was only one day.  Even then, we were presenting at the end of the night, so we had at best 8 hours to create a game.  This was a blessing and a curse.  The biggest issue was that we didn't have time to implement the "choice" part of the game, so in the end we remade Tetris but a randomly-created piece will occasionally fall.  It turns out that even then, it throws an interesting wrinkle into how you play Tetris.

What Went Right: The time constraint helped because we really had to keep the scope down, and we didn't introduce a lot of risk with complicated, untested features.  I was actually a bit surprised that all of the groups made a mostly functioning game by the end of the jam, which I can't say about other jams I've participated in.

What Went Wrong: This isn't so much "wrong" as it is "somewhat disappointing".  Of course the big thing is that we didn't "finish" our game, at least enough in my opinion to distinguish it from regular  Tetris.  I think with the extra day of the usual game jam we could have finished our basic vision, added some sound, and cleaned up some stuff like the sticky controls and scoring system.  I suppose it was a good thing that we Googled "open source XNA Tetris" to get the ball rolling quickly, but it feels a little hollow that we didn't really create anything new.  I mean, creating a platformer is one thing, but Tetris by itself is a well-established game.

Another problem, one that we couldn't really do much about, was the logistics that we were in a random classroom at MIT, and therefore couldn't have food or drink.  We plowed through the day with only a short time set aside for a couple slices of pizza for lunch out in the hall.  It just didn't feel as fun and relaxed as other jams.

That said, I'd do it again (you know I'm a sucker for jams), and I'm looking forward to next year's FIG!

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