As big gamedev events are becoming quite rare in Kyiv, Ukraine, game developers themselves are organizing informal gatherings to still share experience and discuss their ongoing and/or fresh games. As for gamejams, Ukrainian devs have already got the taste of these, and just-for-fun projects become award-winning hits — think of Party Hard, for instance, who won the Critics’ Choice award at Casual Connect Europe 2015 Indie Showcase.
So the CEO of a Kyiv-based studio of Gestalt Games, Andriy Tykhonchuk, and his wife Olena decided to organize a 48-hours gamedev challenge of INDIE|48 that took place in April 2015 at the G13 project studio.
“I came up with this idea after seeing a YouTube video of some Scandinavian devs doing something similar. I felt like participating in an event of this type too! But accidentally did too much and organized one. Why 48 hours? I think it’s standard time for this type of events. You cannot do much in one day, and 3 days is a lot”, Andriy explains.
Of course he did some research before organizing INDIE|48, and discovered that no one in Ukraine is really doing this exact type of hackathon events, focused entirely on games. However, there are IT competitions like, for example, the Golden Byte contest, where there is a games nomination.
While Andriy carried the burden of all organizational work, his wife Olena helped a lot during the event itself. “We were doing this for the first time. We’re actually just a small indie company of 5 people”, he shares. “The hardest part was to find sponsors. Things are tight with this in our country.”
Nevertheless, Unity Technologies and the “Liberation” NGO agreed to support the event for aspiring developers for this first time. “I really want to believe that INDIE|48 will become a tradition and gain support of big companies. While we’ll go on developing the indie gamedev hangout”, Andriy adds.
Crocodile, Sleep, Sport
The task was to create a playable game within the 48-hours timeframe. No pre-made assets were allowed, except for sound — but this meant the team could not qualify for the Best Sound nomination.
Crocodile, Sleep, Sport — these were the keywords chosen by the judges, Tatem Games‘ CEO Igor Karev and Alexander Shtachenko from iLogos. The keywords needed to be incorporated in the game in whatever way the devs considered appropriate.
Day 1: Survivability Test
From the initial 19 teams who wanted to participate, 14 had actually arrived, and only 13 survived till Day 3. Most participants were from Kyiv, though some have made a long way from other Ukrainian cities specifically for the gamejam.
Andriy reminded the rules, announced the keywords — and started the countdown! The teams, who were at first sitting at their tables like good schoolchildren at their first lesson, start brainstorming and sketching stuff, gradually moving to all coziest corners of the studio. The best time to walk around and just peek over the shoulder and overhear bits of creative discussions!
This first stage seemed the most tense, since the keywords weren’t the easiest ones to implement and not all teams were happy with this choice.
The myth of game developers being “night owls” operating on buckets of coffee and energy drinks has been partly busted at INDIE|48. Surpsingly many teams chose the option of sleep over an allnighter. Nevertheless, those who felt better working at night were free to do so — a gamejam is not an army, so there were no limitations on sleep/work schedules. By nap time most of the teams already came up with some intriguing sketches — that, however, did not reveal their ideas completely.
Day 2: Implementation
Day 2 has been about pure work: initial ideas have been shaped, and needed to be brought to life. By this time the teams had already communicated with each other for a while, and chats became more frequent. The coffee machine-and-cookies area became the space of networking and sharing overall impressions. For some people the gamejam happened to be a test for balancing work and hobbies: one of the devs admitted that “7 days a week making games feels like too much”. What is more, for some participants INDIE|48 was the first time of dealing with games. In one of the teams the programmer was there for the sake of challenging himself in a gamejam, and he brought friends just to keep company — and one of the guys happened to be skilled in writing music and therefore useful.
Day 3: The Variety of crocodiles, sports and dreams
On Day 3 you could already see drafts turning into actual games: the art became distinctive, and one could try to follow gameplay if they were shameless enough to peek over the devs’ shoulders for long.
