Kajak Games’ Julius Fondem on Winning the Wooga Game Jam 2013 with Late Night Luchador

It was the end of January, and I was told by my fellow classmates at the Kajak Game Development Lab that Wooga was organizing their very first Wooga Game Jam at their office in Berlin, from the 15th to the 17th of March. I thought “this is really cool,” but didn’t really pay much attention to it since I thought it was a recruiting event, and I wasn’t interested in working at that particular company. At the same time, eight of my classmates formed two teams and entered the game jam. All was well until one of the teams realized that their team leader couldn’t make it to the jam because he would be in Thailand at that time. He had mistakenly thought the game jam would be in February. I was with them at the game lab as they realized this and started panicking over what should be done. I saw the opportunity, and said I could take his place, which gave the team a great sense of relief. So we sent a few emails to Wooga informing them of this slight change. I sent my application, and I was in for a chance to fly to Berlin for a game jam.

Wooga Game Jam

And So the Journey Began

We waited for two weeks and a reply from Wooga popped into our inboxes: we were chosen for the Wooga Game Jam! Awesome! We were so thrilled! The weeks rolled by and March came, so it was time to pack our bags and fly (Wooga was kind enough to pay for our flights, a huge bonus for students) over to Berlin. Our journey took us from Kajaani to Helsinki and then from Helsinki to Berlin. We arrived a day before the game jam, so we had a good night’s rest and were ready and extremely excited for the event the next day.

Player 5 Has Joined the Game

As I mentioned before, I would be taking the role of team leader, but on top of this I would also be working as the designer. My classmates Petri Liuska and Olli-Matti Saarenpää were the programmers and Elsa Saastamoinen was one of the graphic artists. That’s right, one of them. A funny opportunity arose before the event: Minna Eloranta, my friend from Tampere University of Applied Sciences, contacted me and let me know that she too would be taking part in the game jam. I immediately thought of the team and how she would fit into it. I knew that she was a crazy, wacky and passionate person like the rest of us so I made a judgement call: She would fit in. I told her rather bluntly that she would join our team, and she didn’t resist. This turned out to be a very good decision later on. The game jam was about to start and we were extremely eager.

Team photo of us as monsters!

Arrival

A Wooga notebook, pen and t-shirt that we got!

We arrived at Wooga’s office, and I was very anxious to get to work and find out what the theme of the game jam was. I could feel the team was thinking the same as we discussed how we would start working and wondered on what the theme would be. The office was absolutely awesome: A small kitchen with coffee, tea, fresh fruit, cereal and a tad bit of beer for those Friday evenings. The office was also very spacious and a pleasure to the senses with bright colors. A lot of time and effort had clearly been put into the office as a working environment. Oh, there was also an arcade machine! At some point, we made our way to the auditorium, where the CEO and co-founder Jens Begemann welcomed us. After that, a few talks on prototyping and recruitment at Wooga came the thing we were all waiting for: the theme.

 

Physics Based Ancient Anti-Gravity Ants

As the title of this chapter suggests, the theme of the game jam was physics. In addition to this, there were three optional themes: ancient, ants and anti-gravity. To be honest, I was quite disappointed with the theme; it felt quite dull and uninspiring. I would’ve preferred a theme similar to the last two Global Game Jams, based on a picture or sound. These, I feel, give more room for interpretation, give the jammers more creative freedom and produce more interesting games.

As the theme had been announced, it was time for all the jammers to form teams. While we had our team already set up, the other 20 or so jammers started teaming up. We practically ran out of the auditorium to secure the best possible spot for us to work in. We chose a little area in the office known as the Fish Bowl. This was where the magic would happen during the weekend.

Round 1: Fight!

I was super excited and bursting with energy, and so was the rest of the team. We were ready to create something fantastic! But before we went brainstorming, I suggested we create a timetable for ourselves so that we would pace ourselves well and the team agreed. One of the most important points of the timetable was that we would sleep seven hours each night. This proved to be an extremely smart decision and was key to our success later on.

Fish Bowl

The team brain storming in the Fish Bowl

We had already predetermined our platform to be Windows Phone 7, since me and my classmates had the most experience with it and we could work fast with it. This was new to Minna, but she quickly got the hang of it. Next, we moved on to brainstorming. We stared off by thinking of a theme for our game: helplessness. Our initial concept for the game was a big room with different types of gravitational fields and you would have to guide the protagonist through these different areas. We played with this idea for a while but moved on because it just wasn’t an interesting concept for us. We moved on to our next concept, which was a game where you had to guide a character that was walking automatically by creating gravity points to push or pull him/her. The idea was that you would be guiding this robot to the end of the level whilst avoiding dangers. We saw potential in this and decided to take it further.

The First Prototype

The game started off with an isometric perspective but we quickly changed it to a 2D perspective and, instead of the character walking, he or she would be falling instead. We decided to keep the creation of gravity points as the way to manipulate the protagonist’s movement. We playtested the prototype ourselves and made changes to it accordingly, then at midnight, we went around to the other teams and mentors and asked them to give it a try. We did some final tweaks and then started heading to bed. By the way, sleeping at the office was more comfortable than you’d think! They had these really nice green sofas, which were great for a good night’s rest. Then, as I was drifting to sleep, I had this feeling that something was wrong, that something just wasn’t right. The next morning we woke up to discover something horrible.

Oh No…

But we didn’t let ourselves get stuck here, we started making changes to see how we could make it enjoyable.

