When I spotted an article advertising indie speed run, I excitedly forwarded it to my good friend Phil in the hopes of teaming up with him. The challenge? To make a game in 48 hours. I received an almost immediate and more excited “YES!” from Phil and that was the beginning of the challenge.
After reading the rules with more detail, we instantly started to work out when we could complete the challenge. Being December and both having busy christmas social calendars, the only weekend we were all available, was the weekend before christmas. “Perfect! That’ll keep me away from all the christmas shoppers!” I thought.
So our other good friends Alan and Carl joined the team and the stage was set. We decided on the team name “The Four Horseman” as we would start this challenge on the Friday 21st of December 2012. When Phil suggested the name, it was a no brainer and superseded all our other suggestions. But even if the game came out rubbish, we thought we had a pretty good team name at least.
Fast forward to the Friday night and we were all slightly sore and numb from our works christmas party the night before. We huddled in Phil’s flat, preparing our machines for action and eagerly anticipating the start of the challenge. As soon as we hit the submit button, we’d receive a random theme that we should follow and a random element that should be present in the game. We would then have 48 hours to design, create, test and submit our game.†
“Well that’s pretty self explanatory!” I said. Alot of other teams had got some much trickier combinations. “Insurrection” and “Gnome” being another teams variables. So we had a pretty clear direction.
That was enough to spark a discussion and get the ball rolling. What followed was an energetic trade of various ideas and technical discussions on how to implement them in the time frame. Of course there were great ideas and bad ideas. Ones that could be done in 48 hours and ones that were noted as “version 2”. Pretty soon we had settled on the idea of a simple exploration/collecting mechanic that we could easily build upon should we have the time. We had many ideas that would not be implemented and it was important to concentrate on getting the basic game down first.
We really wanted to capture the sense of depth in the game and as the artist I set about creating a mood board by collecting as many underwater, and submarine images as we could. From this I could see that from a visual standpoint, a silhouette based style would be quick to implement, but also look visually appealing. I was not feeling brave enough to take the creation of an original visual theme, a decision I would be grateful for later. Phil and Carl began to flesh out a basic engine and Alan began to design the levels.
The game was to be tile based. That way we could create several levels quickly and get a decent amount of playing time in there. To create the levels, we simply used a graphic where each pixel could be colour coordinated (by Alan) to represent the different tiles. At first it was suggested to use notepad, however we settled on the graphic as it would allow alan and also the rest of us to see how the level was structured outside of the game.
By this point it was getting late and rather than battle on with hangovers, it would be better to get some rest and regroup early in the morning with fresh heads. I could not speak for the other guys, but gone are the days when I could stay up all night. I believe it’s more efficient to get rest and take breaks, as lack of sleep and rest kills productivity.†
The next morning I arrived back at Phil’s place and upon entering I chuckled to myself as the guys were all coding away with Seaquest DSV playing on Netflix in the background. Roy Schieder would be our companions for the weekend.
Saturday was then about getting stuck in. I began creating the tiles. I wanted no visual repetition, so after a lengthy technical discussion with Phil about how the tiles would be implemented I created several sets of each tile. I used the DSV title screen to test the pieces fitting together. It allowed me to establish a representation of the theme and test the tiles at the same time. No engine at this point, so photoshop would do.
24 hours to go and we had the submarine floating around the levels. Phil had added some great searchlights to the submarine. He asked me for an improved graphic and after a quick photoshop, we had the searchlights in and done. These began to give off a nice illusion of depth and combined with the darker later levels, it looked pretty atmospheric.
It was late again before we agreed to once again depart and get some rest. By this point it was obvious to me that I was actually getting ill, so I was pretty desperate to get some sleep. I would have been better off staying awake and carrying on with the game. As I continued to feel worse, I could not settle and, typically, I dropped off about an hour and a half before my alarm went off.
When I came to, all I wanted to do was roll over and die. I felt truly awful. However I was not about to abandon the team. My head was banging, it was dull grey outside and my mood was low. But I hate rolling over, so I just got going.
Turning up at Phil’s again (later than the others). I checked on the state of play. The guys were beginning to have some issues with various parts of the game. Some tiles were not rendering correctly. Fishes were not appearing and the collision system was not working properly. The pressure was on. Only several hours left until the deadline.
Luckily for me I had done most of my grunt work on Saturday and today was just about creating new animated fish and plants to put in the game. I can happily say it was not my finest day of work, but given the circumstances I was happy just to be there. Time was running out and the guys were concentrating hard on getting the game working.
It was important at this stage to stay focused on the main task. Almost every conversation generated new ideas about the game and while they were inspiring and provided a lot of energy, it was a danger to us getting side tracked. I did not want to go through all of this and end up with no game at the end. It was a depressing thought, so we constantly reminded each other of the deadline and aimed to finish the game a couple of hours early.
I’m very glad we aimed for this because as you guessed it, 2 hours to go and the game was still far from complete. The collision was almost complete, but we did not have a complete game loop yet. A few game breaking bugs still existed and we had not added a title screen yet either. A critical requirement for the competition.
I had pretty much finished all I could do on art, so I helped Alan tweak the colour and feel of the environments. The levels change colour to emphasise the depth the player is getting to and we worked together to get a nice balance between the levels and capture a great feel. Of course there was so much more we could do to emphasise this, but not in 48 hours.
1 hour to go and by this point I had started pacing. Furrowed brow, I could only watch as Phil, Carl and Alan worked at full steam to fix the final bugs and add the last features. I have to admit at this point I thought we were toast, despite Phil’s reassurance that it was going to get done.
The music that was donated by our musical friend Naomi went in. It was coming together. It looked great, but it was still not working acceptably yet. It was 30 mins to go and I must have been annoying the hell out of the guys with my constant pacing and reminding of the impending deadline hurtling towards us.
15 mins to go. Last few tiny bits were implemented. We had a game, but no! A bug. The game would crash on level change. By this point my hands were firmly clasped on the back of my head as I paced about. Now definitely sweating. I knew the world was not about to end if we did not do this, but I’d certainly be going home depressed if we did not. Several minutes passed and although Phil and Carl knew exactly what they were doing, I had no idea of how close we were away. I kept looking at the clock. Another minute passed. Selfishly I wanted to know why it was not working, but I thought any distractions would be a delay, so I bit my lip.
But with knife edged focus from the guys, the bug was fixed, the game was built. We uploaded and there was one more panic as we filled out the game profile on the website. “Title graphic”. Thankfully I had created a title graphic throughout the challenge just as a play around with the theme, but I practically jumped over the sofa to grab it for the guys.†
Game uploaded, profile submitted. All done! Check the clock? 5 minutes to go. I just about collapsed at that point. There were smiles all round as we laughed at how close it was and also at how pleased we were at what we created. It came out better than all our expectations and despite being only 48 hours long, our challenge was full of up and down moments.
After we had submitted it was discovered that the title we put in the game ‘Deep Sea Vessel’, was completely incorrect. The correct term being ‘Deep Submergence Vehicle’, which brought a round of laughter. In our haste to complete the game, nobody had questioned it.
It was time to go for a few well earned drinks in the pub and congratulate each other on a good effort. Despite my desire to get some sleep, I still had enough adrenaline to have a few cokes. Even if the game was not up to scratch, we were proud of what we had done and the sense of camaraderie was strong.
The Indie Speed Run challenge was great fun. It was a great way to get more experience, spawn new ideas and generally have a mini adventure. I’ll almost certainly be taking part in more game jams, but I never want to watch another episode of Sea Quest DSV as long as I live.