Jack was interested in studying programming from an early age but he didn’t get to learn about it much in school. Luckily his dad was a programmer and would talk to him about it, and bring home games which they would play together. At sixteen Jack went to college and studied computing alongside english, chemistry, and maths. He was also interested in and learning about cryptography and making Android apps, and made his first game, which was a text adventure.
Jack then decided to go to university to study computing and games development. He said that on his course he met many people from different backgrounds and with different skills, which is important when working together on projects. Jack explained how his course worked at university. Students would choose a module, study for six weeks, then be evaluated on their work. He met Will and Sam on his course and they became best friends, and realised that their different skills worked well together, so they formed So Good Studios and made their first project, Bath Tubb Pirates.
Three days after their final exam, So Good Studios set up their business in the Formation Zone, which is an “incubator” for start-up buisinesses. They made their first commercial product, a multiplayer game called Tap Tournament. Jack said that there are many business and tech networking opportunities in Plymouth, including SOUP crowdfunding events.
Finally, Jack gave us “Jack’s Super Cool Advice for Aspiring Game Developers”:
Work hard on your studies while you are under 18
Studying at university or college is not a necessary route to get into games development but it can be extremely helpful!
Learning to find information and teach yourself new things is a vital skill for games developers. You also need to enjoy learning new things.
Joining and building a community with other game developers allows you to show off your games and get support.
A community will also help you find people to collaborate with. This is important because different people bring different skills to a project and splitting work makes it easier and faster to complete a project.
Being part of a community can help you to promote your work.
Create a portfolio of your projects as you make them so that you can share your games, art, code etc.
A portfolio is crucial to your CV to show employers, colleges and clients what you can do!
It’s easy to make a portfolio online, for example you could share your work using WordPress, Patreon, YouTube, Tumblr, ArtStation and Scratch.
At the end of the talk Jack answered some questions from the audience. The room was almost full and I think that the talk was really good! I’m going to check out ArtStation and I want to get more involved with the Plymouth Game Devs and meet and work with more young games developers.
The event started with a video about the Global Game Jam. The video explained that the GGJ is a massive international event involving over 600 jam sites and more than 40,000 people across 90 countries! We saw clips of people working in teams all over the world. Most of the people in the video looked like they were in their twenties and I didn’t see anyone else around our age but I hope that there are others out there somewhere! There was a welcome talk by the Extra Credits team. Extra Credits is a YouTube channel that gives advice and has discussions about game development, and me and J really enjoy their videos.
The narrator explained some of the different reasons people take part in GGJ, like making prototypes for future development, to share their passion for making games, and because they love developing new games. They then gave advice on taking part in a game jam:
Keep It Simple!
Communicate with your team and the other participants. Being able to reach out for help from other developers is a benefit of doing a jam.
Keep brainstorming short and develop your ideas through the jam. A game could start with an idea that seems odd but could be well made and fun (e.g “Mario’s core concept is a jumping plumber on drugs.”)
Compromise with your team, and don’t dig your heels in.
Know what to save for next time! Stay focused on your main idea and leave some of your other ideas for another time. Try keeping a “For the sequel” file of ideas.
Get some sleep.
At the end of the video there were lots of short clips to introduce the waves theme. We weren’t allowed to talk about the theme on social media until the next day because everyone has to wait until the last timezone (Hawaii) is told the theme! It was just after 5pm on Friday when we found out the theme.
Me, J and our mum had a short brainstorming session together, and we talked about different kinds of waves e.g. sea waves, waves of monsters, sound waves, seismic waves… We talked about what ideas we had related to them and about different game genres, and decided to make a game where you had to save as many people as possible from an earthquake using a giant claw to take them to a safe zone before the timer runs out. We planned it out on paper and made a short video with our little sister. We would only have until Saturday evening to make the game because we had plans for Sunday (visiting the Eden Project with friends), also we couldn’t work on Saturday morning because me and J both have regular Clubs then. We knew that we had very little time so we worked for a couple of hours from home that night, I worked on the art for the main character and J started to code for the shaking background and the people to rescue.
