Jamming out the Games

zombies.jpgI saw a neat post on Playstation.Blog this morning about an internal event held by thatgamecompany called 24 Hour Game Jam.  The object of the event is to create a fun complete game in 24 hours on the PS3, with the specific goal being that they could play it in the office and even more importantly, it had to be fun. They start at 10am on a Saturday and finish up the next morning at the same time.  When 10am hits, that’s it, they are done. 

In this first jam, they created a game called Gravediggers.  The post includes a video with five people playing through a round.  The graphics themselves remind me a little of the original Joust game, with the brown floating platforms and blockish characters.   The players are represented by small rectangular blocks, and the playing field offers a lot of space to run around and shoot.  The object is to kill the rampant zombies with a gun and collect the heads to return them to the crypt for points.  Heads of the other players can be returned for extra points.  The side-view perspective shows generated terrain and two crypts randomly around the field.  The players hop from platform to platform, and over little hills.  They can also shoot through the terrain if they can’t get around it to score those zombie heads.

This reminds me of Ludum Dare‘s 48 Hour Game Programming Competition held twice a year (voting starts for the LD11 theme April 11th).  There are a lot of neat little games that come out this competition, many of them that look as good or better than the NES games we used to spend hours playing as kids.  They’re just as fun too.  Entrants are allowed to use a wide range of development tools and can create on any platform they wish.  The only caution is that if other people can’t play your game, they can’t vote on it, so most entries are done on Windows.  If you are an amateur game programmer, give the LD11 a shot.  If I can get a decent desk for my computer by April 11th, I may try to enter.  Trying to type with the keyboard on an endtable is not fun.  I submitted a sad entry for LD2, many years ago.  Sad enough that I won’t bother to show you.

Shake these two things together in a glass, add a little lemon–here’s my third topic.

Sony hasn’t moved forward with any kind of amateur software development kit for creating PS3 games.  Sure, it is possible to create games for the PS3 running on Linux, however, there is no formal tool package to make the process easier.  Requiring an install of linux in order to play these also doesn’t do anything good for widespread distribution to the community. 

I don’t have a 360, so I haven’t tinkered with their system but based on what I have read, Microsoft seems to be doing a good job with their XNA community development project.  Everything from providing the tools, developing on a PC, MSDN reference, and the end-user distribution is fairly well thought out.  Of course, Microsoft has been giving out development tools for years now, whereas Sony has only been distributing professional tools directly to the game developers.  They have been touting how much easier the Playstation EDGE dev kit is for developers so perhaps a stripped down version of it would be the answer for the amateur side.  

These little amateur games fill a niche in the games industry but they haven’t really penetrated console systems.  How many hours are spent each day playing silly little Flash-based games.  It doesn’t take a three year cycle to create an interesting game people will spend hours playing.  All you need is a simple concept implemented in a way that is fun.  Bejeweled and Tower Defense are good examples.  PixelJunk even took the Tower Defense idea and twisted it enough in an attempt to get Japanese players to like it.

While we’re at it, I think I’ll mention that Microsoft is expanding their XNA in version 3.0 to allow development on their portable Zune system.  I don’t know about the technicalites of the PSP hardware and how software is run on it compared to the PS3, but I think that Sony should not forget the PSP when working on their dev kit.

There are more high-profile things that people might like Sony to work on, including Home and better in-game communication with our friends.  I agree, these things are important.  In fact, Home has arcade machines in some of the spaces, and I think that is an opportunity for people to create mini-games.

There are many aspiring game developers who could use this kit as a valuable experience for a future job.  There are also people who don’t want to submit themselves to the grind that is the professional development cycle and they can use it as a way to express themselves in a less-demanding manner.  There is no reason why Sony shouldn’t spend the resources to get a dev program going.  It really is the ultimate in user-generated content.

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