Game Makers Toolkit Jam 2018 lined up with Father's Day so I decided to create a game with my Dad. He has been working as an Art Gallery Educator since I was a kid so I knew he would have some solid art skills to bring to the table. The theme of the jam was GENRE, but you can’t MECHANIC. This meant making a game in a genre without its fundamental mechanic. I had been playing a lot of Jamestown with my son, a top down Shoot Em Up. The idea for this jam was to make a Shoot Em Up without any shooting.

The theme we arrived on was to create a helicopter rescue game. The player would control a helicopter on its way to rescue sailors. The 'enemies' would be waves of birds coming in Shoot Em Up patterns. For the ending, there would be a boss battle where you had to hover over a lifeboat and collect all the sailors before sharks got them.

In previous game jams where I had worked with an artist, they created a spritesheet ready to go into the game. This time, we were both learning the middle step of getting the hand drawn art into spritesheets. I ended up taking a photo of the art then cutting it out in I got Dad to do four versions of each sprite so it would have a nice wiggle, inspired by The Bridge. I learnt a few things cropping out these pictures. First, it is way easier to cut things out if they are not overlapping in a square. Second, is that it is way less post processing if you scan them rather than taking a photo. But a good goal for a game jam is to try out a new technique and see how it works so it was a good learning experience.

From the start, I could see the game in my head and how the art would look, but it was all new for Dad. We started with the helicopter and I got him to do the blades as squiggles. He was so excited to see a drawing he had made come to life as a sprite. My favourite part of the jam was him seeing this analogue medium he had worked in all his life come alive on screen. That hand drawn art was not going to be replaced, but could be used to give a unique spin on a digital art form.

Once I had the sprites it was time to start coding. With three different bird sprites to work with I got each one to come in a different pattern and speed to add some variety. To give the feeling of movement, Veronica created a looping background and I did a naïve implementation of getting it to scroll. I had different ideas for the 'boss battle' but ended up having hovering over the life raft which lowered a bar as a first cut. As usual in a gamejam, this first cut ended up being what shipped. For the credits screen I quickly made an 'after action report' with type writer style text which has been a favourite of mine since I learnt how to do it as one of my first programming experiments.

Since a good chunk of the time went into creating sprite sheets the end was a rush. There was only about an hour to go when I realised that the awesome cover image had a shark but I had not yet gotten the sharks into the game. I added these right at the end as an additional challenge to the boss battle then submitted. The biggest time sink was underestimating how much work would be involved processing the art. This meant that by the time the core was working the jam was over and the concept didn't get time to breathe and show what it needed to be.

The main feedback was that the art was great (the hand drawn style really stood out) but it didn't fit the theme well and was too short. I hit the surface level of a game without the mechanic, by removing shooting from a Shoot Em Up, but missed the goal of doing something interesting with it. It is a real shame to have let down the art with a lack luster game. There were a lot of interesting takes on the theme but my favourite was the really polished What Goes Up - a platformer without falling. They took away the normal gravity from a 2D platformer which introduced a whole new set of puzzles. Having to carefully manage your height meant that they took the theme and made a really interesting new game out of it.

As it went though it was a really memorable fathers day. I loved creating something with Dad and letting him see what game development is all about. I also saw how high the bar was for the GMTK Jam and that I would have to bring my A game next year.

Lessons Learnt

Working with someone on their first game is really fun
Hand drawn art stands out and gives a great cover image
Work out the asset pipeline before hand
Make sure you are using the theme in an interesting way