In the morning we couldn’t do any work because J had his Code Club and I had my NatSatClub. I had a workshop on using Photoshop to make animations. I got back to ThinqTanq just after 1pm to start work on our game again, but my mum had lost the stylus for my drawing tablet! Luckily Viki (ALittleRedPanda) had one spare and lent it to me. J was responsible for the coding and music, I was in charge of making the art assets, and our mum supervised us to make sure we were on track.
The art assets I had to make included the character in peril, the claw to pick them up with, and the safe zone to drop them in. I made all of them in Manga Studio 5 in a pixel art style. The character has their hands in the air, and has a little animation which makes them look left then right, to give the impression they are running around screaming. The animation only uses two frames. I designed the first sprite, then for the second frame I flipped my design and edited the t-shirt on the flipped version so that it was correctly aligned. I only had time to design one character, which my family all say looks like me!
Next I worked on the claw, which has an “open” design while empty (and looks a bit like a propeller), and a “closed” design when holding a character. I did the “open” design first, inspired by the claw machines in arcades. This was another two frame/costume animation, for the second frame I erased the outer joints of the claw. I am happy with my design which does look like a mechanical claw from a birds-eye view.
I designed the “safe zone” as a white square with rounded edges and a big red cross on it like a cartoon ambulance. I also hand-lettered “SAFE ZONE” on the digital image using my stylus and big, black and blocky letters, to make it easy for the player to identify.
By then J had got most of the game code sorted out, so I sent him my finished sprites so he could add them into the game (he was using plain rectangles which my sprites had to replace). I still had to make the background and the start screen, but my hand had started hurting after making the first few sprites so I took a short break and tested the game. J had managed to also make the game music in BeepBox which he said he wanted to sound like an earthquake. We were laughing over the music and the little screaming characters running about because it was quite comical and ridiculous.
I got back to work and started making the background. We had decided to use a road and pavement setting and I dotted rocks and rubble all over it to give the impression of an earthquake. These small elements are also necessary so that when the background shakes or a character moves around it you can imagine the movement and it seems like a real space rather than a flat background. I learned about doing this when we made our last game, Infection! I designed one pile of rocks and rubble and I cloned it to dot around because I was short of time to make lots of different piles of rubble.
The last thing I had to design was the Start Screen. A Start Screen is important to explain what the point of the game is and what the player has to do. I chose a colour scheme that made me think of dirt/earth to go with the game theme. I chose not to use a ready made font but instead I hand-lettered the game title and instructions using my stylus. I didn’t want to use a font that someone else had made as I wanted our game to have its own original look to it. I tried to give the letters a messy but simple look. I wanted to also make a Game Over screen but my hand was hurting too much to do any more drawing and we were running out of time. Finally, my dad, my mum, me and Jenson all recorded voice clips for the game for when the player saves the little people. We used an Android phone to make these wav files (and the Hertz app) and we tried to make funny silly voices to fit with the feel of our game.
It was really fun making ‘Quake Rescue and being part of the Global Game Jam. It felt like I was part of something giant with all the other jammers around the world. The other teams at our site and Jack (SoGoodStudios) the organiser were all friendly and supportive. I think our final game works well and I would describe it as a fun minigame. I think we have definitely improved our skills since our first game jam and our teamwork is better too but it did get hard later on Saturday when we were tired and J wanted to finish up before I did. I am looking forward to doing more game jams through this year!
Yesterday I went with my brother to a Science and Technology Showcase for secondary school students which was held at Plymouth University. When we arrived we were given our Event Passes and after a short wait we were shown to a lecture theatre for careers talks from four different speakers.
First was a talk from Grant Cole (Twitter) to talk about the work of being a Geologist. His work involves studying rocks and fossils, and he has been all over the world, including Iceland, Death Valley, and a salt mine in Sicily. Grant said that he does lots of field work on his own and he has done his research from the air and off-road. Parts of his job sounded really exciting – lots of travelling, glacial walking and making new discoveries.
Next was Kathy Redfern (Twitter), who is a nutritionist. Her work is researching the “impacts of food and nutrition on the health and wellbeing of humans (or animals)” to give advice for the prevention of illness. She specifically works with pregnant women, and she says some of the benefits of her job is that no two days are the same and she gets to travel around the UK and to Portugal.
