Tuesday, November 20, 2007

XO Game Jam

(This is cross posted to my mailing list, because I figure not a lot of people are on both)

One of the second year projects here at the ETC is XO Games. This was a student-pitched project to design and build games for the XO laptop for the One Laptop Per Child project. The group decided to hold a Game Jam this past weekend, which is somewhat of a "design and build a video game in 40 hours" marathon, in order to test out the documentation they've been creating over the course of the semester.

I decided that this would be a brilliant opportunity to drag some of my non-ETC friends into the ETC experience. Ever since beginning this program, I've often thought about how so many of my talented friends would do so well in it, and wished I could share the experience with them. The Game Jam gave me an opportunity to share a sliver of that experience, and so after some healthy peer pressure, I convinced Will, Brendan, and Kyle to come up and participate.

Last Friday, 10 teams of 40 or so people met up at the ETC for the start of the event. The project group talked about the XO laptop and OLPC, and some of the quirks for designing for the laptop, and started us in with a "Hello World" assignment. If you've never seen the XO, it is quite amazing! It's very tiny, amazingly rugged and power efficient, and yet the screen resolution is better than the monitor I'm using right now. The idea is that these affordable laptops will be distributed to children in developing nations as educational tools, and to give them access to computing technology. In many situations, a child may have to travel to the only nearest power supply to charge the laptop, so the battery life on these things is pretty hard core.

After our initial program, my team ventured off to do some brainstorming. Since the XO is going to be distributed world-wide, we wanted our game to use very little to no language. We eventually decided on a pixel-hunt inspired adventure game, where you can click on objects in a scene to trigger events. However, only certain events (and only when clicked in proper timing) will advance the story.

40 rigorous hours later, we came up with "Cake Town," which I suppose can be called a rough prototype for a game. It only has two levels, and doesn't have as many interactive scene elements as we'd wanted, and it can still be broken if you try hard enough.

Still, Will's art and Kyle's sound design is amazing, and I'm still incredibly impressed that Brendan was able to program the thing to work having had little to no experience with the tools we had to use to make the game (Python and PyGame). You can download it here if you would like to take a look. It's about a 10MB download (size efficiency was something we struggled with, though the bundle download for the XO is only 2 MB. Still, for a dial-up speed situation, that's even a bit much).

As for my role, in true producer fashion I jumped in wherever I was needed. This included figuring out the tedious steps for creating an activity bundle out of our game for the XO, helping Will with layout coloring, getting Kyle into the ETC's sound booth so he could record Will's voice acting, and eventually helping Brendan with the programming in the last stages. It was an adventure, for sure.

The games that other teams came up with were all amazing. On Sunday we had school children play and judge our game, and there were some prizes for the winners. My favorite thing about this Game Jam was that there were teams comprised entirely of beginners (like ours) and also teams comprised of people who actually work in the game industry. Everyone at the jam helped one another, and it was a good community experience. And of course, it was great to see my friends from home, and give them a glimpse of the sort of stuff I get to do at the ETC. You should check our the Jam's photo blog if you have the time.

The downside to all this, however, is that I apparently do NOT handle sleep deprivation like I used to. I am quite sick, and my biological clock is completely confused (hence my writing this update at 3:30 in the morning). I'm hoping that Thanksgiving Break will help me get things back in order.

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