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Newton64's Revised King James Bible

As I’ve mentioned previously, this past weekend was taken up by the sixth annual Toronto Game Jam (TOJam), in which scores of people (actually around 270 or so) got together to jam on a game in the space of three days. The chosen theme this year was “What Just Happened,” and without any clarification or explanation given, it was interpreted rather… loosely by the majority of teams (including myself). I’ll give it my standard write-up momentarily, but before that let’s cut to the good stuff:

Newton64’s Revised King James Bible is available HERE!

And check it out in action:

The game casts one or two players as Adam & Eve, descending to Earth on a comet whilst being bombarded by other space debris (sheep, Steve Jobs, vikings, herpes, M. Bison… the usual). The debris threatens to destroy the comet unless the two work together: Adam using his boomerang rib (“Boomerib”) to knock away the offending items; and Eve using her Snake Whip to safely collect them. Instructions and other materials are in the .zip file, available on download. Standard disclaimer: it’s a jam game, so don’t expect any great depth to it; likewise, it hasn’t been overly tested, so bugs are likely. Let me know of any feedback or technical issues in the comments below.

And now for some moderately increased brain activity.

What went wrong

If you read the dev journal I kept during the duration of TOJam, you’ll know that I worked for a full day on one particular idea, before completely scrapping it in frustration at around 3am Saturday morning to work instead on what would become NRKJB. That first concept involved time travel: several time “threads” would move left to right across the screen, and your job was to travel back and forth through that timeline to synchronise their arrival at various triggers/barriers. I was having an inordinately difficult time getting each thread to advance/stop appropriately, while at the same time realising that there wouldn’t be much in the way of difficulty in the final result. It was pretty discouraging. Luckily, two game designers I respect immensely cheered me on and offered at least one suggestion that led to the Adam & Eve storyline. The turnaround was good news, of course, but for a while things were looking pretty bleak. I hadn’t finalised a design before the jam, and forcing myself to “settle” and work on an arbitrary project was a recipe for frustration. Lesson learned: it’s a jam. A little prior preparation goes a long way, as they say; at the same time, the freedom exists to just walk the fuck away from a project that isn’t working. Embrace it.

One other small nit to pick was the “Good/Bad” mechanic in the game—more precisely, that it doesn’t really exist. You’ll notice that using Eve to collect space debris can make the comet start glowing more and more red or blue. The idea was that some items were Bad (the Eye of Sauron, herpes, &c.), while others were Good (vikings, the TOJam-mandated goat-on-a-pole). I would have liked to develop this further, to include some sort of consequences for the player’s balance (or lack thereof) of Good & Bad items. Jim McGinley (co-organiser of TOJam, with his wife Em) also suggested some sort of end-game tally, where the player(s) could find out the composition of their newly-created world (e.g., “You live in a ‘Good’ world, filled with tech companies and horrendous infection.” for a game with many captures of Steve Jobs and herpes). Unfortunately, the time limit (and, I imagine, my slower pace) precluded my experimenting with these systems, even though I genuinely wanted to. Still, the game is complete, and to tweak it any more—besides bug-fixing—would feel against the spirit of game jams in the first place, so I must sadly leave these mechanics in the pile of “What might have been.”

What went right

That last sentence says it all: despite my anxiety, I actually finished something. And it… kinda works? It’s difficult enough to play single-player: the asymmetry of Adam & Eve makes for some quick decision making in the face of the constant barrage of space debris. Haven’t playtested it much with two players, but what little I did was enjoyable. In any case, I saw people smiling at the game, which was pretty much why I threw it together.

I’m starting to wonder if my game design style isn’t reflecting my writing style. I haven’t done much creative writing since my school days, but back then it was mostly typified by short bursts of silliness and non sequiturs. I’m seeing/feeling some similarities in Manster Mash and NRKJB; games coming from the “Because fuck you” school of design. Which… well I won’t make a living off of games like that, but if I can tap into what I enjoy about making them (their manic quality? their highly referential content?), I may be able to carry that forward into more complex projects. Because once I sunk my teeth into these ones, I gotta say I was feeling pretty damn dogged about finishing them.

Also to be included under “What went right”: TOJam. All of it. This was my first real jam experience, so I can’t make any comparisons, but this one just felt so flawlessly executed (modulo lineups for Chinese food, about which I felt some people were griping a bit much). Considering we paid absolutely no entrance fee, the venue was amazingly well-prepared and well-stocked. We had some great presentations, and our games will eventually be displayed in public. I personally learned how much I can accomplish if I find a fun project, then make like Charles Barkley and just shut up and jam. A pretty darn good value for my $0 investment. Seriously: kudos of the highest order to Em, Jim, and Rob for putting on such an awesome event. James Bond WILL return! Where James Bond == me. For better or blurst.

Noteworthy: As I pointed out above, this was the sixth TOJam, but only the first that I attended. As it so happens, the eponymous King James was King James VI in Scotland, while only King James I in England. This coincidence LITERALLY HAS TO MEAN SOMETHING.