The third speaker was Jon Waters who is studying Mathematics and is part of the Theoretical Physics Group. His current research is in lasers and he explained that normal torches contain a wide band from the visible light spectrum but lasers only contain a narrow band and can concentrate energy to a fine point. Jon said that his work involves getting used to not knowing the answer. His work involves coming up with mathematical models and performing theoretical tests and he learns new things every day.
The last talk was from a psychologist called Leonie Cooper. She has worked at the National Marine Aquarium and now is working with an intelligent robot called Snap. Her research is in using mental imagery to train people to have healthier behaviours. She says that people seem to find that robots are less judgemental to talk to than other people. Leonie is also interested in how games and apps could be used to reach thousands.
After the talks were finished we went to a big marquee filled with stands from different university departments. It was split into three sections, and we were given thirty minutes in each section. First I went to a stand where I took my thumbprint and compared it to one from an imaginary suspect that I lifted with powder and tape. There was a psychology stand where I did a lie detector test. I had wires attached to the finger on my left hand and my left ear, and I had to pick a card out of five. They were shuffled and I had to lie about which card I had as they were turned over one by one. The wires measured skin response (sweat increases conductivity) and heart rate. The lie detector didn’t pick up my lie I think because I was nervous throughout the whole test! I also had a quick look at other chemistry and biology stands.
In the next section was a stand for the South West Retro Computing Archive, where I did some coding in Basic on a BBC Microcomputer from the 80’s, and J got the hi-score on Pac-man. I have been to one of their events before and they have a huge range of retro consoles to play and learn about. On the BBC computer there is a “return” key instead of an enter key, a “break” key to reset the whole computer, and you have to write your code in numbered lines for the system to read in order.
We then went to the Computing and Games Development stand where me and my brother played Pirate Panic, a game written by some of the students at the stand. Pirate Panic is a multiplayer game where the players have to work together to keep a ship afloat and moving until it reaches land. It’s a really fast paced game which encourages you to panic, just like the pirates! I thought it was exciting and good for teamwork. I also tried a VR game using a headset and I had to shoot lasers at robots. It was a lot of fun to play but my arm was aching after a few minutes because the shoot button was on the headset. We also met and spoke to Nicholas Wade who is in his final year and is working to launch his own games studio called Nikomus Games.
Next I went to the Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Robotics stand. I watched people play with some of the university’s robots and J used a red ball and a sensor to control LED lights that were on the stand. There was a challenge to find the right frequency on one machine by turning a knob and getting a turning circle on a small screen to stay still. We were told that the shape the green light was making was a visual representation of the frequency it was on. J was able to do it but I ran out of time, and we were both given 3D printed tags for taking part.
In the last section there was a Geography stand where I got to try an HTC Vive VR Headset to explore London using Google Earth. It was brilliant and I loved using the handheld controller and that you could still see it in the virtual space! We then went to the i-DAT stand where they had a small black dome which we entered. Inside there was a film projected onto the dome ceiling about being an astronaut. A voiceover explained that there were different levels of G-Force as we watched a CGI representation of a G-Force training machine. We heard how astronauts need to keep exercising while they are in space so they aren’t too weak when they get back to Earth and we saw an astronaut using an exercise bike. We also met Luke Christison who works in the Immersive Vision Theatre (in the Planetarium) which we have tickets to visit in a couple of weeks.
The last stand we visited was about meteorites and the Solar System. I looked at a rock from Mars and compared it to a rock from Earth under a microscope. A woman working on the stand explained to me that the Earth rock had formed in a volcano, and I could observe that both rocks had been made the same way, so at some point there must have been volcanoes on Mars as well! There were some pieces of meteorite on the table and a few of them looked alien. A man from the stand talked to us about the scale of the solar system. He said if we used a scale of 1 metre to 1 Astronomical Unit (AU), and imagined the Sun was right in front of us, the edge of our Solar System would be in Taunton and our nearest star would be in London!
