Interview: Anna Prein, Pi Jam Organizer and Time-Travelling Unicorn

 

With Pi Jam coming up this Friday, I sat down with organizer Anna Prein, a fellow 2013 Women in Games Scholarship recipient and current Vancouver Film School student to find out more about the jam, as well as the history of Hat Jam.

 

So what’s this thing you’re organizing?

It’s called Pi Jam. It’s a 48-hour game jam. It used to be called Hat Jam, VFS Hat Jam, but now we’re doing this with Microsoft so we wanted to change the name.

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The Mandate: Kickstarter to Completion Episode 2

Space Battle Command Display Concept Art

Interested in hearing how industry veterans approach pre-production after a successful Kickstarter campaign? Perihelion Interactive recently sent out a newsletter with updates on their recently funded game, The Mandate, which is currently in pre-production. The newsletter provides great educational material for both designers and producers. Their team has to be commended for sharing light and answering forum questions with such detailed responses. Some questions remain unanswered, but in most cases they acknowledge that these particular problems are still being addressed. The condensed status update includes:

- More programmers have been added but the rest of the team have not been finalized due to legal obstacles and holding out for potential key players

- Their character artist broke his Wacom tablet and is focusing on creating concept art for NPC units and other side tasks until his replacement arrives

- Funding has reached $725,000, and the project is still scheduled for release in early 2015

The more interesting revelations from the newsletter include producer-level insight into adding mod support, their depiction of features in a two-by-two matrix of risk versus value, and how development is being staged during preproduction for both art and gameplay elements.

Current Funding from Kickstarter and BackerKit

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Ludum Dare #28 – Mama is Sick [Post-Mortem]

Note: Ludum Dare is a quarterly game jam where participants from all over the world make a game from start to finish in 48 hours (competition mode) or 72 hours (jam mode). Guerric and I did the jam. The theme was ‘You Only Get One’. Entries are judged based on: innovation, fun, theme, graphics, audio, humor, mood and overall. Participants play and rate each others games. Results will be announced on January 5th, 2014.

‘Mama is Sick’ can be played HERE

 

My first Ludum Dare! And my second game jam ever.

This post will cover what mine and @GarrickWinter (Guerric Haché)’s game is about, a summary of the process we went about making it and the top 3 things done well and the top 3 things we could improve on.

Quick description of our game (taken from the instructions screen):

“Mama is Sick” is a resource-management, hard-times simulation game.

YOU ONLY GET ONE DOLLAR A DAY to look after your family (thanks to a generous family from overseas) while papa is away and mama is sick.

Buy food and water to make sure the food, water and health bars of you and your family don’t reach zero or death will occur.

If your education bar reaches zero, you won’t graduate high school.

You have to last 50 days until papa comes back. Will you manage to graduate? Will everyone survive?

You can work in a clothing factory to earn 50c a day, but be careful not to miss too much school. You also need to study at least three days a week or risk not being able to graduate.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 5.49.59 PM

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Papers, Please: A serendipitous experience for a graduate abroad

2013 has been a very robust and interesting year for the indie game community. From the existentially hilarious walkathon of The Stanley Parable to the far-too-realistic nightvision jump-scarefest of Outlast (aka I swear I’ll play it…tomorrow), the indie market continues to prove itself a diverse and entertaining stomping ground. One particular game from the indie releases of yesteryear has caught quite a bit of attention, and with a well-timed Steam Winter Sale I was lucky enough to come across it myself and pick it up. The game I speak of is Papers, Please.

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Starbound – 2013′s Greatest Indie Success Story

The Starbound logo

On December 4th, indie game Starbound, created by Chucklefish Games, launched under Steam‘s Early Access listing for Windows, Mac and Linux gamers.  It is a 2D block-based sandbox adventure game, set in an infinite universe of procedurally generated planets, creatures, and environments (its website can be found here).

Many games have preceded Starbound in these and other respects (the game is considered the spiritual successor to the highly popular Terraria, and much of the two fanbases overlap), but few indie titles have managed to accomplish everything else Starbound has.  Indeed, it has arguably become one of the most successful indie games on the PC in years, thanks to an approach that has garnered the game hundreds of thousands of fans and backers.  In this post, I’d like to provide an overview of the game’s (ongoing) success story.

$0 in One Year; $2,300,000 the Next

Starbound was first announced in February 2012 by Finn Brice, a UK game developer better known to fans as Tiyuri (or just Tiy).  Brice was the artist behind Terraria’s sprites, and thus the only official link between the two games, though much of the design of Starbound can be read as an incremental improvement over the formula developed in Terraria.  The team that worked on it eventually came to encompass around 14 developers, and so Chucklefish Games set to work.