As opposed to the popular belief that in Slavic countries 90% of work is done in the last 10% of time, there was no panic or rush even in the last minutes of the 48-hours gamemaking challenge.
The crocodile happened to be the antagonist in the majority of the games, though some teams gave the reptile a chance to be the hero and not the villain.
The Empairish team presented a game called Of Crocs And Humans, where you play as an ex-sportsman with the hobby of collecting crocodiles’ eggs. Not an easy task, considering that sleepy female crocodiles attack the sportsman if he gets too noisy at night.
They said – There Is No Team Name, and just called their team this way. And named their creation Yellow Bed: crocodiles here are haunting people in their sleep, and need to be destroyed with a saw. When the sleeper, that is — the player, loses the battle, everything ends with a yellow bed. Does this need an explanation why? 😀
Finally, the poor crocodiles got some positive exposure! In Revolution Fist’s project CrocoRun a circus-show crocodile trained as a sportsman wants to escape. He gets this chance when the handler falls asleep, but then luck gets bad: the human wakes up while the crocodile tries to snatch the key. Playing as the crocodile, you need to chase the handler, and bite him 3 times to win the game.
The creation of ZdarovaBanditu, with cute pixel graphics and made with GameMaker, was presented as The Bed. In this game the protagonist falls asleep in his room, and in a dream a witch asks him to help her get home, because a creepy creature gets in her way. Defeating it, you get the boxing gloves, that you’ll need to fight the final boss — a boxing crocodile.
During the presentation part of the gamejam, Andriy Tykhonchuk asked the audience to choose their favorite by applauding, the one who gets the loudest support wins. But since this small gamedev hangout turned out to be supportive towards each other, and no one was left without their dose of appreciation, it wasn’t an easy task for Andriy and judges from Tatem Games and iLogos to define who got most. Eventually, the People’s Choice award was given to the Renegades team, the authors of Joe vs Crocodiles. Here you act as Joe the baseball player who needs to get home and save his sleeping son from crocodiles, since the kid is afraid of them. The fighting happens during a baseball match — shoot crocodiles with balls or just smash with the bat.
The Renegades team welcomed one of the members right there at INDIE|48, and managed to make a game playable on iPad, and anyone from the audience could try it on the tablet.
A company of university friends who names themselves AnyKey used the keywords in BloodyBet – in some country people enjoy betting on others who dare to walk on swamps around sleeping crocodiles. In this game you only see the protagonist’s two legs, and it is them you control, each one separately. Just don’t make waves — they wake the crocodiles up, and you end as their food. If you don’t — you get a drink as a reward for an accomplished level, and move on to the next one. Surprise! The drink makes your legs shaky, and the challenge gets harder.
And these guys, the organizers say, could have won, but forgot to add sound. Anyway, the Best Gameplay and Best Idea awards went home with the Two Squares & Triangle team for CROCODIE. These devs said that their primary purpose at the gamejam was to create something fun. Their game of the “survival crocodile boating” genre, as they called it, features an abstract country’s national sport of crocodile-back riding. The animals need to eat in order not to fall asleep. They consume fish as they move along the river, and the “jockey” can knock flying birds down — and feed them to their crocodile as well. CROCODIE can be played both as single- and multiplayer: one gamer controls the “jockey”, the other one plays for the crocodile.
The Garinich Game team came all the way from the city of Cherkasy. They say there was only one person actually working on the game, while the other two were there just to make a team of three. Despite not having an artist and Unity crashing halfway the event, the guys decided to “make at least something”, which was presented as Disco Amazonka: an endless timekiller game with a catchy electronic tune, where you need to move a canoe carefully between some sleeping crocodiles.
The Best Idea winners, Rebel Dev Team, discovered their coolest artist wasn’t old enough to participate in INDIE|48 (all participants needed to be at least 18), so the art for their game Z.O.Z.H was made by another team member. And again, the crocodiles got some positive features here, These guys created a trippy world of drinkers and drug addicts, one of which is hanging upside down.
