Each June, the University of Portsmouth hosts a week long GameJam. It’s 34 hours in total, and the themes are picked at random from Wikipedia. The 2019 themes were a lawyer who coached a basketball team, an African American author, and a small beach town called Yelapa. We decided to go for all three themes this year, picking the town as our setting, the author as our protagonist and the lawyer as our final boss.
Our biggest inspiration was early Zelda games, where you were locked to one screen at a time. We wanted each area to be self contained in that you could complete it before moving on. For the art style we were heavily inspired by the Switch version of Links Awakening, with its bright cheerful colours and cute characters.
Our character artist was new to the team this year, and she did a fantastic job of designing characters that not only fit the style we were going for, but also felt in-line with what our teams typical style is. We used the same rig for both characters so we wouldn’t need to animate both, but unfortunately didn’t get time to attach animations to the boss.
We stuck to a formula we’ve used before, which is to make each level in text format and have it dynamically spawned at runtime. This would mean we could put together levels very quickly just by changing a few lines in a text file. To try and streamline things a bit this year though, we designed the maps in the map editing tool Tiled and then used a Python script to convert it from the native XML format to the JSON format we wanted to use in Unity.
This meant we could get a map from tiled to Unity in a matter of seconds, which came in useful on the Friday since two hours before the deadline we still didn’t have any maps. We’d spent so long focusing on getting the pipeline in place, we hadn’t actually made any content. A colossal effort from every member of the team however managed to get things in place just in time.
The playtesters were the first ones to play the game end-to-end, we hadn’t had time ourselves to check it worked. One of our players commented that while it was a technical achievement to get our pipeline in place, the lack of time put into developing the gameplay could be felt. Whatever we end up doing next year, we’ll have to be sure to put the gameplay first.
We’re all very proud of what we created in such a short amount of time, it’s our most technically advanced GameJam game so far, and it managed to win an award for utilizing all three themes. If you’d like to play it, you can do so from the browser on itch.io.