GGJ 2018 – Starreach & Music behind it

The GGJ 2018 is officially over! So excited to write about the experience and how it has been my favorite game jam so far! 🙂

CementCactusTeam.png

Two days before the jam, I was messaged by Chau Ho with an intriguing idea of teaming for this jam! Naturally, I then nudged Eric Lee and Justin Gonzalez, who I worked with together on our previous game jam, Defenestration. Once Justin was on board, Sarah Cho was immediately brought onto our team. Ken Miller, a fantastic programmer, and our lead, also joined aboard. Later, Ruben Sanchez and Doan Doan joined our team, closing our team’s count at 8. All of us were from VGDA, and had a great amount of experience working on the same game before with each other and knew exactly how to scope the game and set a deadline. We communicated with each other throughout the jam, staying in that one room and asking each other questions in person. All of these factors allowed us to propel forward very quickly and have a very polished game at the end of the 48 hours.

Ken and Ideas

After we’ve brainstormed, we started writing down every idea we had for improving the game on the whiteboard.

When we arrived in our room, we started brainstorming what game we should work on. Many creative ideas came out from the theme “Transmission”, but the one we settled on was Eric’s pitch – having two people bounce off of each other and gaining momentum. It was a very simple concept but proved to be challenging and perfect for the 48-hour jam.

Room

This spacious computer room was provided by the SGDA UCR Crew! This was our home base for the next 48 hours.

The work environment was very loose, yet filled with passion. Everyone in that room had a role, and we were inspired by each other’s works.

Ken Miller was a fantastic lead and programmer. He kept our team on time and made sure that every voice was heard. When I suggested an adaptive music, he was eager to go miles to implement it. He admitted that it was the hardest challenge that he came across throughout the development during our presentation, and I don’t doubt it!

Ruben Sanchez is THE man who can conjure up anything with code. We can often times find him lying down on the floor lifelessly, but whenever he is on his chair, he would create some crazy stuff that none of us knew how to do, help Justin with checking for bugs, and having fun.

Eric and Justin were having so much fun programming and playing games off in their free time. These guys would implement systems, test them and merge their progress with the rest of the team’s.  I loved leaving my station from time to time to see what they were doing because they would be always doing something different. On our first night, Eric and I stayed up until 5 AM playing Battlerite. It wrecked us for the next day but it sure did make a good memory. 🙂

Chau Ho set the story of the game and helped design everything in the game. She also helped me a lot with the ideas for the music. She literally looked up 20 different pieces of music for me to reference from, and was patiently sitting there with me, absorbing everything that I was doing when we were creating our fun, bouncy sound effects. Thanks Chau!

Doan Doan was a ‘monster’. He would go to sleep the latest out of all of us, and wake up the earliest, just silently working on his UI, which ended up “WOW”-ing everyone in the room at our demo presentation. His popping UI and the animations were so meticulous and eye-catching. This man is going places.

Sarah Cho did every art except the UI in our game. Character concept, background art, booster swirl, animations, everything! She is a very talented artist and we were so fortunate to have her join us. She would sometimes come over to my station where Chau and I would be writing music to show us her artwork when we would give her positive feedback about her amazing work, which would then inspire us.

I did the music for the game, as well as the sound effects. When we first settled on our game concept, I loaded up a piano, put a reverb on it and started improvising. I took into consideration the length of this game jam, and the type of music needed – ambient. I was playing a lot of Hollow Knight before I came into this jam, and I thought the City of Tear’s background music had a very nice 6/8 piano melody.  I needed the music to not sound repeated, so I mixed up the meter here and there while using lush chord progression changes. I made sure to give this music to my programmers on the second day, so that they can start testing their prototype with the music in it.

Making the music adaptive required a bit of design challenge. At the beginning of the game, the piano would be playing at default volume, as well as a flute track and clarinet track. The Flute symbolized the sister Fae, and the Clarinet represented the brother Rae. As the siblings are jumping up and down and the camera is focusing on them, the music would emphasize whoever is actively jumping in the air. (so if Fae was in the air, the flute’s volume would be 100% while 25% on the clarinet).

We wanted the player to feel an emotional sense of progression and reaching the end as the game played on, so I designed two ‘thresholds’ that the player would have to go across in order to unlock a new layer of music. Layer 1 introduced lower piano notes, which helped to stablize chord progressions on top of the piano 6/8 notes we had before. It also contained bits of synthesizer elements, as well as harp tingling noises, providing sounds in all range of frequencies and allowing the player to understand that they’ve achieved a new level of progression. Layer 1 also introduced lush a deceptive cadence which would really juice out the emotions. Layer 2 introduced strings in, overall amplifying the emotional expression of the music and filling in any empty gaps there was in the soundtrack.

When we finally presented our game at the demo session, it came out very strong. The music that Chau and I worked on started playing, alongside Doan Doan’s beautiful UI, and everyone in the room immediately expressed excitement. The game played out perfectly, even though the sound effects were a little bit louder than I expected it to be. Sarah’s art stood out from other team’s art styles, and Ken’s particle effects were like sprinkles on a freshh donut. The transmission particle effect by Ken really visually showed them that we were using the theme as the main inspiration. Ken, Eric, Justin and Ruben’s hardwork made sure that everything from jump feels to the camera movement was fantastic, and that the game would play out very smoothly.

The game jam was a fantastic experience. Even though we had to sleep on hard floors, with laid down chairs as beds, it brought us closer together and created amazing, beautiful memories that I will never want to forget. We’re coming back for more next year. Shout out to UCR’s amazing crew that supported us with such hospitality by providing snacks, water and taking care of our trash every time. Thank you SGDA for organizing this and bringing the students together for Global Game Jam 2018.

P.S! How did we come up with our team name, Cement Cactus? We all thought of one random word going in a circle and then started piecing them together to see what sounded wacky and good. I drew up this logo, which was inspired by Chau’s idea of two cacti’s shaped like an 8 and having the team’s name “Cement Cactus” on the side. Eric then improved it by slightly tilting the cement on top of our friendly cactus.

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 3.21.59 AM.png->CementCactus

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