Plovdiv Game Jam 2017… Holy crap! It was held from 20th (Friday) to 22nd (Sunday) of January at the Technical University of Sofia, Plovdiv Branch. It was a tremendously fun experience so I would like to just get to it! (Cause I can’t wait to tell you how it went!)
The first day started with a quick registration, getting your badge, saying an excited ‘Hi’ to everybody you know and haven’t seen in a while, (lots of hugs there!), sneaking a peеk in your gift bag, picking a T-shirt size. Then catching your breath over the excitement of arriving. We all took a turn on the HTC Vive that was there.
Soon after, the lectures started. The first one was by Ned of Trakia Games. He said some very useful things for everyone who’s looking to start working in the game industry (and not only). Vicky talked on behalf of Quark VR about advertising a VR project, but her talk was applicable to any platform. The guys from Victus talked about game art. Kipi Interactive dived into the good and the bad about the world of game development. Last was a discussion panel with a bunch of great guys, who got our attention and didn’t let go - Georgi Dinchev as moderator and Colorado Stark, Stoyan Nikolov and our own Mitko as speakers. The topic was how to choose a game engine, but they didn’t limit themselves with just that, especially at the Q&A part at the ends of the discussion.
Quick break, a few new names, a bite to eat and it was time to get nervous about the theme.
There was sooo much anticipation when announcing the theme – they played videos from previous jams, a sort of ‘this is what you should expect’ video from Extra Credits which was really funny (of course). And then the theme was announced as short video examples - ocean waves, sound waves, Mexican waves, any wave imaginable really. It was nerve racking. They really cleverly managed to build up suspense and get everybody hyped.
Team forming was up next and it was quite fun. We went to a big open area in the building and first we divided into groups according to profession – programmers, artists, game/level designers, etc. This was crucial since we were about 70 people and personally, I did not manage to talk to each one and ask them what they did, besides my best effort. So we mingled within each group, joked around and (as we were asked) talked about what we think the other groups thought of us. After that we divided again, this time according to whether you're a student, part of a big studio or an indie studio. Aand repeat. Now that all the prejudices were out of the way, we were then reminded that we are all here for the same things – make games, make friends and have fun. And that the love of game development is what unites us. :) A few laughs later we returned to the lecture hall and were given a choice (hah, that sounds dramatic) – stay in the lecture hall and present ideas about a game and find teammates according to what game you want to make, or go upstairs to the jamming rooms and speed date – get to know each other, bond, team up and then come up with a game concept. Needless to say – speed dating sounded more enticing.
We (Dreamteck) didn’t play as a team. The game jam is a place to meet people and make new friends in our opinion. It’s also a place to learn from others, share your knowledge with others, challenge yourself, test yourself. It’s a chance to work with different people. A lot of the art students pointed out that having the opportunity to work with programmers was one of the best things about the jam. For people who already work in teams – it’s a way to not only stare at some unfamiliar faces for a change, but to also see different approaches to tasks that you can bring into your everyday team. And it makes you appreciate your colleagues (and you are actually happy to see them on Monday (just kidding – Tuesday, nobody was conscious on Monday.))
So we entered a room with tables for 6, we sat down randomly, talked for about 4-5 minutes and then haphazardly switched. We did this 5-6 times which was enough to get acquainted with a fair amount of people. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to talk about with people. I didn’t know what they expected me to talk about or ask them. With some we talked about what each of us could do, some asked if anyone had an idea for a game, which... nobody did, naturally.
I’m thinking that it would have been more suitable if I had asked people about what they liked doing, what games they liked playing, what they liked drawing (for artist), etc. Even what they wanted to do during the Jam – whether they wanted to play it safe, or they wanted to dive into something they have never done before; whether they wanted to do something crazy and fun or something more serious. 'Cause that really tells you more about a person. But honestly – it being my first Game Jam, or any event of this sort – I was nervous, so all that didn’t occur to me on time.
So each of us formed a team – Sergo was snatched by a programmer, Annie hooked up with some nice fellas (all programmers), Mitko teamed up with a bunch of crazy kids (a few programmers and a couple very talented artists) and Danny and I matched up with Ned (who’s an experienced programmer) and some of his students.
And so the first night began. Each team found a table in one of the two rooms we had at our disposal and we started talking. We had dinner and each team talked over ideas, did a little research. There was a lot of chatter that first evening. Right in front of the two jamming halls, in a big square part of the corridor, the organizers and volunteers had set up camp. There were water and coffee for everyone at all times. There were always at least 2-3 volunteers there to provide the participants with whatever they need. I gotta take a second here to say that all organizers and volunteers were awesome. They were always smiling even though they slept even less than we did, they carried food trays and an endless amount of packages of bottled water. You people are rockstars!
By about 10 PM most teams had started working on their games. The room got a bit quieter. Mine and Danny’s team came up with a game concept for cardboard VR (since a couple of the guys on the team – the ever funny and entertaining twins – had some experience with VR). In the game, you're in complete darkness and you ‘see’ by making sounds (here’s where the waves come in). You can make any noises - clap, talk, snap your fingers or shout - to use your sonar-like vision. You’re being chased, so you need to escape, but there are obstacles, like locked doors that you need to find keys for, for example.
Mitko’s team’s game was centred around a hungover fox, stranded on a small island. Waves come in from 360 and threaten to drown the poor bastard, so he has to build a tower from whatever junk washes up from the waves. But it’s not as easy as it sounds, because each wave makes sure to ruin your efforts. You need to be persistent and cautious if you wanna make it to the top. It turned out more than hilarious!
Sergo’s game was about an archaeologist who has fallen into the trap of ancient structures during an adventurous quest. In order to get out, he has to solve riddles that are based on sound waves. They made the game from scratch with SDL, which was hardcore.
