Each June, the University of Portsmouth hosts a week long GameJam. It’s 35 hours in total, and the themes are picked at random from Wikipedia. The 2017 themes were women’s tennis, a shire in Queensland Australia, and a species of water scavenger beetle. We decided to go for just the shire, and so created a game based around Quilpie’s dominant industry: Grazing.
The initial idea was something akin to Snake, but turn based instead of needing fast reflexes. Instead, the challenge would come from being able to navigate a maze in a limited number of moves, without crashing into yourself. There were also influences from the Dreamcast game Chu Chu Rocket, and one of the mini-games from the Professor Layton series. Ultimately we wanted to keep the idea simple, and execute it the best we could.
The advantage to a puzzle game in a GameJam competition is that once the core mechanics are implemented, you can make content (levels) at a very rapid pace. With something like a platform game, you’ll only ever have time to make one or two levels in the time, but we managed to make nine. This meant that the game would take anywhere from 5 – 20 minutes to complete, depending on how puzzle savvy a player was. A TXT level parser was the first priority so that it would allow this quick content generation.
As a puzzle game, it also had the appeal of being able to watch someone else play, and want to play yourself so that you could do better. And many players who were already playing wanting to keep going so that they could solve a puzzle that was stumping them. This combination of multiple levels and challenging puzzles managed to win us the “Best Overall Game” award.