Postmortem: ViralFire (and on GGJ)

Işık Barış Fidaner*

On Friday night, we were five people randomly assembled to talk. On Saturday morning, we became the game development team Parazit, as if we have been working for years. On Sunday morning, we were making the last retouching on our first project ViralFire. On Sunday evening, having lived through that intensive hours, we had become people just sitting in a conference room staring at the colorful images revolving on the curtain… All of these happened in only one of the 16 parallel universes in Global Game Jam 2010 Ankara, which was the second occurrence in Turkey and in the world.

Fireball protagonist of ViralFire, while capturing our heart..

(This article was originally published in Dijital Oyun Kültürü. You can also read the original Turkish article. )

Throughout the event, the groups were so immersed in the worlds of their own creation that the desks where those galaxies were produced became separated deep like a cliff. The greatest exception that broke this rule (or made it more visible) was of course the audio-music group that were trying to found the atmospheres in all the games. However, so they were entrapped in a dimension between universes, and they could not set foot on any of the game worlds, thus being left out, being the dispossessed of GGJ.

When it was time for the game jam, all participants were assembled in the conference room to hear the theme. The main theme was “deception”, and the keywords were “fire”, “wire” and “lyre”… The rhyming made them sound less serious, but they were not bad at all. Then they released us to the corridor to form groups… Thinking of the confusion and chaos last year, I was wondering how it would happen this time. Then, I wrote on a paper that I was “looking for graphics, sound and story for iPhone game”. While I was looking around holding my paper, I saw another paper written “pixel art” coming my way. As two papers ran into each other, me and Çağatay ran into each other as well. Later, an aggregation emerged around us and we decided to became a group like this to make a platformer game on iPhone. We collected our names to register our group: Orkun, Kübra, Bertan, Barış… Then a young friend near us, Cem, told he applied for the event but was not accepted and that he’d like to join as a spectator. When we settled in a classroom and set up a desk, he was with us. Though we could not show him the interest he deserved, during the 48 hours, he sat there working on his computer and also contributed by making suggestions about the game.

Ideas and collective work

We connected two desks and assembled around them. We spoke about game ideas. Deceiving. Deceiving the player, or the player deceiving someone in the game. Cheating. Cheating as in wife-husband. Bedroom. The adventure extending into the wardrobe. Collecting musical notes, making a serenade. Some platforms being fake. The evil wizard preparing deceptive traps for us. Special boxes on platforms that fall with gravity. Wizard being played by a second player. Chasing a nice-looking angel. Evil scientist instead of evil wizard. The cute graphics in a platformer being a deception, the player destroying the machine at the end, thus revealing the actual ugliness of the places he came along, then walking all the way back to the beginning. Collecting letters to find the password. The first flower that blooms in the ugliness. Or on contrary, as the machine blows, facing in the things we destroyed as the machine made them seem ugly to us, that they were cute in reality. Being an alien on earth that fakes being a human to eat humans. Being a human that fakes being an alien to eat aliens. Advancing by hiding from security officers. And finally: a virus floating through blood vessels, avoiding white blood cells, but at the same time, a fireball! So it is a fireball that fell into some human being. To tell the truth, having gone through that many ideas, anything would do… All in all, what matters to us was not the game fitting into a given set of rules, or following some norms, but the fact that we were creating it sincerely, in accordance with our desire. Therefore, leaving the final decision on the game’s story to our designers Çağatay and Kübra, we began to develop the game engine with Bertan. Orkun, by undertaking several requirements such as the web site, documentation, level design, tutorial, audio-music organization, enabled us to focus more on the code and design. Uğurcan, who came from the audio-music desk and gave special care for our game, and provided us several ambient sound effects (though we could not use most of them) and composed the music for the gameplay, also became one of our team.

Horseback white blood cell chasing a fireball!

