Hat Jam 6: Zentember

Another hat jam. Another amazing weekend filled with creative minds, prototyped innovation and much caffeine. All in the name of making a game from start to finish in 48-hours. This time around, we were lucky to have the support of East Side GamesIUGO mobile entertainmentHothead Games and Fresh Bowl.

For those unfamiliar with Hat Jam, our game jam is named as such because jammers draw themes out of a hat. They’re then tasked with creating games based on these themes, with this month’s apt category being “Zentember” – pseudo zen koans.

At the end of the weekend, the jammers gather to present their games, and go in the running to win both categorical (e.g. best audio) and overall prizes.

Day 1 jamming fuel!

We had just over 30 participants, and nine teams.

We had a great mix of participants, from alumni with industry experience, to first-time jammers who just only learned what Unity was.

Thanks to the wonderful IT master Larry Baert, we were able to set up temporary accounts on the school computers for alumni throughout the weekend, giving them access to their beloved software development programs.

These guys were in their second week of term one, so they decided to make a board game!

They ran ten, 20-minute play-testing sessions over the weekend, tweaking the game as they went.

It was amazing to see each group’s progress from hour one, to hour forty-eight – from white-box, to impressive levels of polish.

This was one of three models with complete sets of animations that a term one student, Nick Wiessberg [pictured below], was able to accomplish over the weekend. (With very little sleep.)

Dani Kogan, an aspiring sound designer in term five, brought his own set up into school for the jam.

This group made a mobile game based on the Japanese game show, Tonneruzu no Minasan no Okage deshita (とんねるずのみなさんのおかげで した), also known as Human Tetris.

Pizza -> energy -> make games. Pizza = games!

It wouldn’t be Hat Jam without a shot of the sugary, caffeinated damage done over the weekend!

Games are hard work, folks.

These two chaps are Calder Archinuk and Lawrence Mathes. Along with Michelangelo Periera and Anna Prein (the original co-founders of Hat Jam), they helped me organize the weekend. Calder, Lawrence and I also made a Unicorn Dating Sim during the jam that may or may not ever see the light of day.

At 5.45pm on Sunday, all the jammers gathered downstairs in the TV studio to present their games.

The games were judged in five aspects: art, audio, innovation, [use of] theme and overall quality.

Team: Melvin Kwan, Vitor Castanheira, Andy Fedorchuk, Rose Cass.
Game: Everlast [Click Here To Download and Play]
Theme: Never test the depth of the water with both feet.
High Concept: 2D co-op endless runner where 2 lovers are separated by the elements and have to stick together against all odds.
What they learned:
Melvin: “I spent a lot of time doing animations that you can’t see, so maybe for a game jam… focus less on details and more on other art stuff?”
Vitor: “I got to learn a lot about the different types of raycasts and a lot about programming. I learned a lot about fonts, which was really cool.”
Andy: “I hadn’t coded in about 8 months before we did this so I was very happy to dive back into code.”
Rose: “This was my first game jam. I hadn’t done anything like this before, so that was cool.”

Team: Taylor Voth, Cristian Hernandez, Dani Kogan, Hugo Moraleida.
Game: Parachüt [Click Here To Download and Play]
Theme: If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.
High Concept: Use the wind to save parachuters.
What they learned:
Dani: “Doesn’t matter how much you prepare, how many hourly builds you do, how many backups you have and how many times you test it – at the major point it will just crash.”
Cristian: “I learned how to do pixel art, and not to be afraid to do something for a game in only two days – because this is also my first game jam. And to have fun while doing so, because that’s the point.”

Team: John “Pine” Pinho, Raphael Toledo, Milton Dias Neto, Halton Tam, Teo Gonzalez.
Game: Shift
Theme: The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.
High Concept: Make your way through the board by shaping and shifting it to your will! And… screw other people’s ways while you’re at it, why not?

Team: Emilio Pelaez, Dustin Williamson, Sandra Gersenowies Jasso.
Game: Pose Perfect [Click Here To Download and Play] or [Click Here for Android Version on Google App Store]
Theme: Good judgement comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
High Concept: Players must contort themselves into unusual shapes in order to not die in a Japanese game show.
What they learned:
Dustin: “I learned a bit more about iOS development which I didn’t actually have any experience with before this, so that was kind of cool.”
Emilio: “I learned that quaternions are hard. Like, really hard.”
Sandra: “I learned that Google Translate got a lot better throughout the years. Also, making art for the iPhone is hard. I do not enjoy it. I will not do that again.”

Team: Cameron (Cam) Hickey, Marlon Franz, Mark Kazachinsky, Nick Wiessberg.
Game: Ultra Steam Mega Troopers 2006 Turbo Edition [Click Here To Download and Play]
Theme: Duct tape is like the force. It has a light side & a dark side, and it holds the universe together.
High Concept: The galaxy is a dark place when you’re alone. But if you stick with your team, light and dark are equals.
What they learned:
Marlon: “I think I learned that Unity is pretty cool.”
Nick: “I have a lot that I learned in this project. First, save money before coming to a Hat Jam to buy a lot of Red Bull. Don’t save on Red Bull. I also learned that Unity is an awesome engine. You can pause. In run-time. And change things. That’s just too much for my head.”
Mark: “I’ve never done gameplay before – 2D movement, in Unity, so I learned how to do all that.”

