Future Games of Jam Weeks Past

 insights

In Jesse Schells book, The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, he quotes software engineer and professor Barry Boehm, the recog­nized founder of the spiral model of software devel­op­ment. Jesse high­lights the basic steps of the spiral model:

1. Come up with a basic design.2. Figure out the greatest risks in your design.3. Build proto­types that mitigate those risks.4. Test the prototypes.5. Come up with a more detailed design based on what you have learned.6. Return to step 2.

Chapter Seven, page 82

How does this model translate to game design and devel­op­ment? In the studio, we set aside one week of the year called Jam Week. During this week, people create teams or work indi­vid­u­ally with the goals of creating workable proto­types, honing skills, using new software, or exper­i­menting with old tools in new ways. These teams use rapid proto­typing and the above spiral method to develop a working demo by the end of the week. Demos and projects are shared with the rest of the company on the final day of Jam Week.

This post will examine two partic­ular projects that stemmed from former Jam Week projects that even­tu­ally became full-fledged games. One game follows the style and feel of its prede­cessor, while the second one has the goal of grooming a partic­ular audience in order for them to be ready to handle its prede­cessor.

Horrible Quests

Horrible Quests is a comedy-driven text role-playing game (RPG) where you play, as project director Dave Bennett describes, a down-on-your-luck Guild Manager,” and your goal is to take your group of talented misfits” on different adven­tures. The game is full of quirky and fun char­ac­ters, and each quest helps the Guild Manager maintain and build the Guild.

Why This Project?One of Dave’s previous Jam Week projects was Orion Trail, the space adventure game where you are the captain of the Inde­struc­tible II and you lead your team through a host of space odysseys.

Orion  Trail  Main

Orion Trail, since launching in 2016, has been a success. It was a successful Kick­starter campaign, and has won several awards and recog­ni­tion. Due to its fanfare, the studio also ported the PC game into VR, available on the Samsung Gear VR and the Oculus Rift.

Dave wanted to use Horrible Quests to iterate on some of the mechanics and narrative that worked well in Orion Trail, as well as trying a few different tech­niques. First the team wanted to tie more of the gameplay together. Second, the team realized that there was going to be a lot of writing in the game, so they tried to develop a process to create a lot of content in a short period of time. And finally, they wanted to test out a combat system. The team thought adding combat to a game like Horrible Quests could lessen the reading fatigue players often expe­ri­ence when there is a signif­i­cant amount of text in a game.

Below is a clip of a group of Schell Gamers playing Horrible Quests.

Starfishers/​Happy Atoms Jr.

Starfishers is a second gener­a­tion iteration of the highly-acclaimed Happy Atoms project, our digital and physical chemistry modeling set. Though a brain­child of Jesse, an initial working prototype of Happy Atoms was built during a past Jam Week. While Happy Atoms targets middle schoolers, a team wondered how they could use games to introduce two-to-six-year olds to the world of chemistry. They created a prototype called Happy Atoms Jr., a simple yet cute mobile app meant to teach young learners the building blocks of life around them.

Now enter Starfishers, a molecule breeding game where the player takes little atoms and combines them to make molecules. Then, the player is able to combine molecules with other molecules, all in an inter­ac­tive envi­ron­ment.

Why This Project?Sabrina, one of the leads on the project explained that there isn’t much out there for toddlers and young children when it comes to chemistry education. She said that the inspi­ra­tion behind Starfishers is to expose chemistry concepts and the language to these young learners so the terms and ideas aren’t so foreign to them at a later age.

Person Playing Starfishers Player Using Starfishers

People Playing Starfishers

Conclu­sion

Throughout the week, the teams working on Horrible Quests and Starfishers used the spiral model of devel­oping: creating a prototype, seeing the risks, proto­typing, designing, and iterating again and again. Jam Weeks are the perfect time not only to practice rapid proto­typing and using the spiral model, but to also allow our teams to explore and create, with the possi­bility making something amazing.