I really enjoyed going around the marquee and the talks in the beginning were interesting. My favourite parts were the Retro Games area and the Games Development area, and I really want to try out more VR gaming and exploration technology and learn more about how it works. I would also like to do more study in electronics and robotics, geology and geography, and psychology, and find out more about Leonie Cooper’s research.
On the weekend of 30th September to 2nd October KitiJenGames (the games development team consisting of me and my brother) participated in the Games for Better 48 hour game jam. The game jam was organized by Jack from SoGoodStudios and Oli from Sizeable Games because they believe that games can be a good tool for educating people about issues in the world. The game jam theme was Antibiotic Resistance.
On the Friday evening before the jam we went to Plymouth University’s Babbage Building to listen to talks from experts. The first speaker was Dr Victoria Hurth (Twitter) who is an Associate Professor in Marketing and an expert in sustainability. She talked about sustainable consumption and explained how animals are being bred (for food) in poor environments and they are given antibiotics to keep them healthy. Because of this more bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics leading to the creation of ‘superbugs’. The second speaker was Dr Mathew Upton who is an Associate Professor in Medical Microbiology and he said that “Resistance Is Inevitable” when we use antibiotics and explained about bacterial conjugation. The third speaker was Dr Richard Ayres (Twitter) who is the Lead of Population Health at Peninsula Medical School and a practicing GP. He explained that sometimes doctors don’t get a lot of time to assess their patients and this can lead to prescription of antibiotics when they are unnecessary. The talks were really interesting and I didn’t know a lot about antibiotic resistance before them so I learned a lot.
As soon as the talks finished the game jam started. It was late on a Friday night so me and my brother J went home and talked about game ideas. We decided to make a game where you play as an antibiotic and you have to defend the white blood cells from bacteria. As you play, some bacteria would become resistant and you would have to power up with extra different coloured antibiotics, causing the bacteria to then become even stronger! The game would be impossible to win and the goal would be to get the highest score possible. We worked as a team to make a plan on paper and we decided that J would be in charge of doing the coding using Unity and I would be in charge of all the art. J didn’t know much about using Unity yet but he thought this would be a good chance to learn more. I decided to go with a cute pixel art look and that I would use Manga Studio 5 to make my files.
On Saturday morning J went to his Code Club (Twitter) and I went to my Art Club so we couldn’t get started on our game until the afternoon. The list of things I needed to design was the bacteria, the power-up, the white blood cells, the antibiotic, the background and the border. I began working on the main character designs, sketching on paper. My antibiotic character was a blue pill with a smiley face that would have a little rocking animation. My first attempt at a bacteria character looked too much like a little sun (very jolly!) so I redesigned to make it a bit more evil, and came up with a ball with angular spikes and a mean face, which would wiggle as it moved. My white blood cell characters were dopey-looking spheres,and in our game they wouldn’t defend themselves but would just hang around until they were killed by bacteria.
J asked if I could provide my designs as a sprite sheet. I learnt how to make one from a tutorial and then drew the different sprites for their animations using my Wacom Bamboo tablet and Manga Studio. After I sent a sprite sheet of the antibiotic over we needed a background. We used a basic plain one at first but it was difficult to tell if the character was moving around, so I made another background with rectangles of different sizes and similar colours, and for the border I used the same pattern but with darker colours. It was a simple design (supposed to represent the inside of a body) but I really like how it turned out. I created the sprite sheets for the other characters and sent them over to J’s computer for him to add in to the game, and I designed some ‘cover art’ to put on our itch.io page (and at the top of this post).
We had to haul our computers to the Babbage building on campus on Saturday night because J was struggling with making the animation work, and Jack helped us out with that and him and Oli gave us some tips. We arrived just in time to share the free pizza which we ate while listening to video game music and chatting. My mum had to start helping J with his side of the gamemaking and they spent a lot of time searching online for tutorials and help, but I think he learned a lot about Unity during this project. We had to give up the idea of power ups and new levels because we ran out of time, and there are a few bugs with the scores, but overall I think our game is fun and cute.