Team: Natalie Tai, Jesse Bardell, Eric Shad Miller.
Game: The Cautionary Snail [Click Here To Download and Play]
Theme: It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.
High Concept: Top-down obstacle game where you have to kill yourself as many times as possible within a given time period.
What they learned:
Jesse: “When you’re doing a jam, show up. Be here for more than a couple of hours, it kind of helps. Also, make lots of builds. All the time.”
Natalie: “This was my first game jam so it was a new experience. But one thing I learned was, yeah, make lots of builds. Because we did not realise a lot of things weren’t working until we made the build and it wasn’t working. And by that time, we didn’t really have the time to fix anything. So a lot of work that we did cannot be shown.”
Eric: “I think the biggest thing I learned is how awesome it is to try and do code in a modular way. Because you can just build so much stuff very quickly. I also learned that if you just have at a jam, it’s worth it.”

Team: Cameron White, Erich Kohlweg, Hugo Lindsay
Game: Just Breathe [Click Here To Download and Play]
Theme: Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breath out. Forget this and attaining Enlightenment will be the least of your problems.
High Concept: Top-down where you run away from enemies and collect enlightenment while managing your breathing.
What they learned:
Cameron: “I basically learned how great Unity 3D is. I’ve never really done much in terms of just playing with it. Like, actually adding animations and getting things in and just sharing different packages among groups. It was just really easy and really fun to work with.”
Erich: “We’re on final project right now – we’re all in term five. In our final project, I’m not doing any programming, so this jam was really about me keeping up with the programming and continuing learning that.”
Hugo: “I really had fun doing this game jam. I was working on shaders and it was really good that we got to get some of the more challenging things worked out first. For example, the circle – it inverts the colours, so we tried different ways to try and get the effect that we wanted. I learned that you need to work on the more challenging stuff first. Also, don’t work on it in the last hour.”

Team: Chema Jose Maria Leon Azpiroz, Adir Fakiro, Kdu Novaes.
Game: Offroad Crashtest [Click Here To Download and Play]
Theme: Don’t be irreplaceable. If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.
High Concept: “Offroad crashtest” is a couch multiplayer kart building game that presents short and funny races that leaves the players to watch and enjoy while betting on who is gonna be the winner!
What they learned:
Chema: “It’s very fun to playtest a four-player game. It’s one of the best times I’ve ever had. It’s all chaos. Definitely worth it. Definitely an experience I would recommend.”
Adir: “It was a really interesting project. Because making stuff for four players is difficult.”

We were fortunate to have the finest selection of industry folk volunteer their Sunday to help judge Hat Jam. From left to right: Matthew  Marteinsson (The Sound Department, Klei Entertainment), Matt Thorson (Indie Developer, Towerfall), Jim Wagner (Producer, East Side Games), Jesse “Jouste” Turner (Drawbarian, Slick Entertainment), Jordan Tame (Game Designer, East Side Games), [myself], Gareth Lewin (Software Engineer, Twitch).

Each of the judges had been given judging sheets, awarding each of the categories points out of five. We tallied the scores, then discussed games that had tied for positions. After 20 minutes, we had our winners, and went out to announce them to the exhausted jammers.

With dynamically-pitched wind and custom-composed 8-bit music, it was a quick decision to award Best Audio to Parachüt. It garnered high scores all around for its sound, with one judge commenting that (the sole sound designer of the judging group,) Matthew Marteinsson’s vote of approval validated everyone else’s scores.

Best Use of Theme was awarded to Just Breathe (not pictured). These guys did a great job of taking the theme, integrating it with their mechanics, and creating an incredible mood that also garnered them an Honorable Mention for Art.

Team Shift also received Honorable Mentions in theme and innovation for their efforts in creating a board game –  a Hat Jam first!

We also had a special, secret accolade – the Congeniality Award. For Hat Jam 6, this went to Alvin Kwok, a VFS alumni and ex-teaching assistant who didn’t enter the competition, but who hung around all weekend, helping jammers with their technical problems.

Most Innovative went to Offroad Crashtest for their insane multiplayer kart-building game that had the audience cracking up every time an absurd vehicle was created and inevitably crashed into pieces. This team also received Third Place Overall , and a voucher for a Complimentary Meal at Fresh Bowl each.

The judges were impressed by the high level of polish in Everlast, awarding it Best Art. The engaging love story and layered platform mechanics also contributed to the decision to bestow Second Place Overall to Everlast. Each team member received a voucher for a Complimentary Meal at Fresh Bowl as well as a Hothead Games Kill Shot (unreleased game) T-Shirt.

With their company sponsoring the Grand Prize, Jim and Jordan took center stage to announce the winners of Hat Jam 6: Zentember, and the recipients of a lunch with CEO and Co-Founder of East Side Games, Josh Nilson, a studio tour and the opportunity to bring in a game prototype to discuss with a designer and producer…

Pose Perfect! The judges felt this game had the greatest commercial promise. Given a bit of time to add more content and a bit more polish, the judges commented that this game could be released and do quite well on the market.

UPDATE: The Pose Perfect team have released an Android version on the Google Play Store and are working to put an iOS version on the App Store! Congrats guys!

And that wraps up another successful Hat Jam! Once again, we’d like to thank our amazing sponsors: East Side GamesIUGO Mobile Entertainment,Hothead Games and Fresh Bowl.

We’re also happy to announce that early registration for Hat Jam 7 is open! We’ll be running the next game jam from 6pm Friday November 7 ’til Sunday evening November 9. (a.k.a. week 2 of term.)

If you or anyone you know is interested, please register by sending your full names and email addresses to gd34jaymee@vfs.com, as well as letting us know if you’re already on a team, or would look to join one (and what role you’d like to be, e.g. artist, programmer, designer). Unfortunately, we’re currently only able to accept applications from current VFS students and alumni (although the jam is open to persons from all VFS programs and campuses).

That’s all for now folks! Happy jamming, everybody!

Jaymee Mak is an Alumni of the VFS Game Design program and a winner of the Women in Games Scholarship