Overview

Chi Ting is a game about a monk who's daily duty is to use his faith to navigate a maze-like monastery in order to light the sacred lantern deep within. Doing so, will banish the demons that lurk inside until the next day, always keeping them at bay from the rest of the world.

While the final story/narrative is something my team all greatly agreed with, we actually had the mechanical concept in mind before the story. It was almost a game about zombies, an asylum, or even toys.  

This was made for the Global Game Jam 17 event, which hosted the theme "waves" to be incorporated into the game in some way. My team consisted of myself, Daniel, Micah, and Jesse. And this was the first time I really felt like a team.

What Went Right

Communication
Play to Our Strengths

One of the things mentioned by the keynote speech for the jam was the importance of playing to the group's strengths, once they're made known.  And I couldn't agree more with this statement. It's foolish to make a game that relies a great deal on art/animation/etc when there are no artists on the team. Likewise, it's doomed to fail if you try to do really complicated programming concepts when no one can really code all that well.

For our team, we consisted of 3 programmers and a designer.  I could draw a little, so I quickly volunteered my service for that before we tried to change the direction we were going with the concept.  Everyone else on the team was very comfortable working in Unity, which was great. And it did basically break down somewhat into 3 levels of expertise. Jesse was at the top, he had the most knowledge and experience and was able to support the rest of the team in many ways.  Daniel was next, he didn't know as much as Jesse, but he understood it and was able to produce results quickly and with relatively few bugs. And Micah, who didn't have as much experitise or experience was still able to produce UI menus and scene changes for the group.  He was unable to work as intensely as the rest of us, due to being sick and this also helped keep the group together, surprisingly enough.  We also lucked-out that Micah was given much of the 'miscellaneous' duties, like finding audio files and playtesting. As it turned out, this was exactly what we needed him for. He found great music and sound effects for us to use, and he was very helpful with pointing out flaws in design and ways to improve.

Lastly, there was me. I am not an artist, but after this experience, I do want to practice drawing more so that someday maybe I can say that I am one.  I didn't even checkmark 'artist' on my GGJ profile because I had no confidence in my ability.   Despite this, my team appreciated my art, and everyone else seemed to as well.  Clearly, this was my strength in the group and that helped us a great deal as well.  The other thing I guess I did was coming up with scenarios to use the mechanic in, and also doing research that guided elements of the design. Like the prayer beads on Ting were originally just another accessory, but then I saw the opportunity for them to be a visual indicator for the player to know the state of Ting's chi power.

Growth through Work

One thing about this particular site that surprised me was that pretty much everyone had already formed their own teams.  This is unusual because even the main GGJ website stresses the importance of grouping with people you've never met before.  So, while I understand everyone worked hard on their games, too.  They probably were more casual toward one another and goofed-off quite a bit.  

This is what set our group apart, since we didn't really know each other initially, we weren't able to reference inside jokes and stuff since we had none at the beginning.  And we all really wanted to make a game, not just one that's cool, or satisfies the theme, but one we thought we might actually enjoy playing.  This drive helped push us to be pretty dang focused on working, rather than playing, and our effort paid off in the end.  

Daniel learned a multitude from Jesse, and I learned some maybe.  But for the most part, we all learned through trial/error and discovery.  Like, the very first drawing I did for the group was a tiled floor, and I think I worked on it for like 4-5 hours. That's pathetic, it was only a 256x256 image, too.  While my relative 'speed' didn't increase much, I had to grapple with my inner perfectionist and realize that I could try to tweak this single image for another hour or so, or just quickly get through it in like 10 minutes.  I wasn't just wasting my time, by trying to be a perfectionist, but I'd be wasting everyone's time- and through working on artwork, I developed several new ideas, techniques, shortcuts, and an understanding of tackling situations in new ways.

Like, I am such a not artist, that I would often look at images and just not even know where to begin, I'd go back to sketches or outlines and try to think through the general processes. But sometimes, I had to really do some weird things, in order to be able to do it at all. Like drawing smaller objects first, simply because they are simpler and occupy space on the screen.  Or breaking down an image into many layers, actually probably way too layers, in order to isolate certain portions and work on them so I don't overwhelm myself.

Now i'm mostly excited to improve my artist skills in order to give a much better end product at my next jam, if I am indeed the artist again.