Annie’s team cooked up an endless runner game with Android Studio. It was about a hobo-Poseidon, who rides a wave of garbage in his barrel-carriage and destroys buildings in his way. They used the accelerometer to control the waves of garbage.
About.. I think it was 2:30-3 AM, we headed to the hotel to get some sleep. To be honest, I’m not too clear on the details from this point on. :D That’s when sleep deprivation started accumulating. The next morning we went back just in time for breakfast. We worked ALL day. Most people had lunch at their computers and literally worked non-stop. Since mine and Danny’s game used noise as a primary input, our team often went to the floor above, where it was quiet, so we could test. The whole time there was a live stream going on. (The organizers took care of that as well. Rockstars.)
Personally, I didn’t feel as exhausted as I thought. During the day, there was chatter and noise in the room, but I was so focused and the room’s vibe was so positive that it didn’t drain me as I thought it might.
The dinner that second night was the first break that day for most people, a much much needed break. There was beer. I don’t drink, so I just stood near Danny’s beer to look cooler. The second night was quieter as well. Everybody was weary, but still focused and not giving in to the desire to sleep. Around 4AM we went back to the hotel for what was practically a costume change. We slept for about 2 and a half hours and headed back.
The third day was crazy! We had until 3 PM to finish AND UPLOAD our games to the GGJ website. That meant every little problem was an “OH CRAP” moment. One minute you’re thinking “Oh, we’re gonna make this, we’re almost there and we’ve got plenty of time”, the next minute it’s “Are you kidding me?! Oh my God, I’m not sure, we’re gonna make it…”. It was a rainbow of emotions. :D
About 2-3 hours before the deadline, our jam location was up next on the Global Game Jam stream on Twitch. So they snatched Mitko and Kristyan (a dude whose team made a game where the zombies are living a normal life, minding their own business, when all of a sudden humans attack!) for an interview with the hilarious Ristaki. Nobody in the room could afford to stop working to watch the interview, so I cranked up my laptop and we all listened to it.
I was three coffees in and we had a half hour until the upload deadline. Which practically meant we had to start uploading right away, because it wasn’t hard to guess that everybody in our time zone would start uploading their games at the last possible minute and the site will probably crash. And it sort of did. Cue the panic. We spent about 25 minutes looking at a single laptop screen and a single non-moving progress bar, until we decided to refresh and start over. Our game finally uploaded about 2 hours later (and not just ours), during which time all teams had to prepare something (presentation, video, screenshots) to present their game. We decided it would be best if somebody played our game live, but also prepared a couple videos just in case. Mitko’s, Annie’s and Sergo’s team all prepared gameplay videos along with short PowerPoint presentations. Although a lot of teams just made live demonstrations of their games.
We all settled in the lecture hall, did a quick check if all teams were present and the presentations started. There were a lot of good, fun games this year. It was a good year!
Since my team’s game depended on noise, it was very cool that the whole audience helped out – that was the idea! They all clapped while we were demonstrating it, in order to help Ellie (the girl we convinced to be our test subject) see. We streamed from the phone to the big screen and what the audience saw had dreadful resolution, which was not what we hoped for. We then discussed that probably the videos would have been the better way to go, even though they could not represent the gameplay that well.
Annie’s team’s game made everybody giggle – they presented it in a very fun way!
Sergo’s game was immediately appreciated for its great art, although there were bugs.
Mitko’s team made everybody laugh with their game. They were all very radiant and they had an awesome game to showcase! The room burst out laughing when they heard the drowning sound for the fox (recorded by the team during the jam).
Lastly, a bunch of the organizers and volunteers presented a very funny, full of sort of inside jokes, game about pirates. They put it together during the jam, while taking caring of us. What did I tell you – rockstars! Their game was not in the competition (you couldn’t vote for it) – they made it just for fun and they showed it to us, because they knew everybody would get a kick out of it.
After all teams presented their games, all participants voted. (Of course you weren’t allowed to vote for yourself.) On a big desk on the stage were screenshots from all games, with boxes for votes next to each one.
We were all given one wooden token (courtesy of the guys from Play Vitosha) to put in a box of our choice. After everybody had voted, one member of each team was asked to the stage, to take out all tokens from their game’s box and form a shape with them. Then everybody returned to their team and we held our breaths.
There were separate prizes for board and digital games, but there was only one board game this year, so they automatically won. They were awarded their trophy and then votes were counted for the digital games. Without unnecessary ado, they announced Mitko’s team for winners! The next hour was a haze of camera flashes, presents, smiles and hugs! It was a tremendous joy for all of us! All of the guys on Mitko’s team were pure awesomeness and they really worked their asses off! They told Mitko they would be honoured if he kept the trophy, which was really touching and very sweet of them! (The trophy was also a courtesy of Play Vitosha. Аnd it may look like a simple wood cube, but it disassembles and is actually 3 game boards – one for chess, one for backgammon and one for ludo – along with a drawer full of pawns, pieces and two pretty clever dice. Epic.)
The organizers said their formal goodbyes and thanked all volunteers and participants for the amazing experience. But it wasn’t over yet – we all went to a bar for victory drinks. We stayed up later than I thought we would survive. We laughed so hard, smiled so wide. We all agreed on one thing – we all won! We won new friends, we won an incredible weekend and unique experience, we won warmth and positivity that is definitely going to last! And we won that exceptional twenty-people toast!
Thank you, the PGJ team, for taking such good care of us! We really had everything we needed and were free to focus on our games! Thank you, to all the people I clinked glasses with – you hold a special place in my heart! And thank you to everybody who played with a smile on their face! It was a hell of a party!
By the way, we filmed throughout the entire time - you can watch our video here:
Photos by Plovdiv Game Jam and MediaCafe.