This is all a dream of a crocodile who wants to bring some sport to this crazy place. You can get help from a fat fairy who, as the authors say, obviously loves sports. Items are collected throughout the game, and in the end are used to assemble a device to escape the dream. As for the genre, the game is a platformer, but the world around you spins, adding some more physical challenge.
“A mix of all that can be played in one’s free time” was how WeAreGroot defined the genre of their game Y.A.I.G 48, which is a dream of a sleeping fat crocodile who wants to become fit. He walks around a dark gym trying to steal weight plates from barbels to bring home and work out there, and fights enemies trying to stop him.
Tap The Sheep game doesn’t have any reference to crocs, sleep or sport in the title, but the authors, a 3-programmers team of Drunk Elephant Games, proved this impression wrong! Their game is for people who need to calm down and fall asleep. Control the four legs of a crocodile heading towards his bed, and count sheep on your way. Better slowly, since the faster you walk, the more you wake up, while you shouldn’t.
As well as you shouldn’t reach the bed: you need to be already asleep by this time. The developers said that for the crocodile they used inverse kinematics, not just animation. The game has no music, but the presentation was accompanied by the developers’ singing a popular lullaby from a kids’ TV show.
And Steel Midnight Finish chose Python to make the game of Caligo (“mist” in Latin), instead of the initially planned C++ that they eventually considered too complicated. The story is about a boy tortured by nightmares. His dad gives him a toy crocodile to scare bad things away in the realm of dreams. In addition to an uncommon programming decision, the game art isn’t traditionally cartoonish and bright, but on the contrary, gives some ambient and, as the devs explain, a surreal feel.
Cool Art + Catchy Sound = Winner
And the winner is… Diversido, a team from Kyiv with their game BillaBong, where you play as an aborigine kid trying to walk on a swamp not to wake up sleeping crocodiles. They became the absolute winners of the gamejam, also getting the awards for Best Art and Best Sound.
Diversido’s product manager and developer Valerii Minenko created a catchy tune that the main character whistles as she walks among the reptiles: after the team presented their game, you could hear guys whistling that same tune for a while. Valerii shares more about BillaBong.
“You cannot do many things with a sleeping someone. We found just one – wake them up!”
“Every game is a combination of mechanics and setting, it’s a world where the player needs to do something. My formula of a good game is that gameplay and setting should perfectly fit each other. If we create a game about crocodiles — the player must not ask himself why it is exactly crocodiles but not puppies or, for example, Gummi Bears”, Valerii explains.
Since the keywords were “crocodile”, “sleep” and “sport”, Valerii and his colleague Anya started brainstorming around the idea of sleeping crocodiles and tried to make them an essential part of the gameplay. “You cannot do many things with a sleeping someone. We found just one – wake them up!”, he comments. This became the base of the gameplay — the crocodiles sleep and somebody wakes them up.
“We focused on creating a small but complete project. We didn’t develop much of functionality, but tried to keep the quality of our work perfect. Also, we tried to add to the project not only basic gameplay, but necessary supporting functionality as well – like UI and sounds”.
“I think the biggest challenge was to plan our work in a way that if someone had a look at it, he wouldn’t feel like something is missing. I hope we managed this.”
The Diversido team were using Unity 5, since this is what they work with on a daily basis in their company of Diversido Mobile. Valerii adds that they still haven’t made many projects with the freshest version of Unity, so were also interested in playing with the new engine features.
For their team the gamejam turned out an excellent teambuilding opportunity: much better than investigating bars together, Valerii says. “I feel that we have become closer during the event. Hope this will be useful for our future work. Also I now know what our performance is when we are working with passion. It is very high!”
Diversido haven’t yet decided what to do with the BillaBong game project conceived at INDIE|48. Valerii shared that they’re currently preparing a few projects for release and would rather focus on that. Nevertheless, BillaBong has been added to their website, and they show it to all their friends.