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The Mandate: Kickstarter to Completion Episode 1

Features

These are some of the promised features for The Mandate

If you haven’t heard of The Mandate or aren’t one of the 15000+ people who funded it, then you should take a look at its Kickstarter page. This Unity3D science fiction role playing game is being made by a team of industry veterans, and their campaign has been tremendously successful – resulting in funding for more than $650,000 of their project costs. Their campaign is also one of the best documented, most transparent, and has been amazingly responsive to backer requests for more rewards and more ways to get involved. What happens after the campaign though? As for my perspective and biases, you should know I am an excited backer who upgraded my pledge on the last day because they gave me tons of incentives to do so. Now, I will try to examine and summarize the information they provide on their Kickstarter page and try to poke holes in their project plan and objectives as an exercise in game design pre-production. Hopefully, this article can serve as a starting point for a continued description as their production continues, but that depends entirely on their willingness to keep being as transparent as they have been.

 

Budget

The man-months by specialty required for the upcoming development of this game

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Imagine Cup 2014 – Global student technology competition is started now!

Imagine Cup is the world premier student technology competition held by Microsoft every year, since 2003.

This year’s Worldwide Final  is going be at Microsoft headquarters, Seattle, WashingtonLet’s bring your imagination, passion and creativity, and step up to challenge!

This year, there are 3 main competition categories.

  • Game - Great games come from anywhere‚ and people play them everywhere. Build one and you could win big!
  • Innovation - Develop software or integrated solution that change the way we live.
  • World Citizenship - Develop software or integrated solution that help solve the world’s toughest problem.

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Hat Jam 3: Thirteen Games

Another term, another Hat Jam! This one was held the weekend before Halloween, so we decided to choose 13 horror-esque classical artworks, and have the teams randomly draw one to work with. As is becoming standard for Hat Jam, we were blown away by the results. Instructors Bren Lynne and Victor Kam sacrificed some of their precious Sunday time to come out and judge — not to mention that Bren was also a sporadic Unity mentor through-out the weekend! Both have our utmost gratitude for supporting the Hat Jam cause. Prizes were donated by Microsoft, and included full licensed copies of Windows 8 for the top 4 teams.

Grand Prize: Masked [Play here!]

Team Members (left to right): Spencer Goring (GD34), Willy Campos (GD34), Carlos Eduardo Da Costa Novaes (GD34)
Theme:  Mask Still Life III, by Emil Nolde

This team received one of the less classically-oriented paintings to work with, and turned out an exceptionally clever platformer, worthy of the Grand Prize. Each mask shows you the world in a different way, and use of all three masks is required to advance. On top of the great gameplay and puzzle elements, this team turned out some beautiful visual effects and stayed true to their theme, for a wonderfully cohesive game. Given more time, the judges believed the concept and mechanics behind this game could really lead to something great.

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A.C.R.O.N.Y.M Games: 8 Years & 8 Lessons

A.C.R.O.N.Y.M Games: 8 Years & 8 Lessons

There are many career opportunities after graduating from VFS, but one seems to cross all students minds at one time or another: What do you need to know to start your own game studio? There is no one answer, but Jesse Joudrey formerly of A.C.R.O.N.Y.M Games had some valuable pearls of wisdom that can help any ambitious gaming entrepreneur get the right start.

Jesse visited the Game Design campus on October 11th to kindly share 8 important lessons he learned from the 8 years of running a successful video game studio. In 2004,  Jesse and Daniel Swadling wanted to fulfill their dreams of making their own studio, so they combined forces and created A.C.R.O.N.Y.M Games from their apartment. The company went on to develop multiple games, such as The Secret of Monkey Island (Special edition), Wipeout, and The Family Guy Online. The studio had grown to 42 employees before Jesse departed to start Jespionage Entertainment.

In his presentation, Jesse divided his lessons into the different stages of studio development.

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Hat Jam 2: 48 hours, 8 games

Following the success of the first Hat Jam, myself (Anna Prein) and classmate Michelangelo Pereira Huezo banded together to organize the second incarnation of this VFS game jam. Leaping Coyote Interactive also generously offered to sponsor this time, meaning that we could provide some food, snacks, donuts, and lots and lots of coffee.

Leaping Coyote Interactive Logo

If you already know what a game jam is, go ahead and skip this paragraph, but otherwise — a game jam is an event (usually over 48 consecutive hours) in which teams create a small game from start to finish. Game jams are increasingly more popular these days, with events like Global Game Jam, Ludum Dare, and Indie Speed Run! Some have prizes, but all game jams are fundamentally about the same core values of teamwork, creativity, and passion. They’re also a great way to learn, as GD34’s Daniel Garma will attest to: “You learn so much by jamming. People don’t even know. They don’t even KNOW.”

This time around, nearly 30 VFS Game Design students and TAs participated, creating eight fabulous games. Each team drew a theme from our fancy hat; themes were produced by the Video Game Name Generator. From there, it was a grueling 48 hours of work, work, work, and temporary periods of sleep-deprivation-induced madness.

GD34 students Semin Sim and Scott Thompson, looking pretty relaxed.

 

New Term 1 students from GD35 also joined us! From left to right: Emiliano Guerrero, Emilio Pelaez, and Matt Holland.

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