Our game sucked. It absolutely sucked. I woke up with this feeling, came back to the Fish Bowl to start work with the team and everyone felt the same. There was nothing enjoyable about our game: the controls were sluggish and uncomfortable, dodging hazards was hard and gave no sense of achievement and we didn’t really have an interesting theme. We were all quite down; I had the sinking feeling that we weren’t going to be able to do this. That our game would just suck. But we didn’t let ourselves get stuck here, we started making changes to see how we could make it enjoyable.

We changed the game so that you went up instead of falling down and changed the controls somewhat. The controls got better, but they were still bad. Then lunch came around and we took a small break from work. We were eating and talking about the game and then it happened, like lightning, out of the blue.

Viva La Revolucion!

Luchadors

Our protagonist luchador with the other luchador

Minna suggested Vikings for our theme, which got me really excited. I came up with an idea where the Viking would first go up whilst avoiding hazards and then come back down destroying a small village with his battleaxe. We talked about this for a while and then Petri said that which would define our game: “What if it was wrestling?” I immediately jumped on this and suggested we go with a Luchador theme. The team was onboard in a heartbeat. We finished lunch and rushed back to the Fish Bowl with revitalized enthusiasm and spirits. It was like a lightning bolt of pure inspiration had just hit us and we were now back on track. The luchador would first go up and then come down and bodyslam the other luchador with great force. Yes. No doubt about it.
We then also started to discuss the controls once again and I suggested that we make it so that when you tap the screen it causes an explosion, which propels the protagonist upwards and you have to keep doing it to not lose momentum. This was a fantastic change to our game! The controls suited the game, although we noticed after testing that the momentum thing did not; so we ditched it. It was at this time I contacted our music/sound guys again. I had asked them the previous day if they could do something and they said yes, but now I could give them something solid to work with. Now the train was heading full steam ahead.

Ore Wa Jakku Bauwwa

The team toiled away; making the new vision a reality, and boy, did it become greater as each hour passed. Although we were working hard, we were also having a tremendous amount of fun. Our mentor said that all the other teams were really serious and quiet in their work areas but we were just constantly communicating and having a blast! It seemed weird that the others were so serious.

We were making great progress and were constantly playtesting the game with ourselves and with the other teams. This great progress could also be seen in our moods; we were ecstatic and I had never had that much fun at a game jam. It was simply amazing.

By the end of the day, the game was in a great state, we even thought we’d have time to polish it the next day! Can you believe it, polishing a game jam game? With this triumphant feeling, we went to bed.

Polish That!

On Sunday when we continued working, we had about four hours before the deadline at noon. We saw that there was no need to add anything to the game, so we spent this time polishing what we had and preparing for the presentation of our game. We also didn’t have a name for our game yet, so we started brainstorming. We wanted the name to capture the luchador essence of our game and so after some time, we came to a conclusion: it would have to be Late Night Luchador. The last hours flew by quickly and before we knew it, it was time to present our game.

Late Night Luchador

Minna working on the main menu while Petri seems to be in pain

The Stage is Yours

We followed the rest of the jammers to the auditorium where we would present our game. The order of the team presentations was random, and wouldn’t you know it, we were last. I was sitting on the edge, excited to present our stuff, and it kept building up as our turn drew closer. Finally, it was our turn and we rushed to the stage to show our stuff. I talked about our game and the struggles that we had with it, and after that, we showed off our game. I could see the audience’s interest rise immediately as our menu screen popped up and our brilliant theme song started playing. The luchador went up and the audience was on edge as he was plummeting down to body slam the other luchador, and once he crashed into the other luchador, the audience erupted in laughter and applause. This was an absolutely awesome feeling, to see people really enjoy our game from just watching it being played.

While we were presenting our game, we had given the judges our game to play on some extra Windows Phones, which we had borrowed from our school for the trip. The judges then proceeded to announce the top three games. I was extremely excited and nervous whilst waiting to hear our team name. After the third and second place had been announced, I thought we would be the winners, or that our game had diverted too much from the theme and the judges just didn’t like it.

Victory!

“The winners: Late Night Luchador by Team Fuerte!”

We won!

The team with our fantastic trophies in the Fish Bowl!

Incredible! We came through. We made it through the game jam and produced a good solid game. For our victory, we got these small statues of characters from Wooga’s games. It was a really good feeling to make something so good in such a short time. We were extremely proud of ourselves, still are, for our achievement that weekend.

Conclusion

It really amazes me that we pulled of what we did in such a short time. I’m astounded how well the team worked together considering that this line up had never been tried out before and that Minna hadn’t met anyone else from the team before except me. I was especially surprised how well Minna and Elsa worked together and how congruent and unified their art style was. Petri and Olli-Matti worked tremendously well together as well. I also think that one of our greatest achievements was not letting our ideas get bogged down by the theme. By breaking away from that mold, we reached new heights.

I also think that one of our greatest achievements was not letting our ideas get bogged down by the theme.

I have also never had such fun during a game jam before. It was quite an emotional experience for me and there were very many laughs and smiles during the game jam. All of this positive energy is clearly visible in Late Night Luchador. Speaking of the game, I’m so proud that the game ended up being so great. Everything worked out so well: the gameplay, the art, the music and the controls. The game is whole, and it could easily be expanded upon which I’m extremely glad about. I wish I could relive the game jam and I want to thank the amazing team for an even more amazing time. It just goes to show that with a great team and the right attitude, one can achieve great things even within a short time span.

Julius and his team released the game hot from the game jam and you can get it here for free!

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