Jamchester 2016

Last weekend I took part in Jamchester, a games jam that took place in Manchester (obviously) at The Studio in the city centre. What makes this games jam different from the other game jams that take place on-site is that this is considered a “professional game jam”.

Unlike student game jams (like Staffordshire’s Global Game Jam or University of Hull’s Three Thing Game) or amateur game jams (like Ludum Dare), Jamchester is a games jam aimed at professional game developers, particularly the indie game studios that take place around the Greater Manchester area. While there were some student teams (and a student category), the majority of entrants are all professional game developers with a variety of experience in the games industry.

I was encouraged to go by the team at Desk Dragons, and managed to get one of the last tickets to get in. I managed to leave work early in order to get to Manchester before the jam began, and I was amazed at how well organized the jam was. Every table had a branded notebook and “survival kit” containing shampoo, wipes, toothpaste with a toothbrush. There was a schedule with food provided all day with buffets and even a BBQ in the late afternoon. Almost all of this was possible with the amount of sponsors, as the money from the tickets went to the charity Special Effect.

The theme announced was “You have already won”, a rather clever theme with broad possibilities. When thinking of ideas with Desk Dragons we thought a lot about what would happen when we won a game, and what kind of game we would win. We somehow ended up with the idea of winning a game of Russian roulette, and was tasked with cleaning up the room post-game. It was a surprisingly dark concept but we ended up joking a lot about what we could do with it.

As Desk Dragon’s is primarily a Unreal Engine 4 developer, that was the engine we used. The team also wanted to try out some new VR tools they got, and since I never made a VR game before I was on board, we went with using Oculus Rift DK2 with Leap Motion Orion. A lot of developers know about the Rift but Leap Motion is a fairly newer piece of kit which tracks your hands without the need of any fancy gloves. I got play around with the leap motion a lot and it felt great, being able to manipulate the world with your hands so freely. There were limitations and some difficulties with functions such as grabbing and picking up items, but Saturday in particular proved that being able to push around objects and smashing some with destructible meshes is really satisfying.

Throughout the day the judges as well as other developers were checking out what we had worked on, including Gary Napper, Quang Nguyen, Alex Rose and more. Half way through the team was starting to realise how dark the game was looking, so we decided to lighten it up to a more comedic effect.

We barely finished what we had done, although we couldn’t get everything we wanted. Grabbing and throwing items was unfortunately a huge feature we couldn’t get fixed in time, so it only worked partially. We did however manage to make a game where you had to clean blood off the table, hide the gun and place hats on bodies. When judges were starting to arrive, panic set in as Oculus Rift decided to fail on us. The device couldn’t get past calibration, so what we ended up having to do was run the game in UE4 and manually adjust the height. Once we got that sorted then judges were playing. Some got really creative and were very impressed with what they saw.

It was pretty funny how some players tried to complete the game, one of the highlights was one of the players trying to push one of the bodies out of the window. You can check out some people playing the game from the livestream (although fair warning the full video is quite long).

After a drink or two and some snacks, judging had finished and it was time for the awards ceremony. The main award categories were: Best Game, Best Audio, Best Graphics, Best Gameplay, Best Tech Achievement, Innovation Award, Best Company Game and Best Student Game. There were also two sponsored award categories in the form of “Best Windows VR Game” from Microsoft and “Totally Unreal Award” from Epic Games. I wasn’t too optimistic on winning anything so imagine my surprise when our team actually won the “Totally Unreal Award”!

While the main categories won these cool looking trophies, the sponsored awards gave out full prizes. The Windows VR award offered out Xbox Ones to the full team, while the Totally Unreal award winners were offered a choice between a GTX graphics card or a HTC Vive. Safe to say we are gonna be enjoying some new toys!

You can check out the game we made on the Jamchester Devpost site, however you will need an Oculus Rift and Leap Motion Orion to play.

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