Antti’s Nordic Game Jam Report

As a part of our scholarship program, the Finnish Game Jam sent Antti Koppenen to the Nordic Game Jam (DK) to represent the Finnish jamming scene. Here is Antti’s report about his jam experience.

Jamming with the Giants – Nordic Game Jam 2019

The Nordic Game Jam is one of the world’s largest game jam events with around 700 jammers every year.  It is held annually in various locations in Copenhagen, Denmark. This year the location was in The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, or KADK. 

I came to Denmark before the actual jamming started. I wanted to hear the talks and participate in the workshops. I’m like sponge, sucking all the game dev information I can get. I personally got the best tips from a workshop by Brad Meritt on how to create depth to your small game. There was also a very handy talk from Sarah Nielsen about conveying your game visually. There were bunch of other talks and workshops too, but these two were also referred by other jammers as a great source of inspiration for their jam game. 

I planned to participate in the Jam as an artist. I jumped in the NGJ2019 Discord group and started looking for a group. Soon after I got another invite from Gustav Bok, a Swedish Technical Designer working for Massive Entertainment. A great opportunity to work with a AAA-grade developer, I thought and said hell yes! Gustav was on his way from Malmö to Copenhagen, but he wanted me to meet with other team members who were already in the area. We sat down with Nikolaj de Haan, a Dutch composer and we were later joined by Jorge Yagüe, a programming student from Spain. Nikolaj was very easy going and relaxed. Jorge was more serious and effective in his approach. 

We spent the day together attending speeches and talking about games. I felt like we got along well. Later in the evening we attended the Kick-Off party in a local Irish pub that was specifically set for the jammers. We spent the evening chatting with NGJ2019 volunteers. They were going to participate in the jam, after they got their volunteer duties out of the way. During the evening we tried to recruit one of the students to join our group, but she was reluctant. She was a bit intimidated by the competitiveness of our group, which I first thought was flattering, but thinking about it more, she probably meant Gustav from Massive Entertainment.   

After full night’s rest, it was Friday. Yay! The day Jam would start! After the morning speeches our team gathered in the lobby to meet Gustav. He appeared to be very intelligent, positive and playful. He had what I can only describe as an aura of professionality around him. He had brought with him his friend Martin Blomkvist, an Animator and a Designer from Massive Entertainment. Gustav described him as one of the most talented designers he knew. Martin appeared more of a quiet guy overall, but not being shy to voice his ideas. 

Next topic of the event was theme revelation, where the NGJ2019 staff had randomly picked a theme for us. This year’s theme was “That again!”. Wow, what an abstract theme I thought. Gustav as a technical designer was thinking about it more practically. He explained that the theme is kind of open ended and leaves room for repetitive game elements, or time travel mechanics. He had a vision of an assembly line with robots in his mind which he kind of liked.  

After the theme revelation we had some team building games. Our team lacked one artist, so we devised a plan to split our group up and scout up for potential one. After half an hour we found Morten Bilet. He worked as a pilot and did game jams as a hobby. Morten was an easy going and friendly guy, with real positive attitude.

Next, we bumped into Gregor Ehrenstein, also working in Massive Entertainment as Senior Tech Programmer. A cheerful guy, always laughing. Gustav praised him as one the most talented programmers out there. Gregor was not really looking out to jam, but Gustav convinced him to join our team. At this point I was thinking to myself, how many of guys were there around from Massive Entertainment. Later Gustav revealed that the amount was at least 10, but they all just wanted to blend in the mass and not draw attention. 

We gathered our full team and went to setup our “Base of Operations” in a quiet part of the jamming building. Gustav organized our sitting positions. Artists on the left side, programmers on the right side of the table, he said. Jorge brought an old chalk board from somewhere. A perfect place to draw our ideas. There we sat down together to discuss our game ideas. We toyed with ideas about cleaning simulation, burning houses, revisiting some famous disasters, defending a castle from some huge monster, building a robot over again and again. Nothing was off limits and ideas were flying left and right.  

Later during the dinner, our game idea refined into defending a farm with old people from invading Ogre. The enemy would try to steal chickens and stomp the crops. Four players would work together to defend with old muskets and rakes. We also added crows that would come to pick the crops every now and then. It was all to be in 3D and I was little bit uncomfortable with the workload. We agreed that Martin would help with the animations. 

We returned to a laughter filled jamming hall. Everyone was having fun thinking the craziest ideas. We pretty much had our idea set up and started installing latest Unity versions. Gustav told that he had 5 years’ worth of experience with Unity. To my surprise Gregor had never used Unity before and wondered why anyone would want to use it. In Martin’s opinion it was good Engine for prototyping a game, but it was too limiting for more advanced users. He told it was hiding some important stuff for the sake of usability. Unity also lacked free collaboration tool, which he thought would be a strong selling point for the Engine. 

Jorge had already set up our version control. We were going to use Git Lab and Source Tree. Nikolaj suggested using FMOD would be the best thing for audio. I created mood board to communicate our art style to the rest of the team. Me and Morten agreed on using flat shaded low poly style, which basically means simple 3d objects without textures. To make this style look good I thought to top it up with Unity’s own post processing. I pitched the style to Gustav and he liked it. 