Jupiter Hadley played all the Games for Better games (including ours) for her YouTube channel Jupi Plays (support Jupiter on Patreon) and the judges sent us some feedback to help us improve our gamemaking in the future. J has signed up to a Unity course to learn more for our next project. I have signed up to a course on Pixel Art so that I can improve my skills and make more detailed sprites. Our courses are both on Udemy and if you look around online you can find big discounts on them. I am also researching game cover art because I would like to improve my cover art illustrations.
I really enjoyed this game jam and I’m looking forward to the next one, and though 48 hour game jams are really hard work they are well worth it because you have to push yourself and so you can learn and improve your skills a lot in a short amount of time. Follow the link for my post about our first game jam.
Last weekend me and my brother were invited by Jack from SoGoodStudios to take part in Ludum Dare, an event where you spend a few days working by yourself or with a team to develop a videogame from concept to publication. The theme this time around (for LD36) was Ancient Technology.
I talked with my brother about game genres and what skills we have, and we decided that he would do all of the game coding in Scratch because he has experience using that, and I would work on pixel art for the game. Our idea was to do a tower defence game, called Roman Defence. In our game you are a Roman soldier defending a town from escaped wild animals. It is a relatively easy game, using only a few keys, but as you play the enemies get faster and it becomes more challenging. There is also a power-up in the shape of Pompeiian bread that appears every 30 seconds.
The only experience I have had in the past of doing pixel art is building in Minecraft creative mode. Working on my tablet to create the sprites was fun but zooming in and out all the time was a bit of a pain. First I researched online to find images of Roman shields, helmets and spears, and for pictures of lions and rhinos. Then I opened the app and created a canvas in the size needed for that sprite or background. My brother J told me what size he wanted for each object, as he was coding alongside me using just coloured blobs and rectangles until my art was ready. I thought about the images I had found in my research and did rough paper sketches of what I wanted, then started to work in the Pixel Art Editor app. Sometimes the poses weren’t quite right, so for example my first draft of a lion looked very tame! But it was easy to change and add shading etc. I like my designs but it would have been good to have had more time to create more animations and enemies. The only animation in the game is that the soldier’s head and arm bob up and down as he moves.
I saved the images as .png files with transparent backgrounds and used BlueTooth to send them to the computer that J was working on. I sent them one by one as I completed them so we could see straight away what they looked like in the game. It took only a few clicks for J to replace his blobs with my art and I felt satisfied and proud seeing them in the game. Sometimes I sent partly completed images just to check that they looked right on the screen. At the end of our Sunday working session I also drew the game title for the start screen. That took more time than the other images because I had to make sure the characters were evenly spaced. J said he wanted fat characters like in the Metroid logo, so I did some research into the old Metroid games and used that as a starting point, but obviously we didn’t want something space age! I think my final design looks like an authentic retro game title.
When we had finished Roman Defence after two long days of hard work we opened an itch.io account together, calling our team KitiJenGames, and uploaded our game there. Then we created a Ludum Dare account also called KitiJenGames and submitted our game to the Game Jam. I also wrote a blogpost about making Roman Defence and Jupiter Hadley (support her with Patreon) played our game in Part 3 of her LD36 YouTube videos and again in her Plymouth Game Devs LD36 video. We have been playing lots of other games which were submitted to the Jam and leaving some comments. Two of our favourites so far are Tank In Dungeon by @BentouDev which we would buy if it were a longer game, and Sacrifice by @tayl1r which is interesting because it is such an odd (and dark!) concept.
We were lucky to be working on our game opposite the team which consisted of Jack from SoGoodStudios, Emmy (Ghoulkiss, support her with Patreon) and @OhCarson from Sizeable Games. They were helpful with advice and testing our game and we learned a lot just from seeing how their own development process worked. Their game for LD36 is another of our favourites, and is a rhythm/puzzle game called Disgolem. Emmy’s golems are adorable and are brightly coloured with geometric designs. I was really pleased to meet her as I admire her work but I was a bit shy and didn’t say much! I also briefly met Will from SoGoodStudios and the BrainyBeard team, and the Plymouth Game Devs have tweeted and Facebooked our project. We definitely plan to make more games, J is getting started with learning to use Unity and we already have some ideas for our next project, so Watch This Space!