What Went Wrong

As this was my very first game jam, I really wanted to make sure the entire group got involved.  When it came to brainstorming, designing, fixing bugs, and even polishing. We all seemed to be functioning on similar wavelengths.  

During the brainstorming session, we all had several ideas, but struggled with making our idea into a 'game.' They were all just cool ideas, basically. But, we never really refuted someone's creativity or discouraged each other or tried to out-talk one another, and this helped keep us moving down the same path as a team.  We meshed together so well as a group, that we often didn't really need to communicate every little detail, we were pretty in sync.

In fact, one of the main hooks of the game being a word-play joke occurred very late into the jam.  Jesse said we should call the game Chi Ting as a joke, but before anyone was able to decide if that was stupid or something, I jumped in fully supporting the idea. In a sense, even though we had only first met that Friday night, we all had a pretty good understanding of one another.

Too much planning

The keynote speech mentioned how it's tempting to take lots of time for brainstorming, but doing so can also take time away from actually working on the game. The idea is to have an idea, prototype it, and see it if fails or not; failing is just a part of the design process for games.  Doing this sort of thing early prevents a great deal of extra work in the long run, especially if at the end your game isn't fun or something.

I've never done a Jam with a group, so I wasn't sure how long a brainstorming session was supposed to go.  Our group wasn't really following the usual flow of a brainstorming session either.  In the end, we took about 2 hours or so of just working through ideas before we settled on the one we chose. And, at the time, I wasn't thrilled about 'our' interpretation of the theme.  

We kept saying stuff like, "this will be easy to get to first playable. Then we can see if it fails." But I think we either had already committed to the idea, or we were just trying to build without actually making a prototype.  That's because it was the end of the first day before we even had a prototype going, we didn't know if this would be fun or not.  We planned so much, but then we didn't even really try to use that plan properly.

Most of our game was the prototype, really.  We kept planning for what would be, and not really refining/testing what was there at first.  Part of me feels that we got really lucky that our idea came together so well, but at the same time I think that we all were willing to change what we needed to in order to make the game fun- and we did.  This was a collaborative process, but the front runner was probably Micah, who as the main tester, would pose us with questions that challenged the current design.  

I think it was our commitment to the game that helped get us through the fact that we planned so much early on.

Was polish the enemy?

I'm having a hard time thinking of anything that may have 'gone wrong' with our development, really. If anything, I'd say it was that Daniel and Jesse were very committed to polish the game as much as possible, thinking ahead and implementing functionality that may or may not be used later- that may have had an effect on the end product.

When you look at our game, aside from the randomly generated maze and the cool light/shadow effects caused by the echolocation, it's an extremely bare-bones experience. And, we had many idea of how to expand this, like trap, puzzles that do this and that, etc. That was also part of the too much planning, we just kept thinking of new mechanics without looking at how they would affect the current version of the game.

This is just weird, cause it's like the opposite of a feature creep.   We didn't even implement enemies and the player death until like the last 5 hours or the jam. We even somewhat had a plan to use fountains of holy water to give the player a 'super' chi for a single blast or what not. 

It was certainly a bit stressful to leave out such 'crucial' elements to the gameplay until the last minute, but it's because Jesse and Daniel were constantly refining their code, commenting it, and fixing bugs that it was much easier and faster to implement new changes near the end, instead of dealing with like a tangled mess of code or something.

So, yeah, it may have been nice to incorporate enemies that chase you, the ability to destroy enemies, trap doors, shifting tiles, ect. but like any designer will tell you, what is important is the core experience.  They even mentioned it in the keynote. Don't make 10 okay levels when you can make 1 or 2 really amazing ones.  Don't just add mechanics for the sake of doing so, think about how ti will add/subtract to the core experience. And, quite frankly, I think we nailed the experience. Despite how simple the game is mechanics-wise, it is still a pretty satisfying game to play, for such a small experience.

Looking Ahead

The biggest thing I take away from this whole experience is the following.... I have lots of ideas, i'm very creative, but I lack the skill to deliver those ideas properly.  I could be a great programmer, or an excellent artist, or even a good writer, but as it stands right now, I am none of those things.  I'm going to try very hard this year, to work on improving myself all around as a developer. So that, when I am at the GGJ18, I won't feel like I can't contribute.  I really owe a lot to Jesse, Daniel, and Micah, and God, too.  It was like a miracle that I managed to survive that weekend.

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