Martin was doing project management and had set up a Trello board. We added our assets list to already quite full tasklist. Things were progressing fast. Gustav told us to prepare greyboxing versions for all the assets, which basically means doing simple boxes to have something to place on the level. 

Gustav and Gregor were used to working together, which was reflected in their communications. They were constantly negotiating what they needed from each other, which things to prioritize and how long things would take to create. Gustav was setting up the overall project architecture, while Gregor concentrated on the details. Such professionalism was interesting to follow.  

The evening went pretty much with setting up the basics to be ready for the Saturday, which would be full jamming day from morning to the night and probably even beyond. After Morten and I got the grayboxing done, I thought it would be good time to call it a day. I headed back to hostel to get few hours of sleep. 

The next morning, I woke to a sunny Copenhagen and walked back to KADK. I was the first of my team to arrive, others were still away. I headed to canteen for the free breakfast. I couldn’t find any familiar faces, so I sat in a random table full of people. After some chattering people started talking about Baba Is You, which won the NGJ2017 and had just been released. I thought to myself, what a cool game, I wish I could meet the developer. Then a guy sitting across the table revealed that actually he was the developer, Arvi Teikari. What a nice surprise! He is a Finnish person just like me so of course we talked about saunas and our shared hobby of swimming in icy waters. I asked about where he got the idea for the Baba Is You game and he told me that it was actually from a banana, or what if the banana-is-not.

After the breakfast I headed back to our base and started refining the greybox versions of our 3D models into more detailed placeholders. Other team members started coming back in one by one. I heard that Gustav and Martin drove all to way back to Malmö for a sleep, so it might take a while for them to get back. 

Hours went by while we refined our 3D assets together with Morten. I also took control over the level designing and set up the post processing. Something was off and post processing package ended up being deleted during version controlling. To this day we don’t quite know exactly what caused it. Perhaps just my incompetence with Source Tree program.  

I peeked at Nikolaj’s work. He used FMOD and was happy with the Unity integration side of it. He also showed that he had coded audio manager and how we could trigger sounds with his system. I was quite surprised by his skill in programming. You don’t usually see a talented musician coding on this level. 

Gustav and Martin arrived after midday. Their journey back to Malmö and into sleep went into the early morning hours. We went on building the project until Gregor had us do a team meeting. He was worried because were past the Jam mid point and we still didn’t have any game play. We ended up cutting some features, like attacks against the ogre with rake and muskets. Instead we now focused on simplified player mechanics of picking and dropping. The ogre would be scared off by two players being close by.

Evening turned into night and everyone was working hard. The art side of our game came together around midnight. After that there was only polishing and taking screenshots of our game. Gustav told me it would be okay for Morten and me to go and have some sleep. They were going to stay with Gregor, Martin and Jorge and crunch through the night to get the needed game play features up and running. 

Happily, I went back to hostel to get few hours of sleep. Early in the morning I was welcomed back by a happy but tired punch of developers. They told me how Jorge had tried to sleep under the table, but Gregor managed to accidentally abuse him with a chair. They were both laughing about the whole thing.  

We had 6 hours left to work on the project before it needed to be published. I was tasked to implement animations into Unity. I also got to modify Ogre’s script a bit. I was happy to have some variety to my tasks list. The hours went by pretty fast. Nikolaj in the meantime had gathered a group of jammers in a room to do crowd sounds. He ended up sharing the results in the NGJ2019 discord channel for everyone. Such a nice gesture. 

Release time creeped closer and everyone was hurrying to finish. I had done polishing on the art side to reflect the final production value. Gustav was pleased with the “graphical fidelity” of things. That made me quite proud. 

We had to move our base of operations into the jamming hall and setup a place for people to play our game. This year’s jam was going to be decided by a collective vote of all the jammers. Jammers would go around playing each other’s games and put a token in a pack that represented their favorite jam game.

We ended up having technical difficulties while presenting our game. We only got two players to work for our four-player game. Also, there were multiple minor bugs and one major one that broke the game. Even though we had all these problems, people still liked our game. Especially the children that were testing games with their jammer parents. It was nice so see a new generation of jammers growing up.

I went around to see what others had created, and there were some really awesome games. For example; burger patty racing game, game about lump in your leg, a wild-west stand-off game in the dark, a chicken scooping VR game stand out in my mind. One that gathered the most people around I think was game “1-1”, parodying Super Mario Bros. The game had Mario in a 10 glitchy loops. The game ended up being voted third of the game jam. The winner was “The Lump”. A game where you wake up during the night with a lump in your leg and try to get rid of it. It was a really creative, weird and silly game. I think the makers of “The Lump” really hit the spot in what comes to jamming culture. Let creativity fly, make a silly game, have fun and you will do well! 

Overall the NGJ2019 was simply the best one I’ve attended so far. I got to jam with some giants of the industry, made new friends, enjoyed sunny Copenhagen, learned a lot and most importantly had plenty of fun. Thanks to  Finnish Game Jam Association for making this happen!