Friday, September 27, 2013

Chain Jam Afterthoughts

The Copenhagen Game Collective just started a new style of game jam called the Chain Jam. The gimmick of the jam is that everyone makes a very small game for four players, and after a minute the players are funneled into another game, with the scoring staying between games. It's a fun idea, and easy enough to make a game for.

I made a game for it, called Four v. Horde. It's basically Left 4 Dead, but simpler, top-down and made by me in most of a day (instead of a semi-competitive FPS made by Valve over a year). Players try to kill the most zombies without being killed themselves.

While making it, I realized a few things about the Chain Jam concept:
  • First, the controls allow for two possibilities: either a very cramped keyboard or a lot (relatively speaking) of money spent on controllers. Part of the problem is how it's set up. Instead of each group of directional and action keys following the same pattern, the normal arrow keys (player 1) get assigned Z and X for actions. This means one player needs both arms on the keyboard, to reach over to both sides of it. Obviously controllers were the intended input device, but being able to reconfigure the keyboard would be very nice.
  • There's an even bigger issue with the keyboard controls: most keyboards can only recognize a few keys as being pressed down at one time. If every player wants to move diagonally at the same time (on an average keyboard), it probably won't work for at least two of them.
  • The one minute time limit is much shorter than it feels like. A 10 second score screen would use up 16.7% of the time allotted to your game! I had a lot of ideas I wanted to use, but both time constraints (the minute and the approaching deadline) stopped me from adding them.
  • They put the color scheme up to a vote, and I think it was a poor choice. I get that they were trying not to use the boring standard colors, but black was honestly not a great color to use, even if it ended up being popular.
  • Competitive multiplayer gameplay for four players is very easy to come up with, and only having a minute makes the idea not need to be as well thought out.
  • Testing a 4 player game is difficult, though, even with four people willing to help. You need to coordinate people to play a game again and again while you make minute changes. And if you don't have four players, you'd need two extra hands (or at least one other person helping you out).
  • There are surprisingly many ways to score a fast four-player game. I handed out points based on relative performance in the end, but it could've also worked on a ranking system (and then there's the 5/3/2/0 vs 4/3/2/1 vs whatever other split possibilities for which place gets what). A few I played had a direct scoring, like a sport, but it only works for some games. I saw at least one game that would reward all the players equally for just surviving the minute, but one could easily be made that rewards cooperation, throwing the normal gameplay on its head.
Chain Jam was a pretty fun idea, and I really recommend it to anyone interested in making Flash/Unity/HTML5/Java games but doesn't have time to commit to a bigger project. They'll be repeating it sometime soon, although they haven't put up any information on the future iterations of the jam yet.


  1. Keyboard control constraints and trying to iterate without three other people were definitely my biggest obstacles as well! Looking forward to playing your game. Mine's called Flashlight Tag.

    1. Actually, I saw your game on Twitter already! It looked pretty good, even though I haven't had a chance to play it with four players.

  2. I LOVED your game. So simple, made for some hilarious moments when somebody got stuck in the corner, being horded. This was my first game, so it was a bit rough, but I ended up submitting Mages and Rogues. Hope you enjoyed it! :D