At the end of two days, the game was actually completed. We had our sneaky and excited fireball that yells as he runs, his hands on his back, his hair burning in flames… Three white blood cell characters trying to extinguish our fireball where they see it, one with a helmet, one with a sword and one horseback with his spear… Three levels that lead to lungs, heart and the brain, and of course a logo, a menu, a tutorial and an ending screen [1]. I don’t know about my friends, but this was something I wanted to do since elementary school. During the 15 years since I moved my first circle in AmigaBASIC, my wish to develop games lived on, though from time to time it fell in the background or turned into something else. I believe, after the previous GGJ in which we made the game “Itchy!” with Uğur [2], this time, we could combine and fuse more dense and more various labor in ViralFire.

Positive features of ViralFire:

Fast and dynamic feel. The refined animations of the fireball we move with a finger, the ability to fall back when an enemy chases us, and the active gameplay music contributed to this main feature that made the gameplay enjoyable.

The mechanics of disguise. The ability to disguise as an enemy by following it with your finger for a while, was a good idea. This made a nice and original way of advancing in the game.

Visual attractiveness. Though visuality became such a requirement for games, it was something we enjoyed working on. Each mimic of the characters were thought of.

No written explanation, only by showing. Viralfire achieved the features “universal language” and “lo-text” that were defined by GGJ rules. We thought a gameplay video would suffice to explain how it was played.

Missing features:

No progress indicator in a level. A player can die in different places in a level to restart it, but she cannot see where she could manage to come and how much there is left to go.

No change in gameplay among levels. When player passes a level, only number of enemies change. The gameplay is the same. For instance, disguising could have been an ability that was acquired on the way and required to pass the second level.

Disguise mechanics not understood. We could explain better how this ability was used and what it was for.

The finger covering part of the screen while moving. As we give speed by our finger, it covers some of the screen in front of our character. If the fireball was accelerated in the inverse direction of the swipe (being similar to pulling a bow or spring), it would not cover vision. This mechanics can be used in another game.

…and on GGJ

What makes these young people close themselves into a building and sit at their computers? To show their superiority to other participants? To prove their country’s power to the world? Or is it “just for fun”, as emphasized last year?

As now we are finished with examining our game ViralFire, I’d like to talk about general features of the event. I think expressions like “marathon”, “team”, “national team” do not reflect the actual spirit of GGJ, they are like media-sports buzzwords that cover its real core. Firstly, we should ask: What makes these young people close themselves into a building and sit at their computers? To show their superiority to other participants? To prove their country’s power to the world? Or is it “just for fun”, as emphasized last year? The only way to find out is to ask the participants themselves, but I think the answer is none of these.

The desire to develop games cannot be separated from playing games. Those who watch cinema do not immediately want to become directors. However, as one plays games, one first wants to edit and change them, then wants to create new ones if possible. Perhaps this is the way how a certain part of the youth to misses its childhood, or it is about the fact that we are not content with a few beautiful games we could find. It could as well be related to the miracle of founding a living world out of bits and bytes.

Dissolving walls

In any case, there are several walls hit by the people that carry the desire to make games: Unidirectional education, and being directed to “decent” unidirectional professions like oneself, therefore technical or artistic insufficiency, the difficulty of collective work without knowing how it is done, actually doing something being extremely harder than telling about and planning it, moreover there being nobody expecting you to do it… For years, these walls extended from between we players and the games we played. Through the windows on these walls, we watched the glitters of industrial conglomerates like Blizzard and EA. Though only a few people dare (and it is another question that if it is worth doing), many players have dreams looking at the websites of game studios. GGJ was a place that broke these walls for a weekend. When we could work together, we let go of the dim lights on these windows that held us still, and saw ourselves being enlightened by our own light. As we felt in our hands the force we thought was far away, the feeling of unreachability faded away as well as the need for a “national pride”. We should know that the games and their developers in Independent Games Festival of GDC has no unsurmountable differences to what we did in GGJ Ankara, except for maybe more labour, larger teams, more glitter and higher PageRank. I don’t want to say that we have the power to compete, in contrary, that there are no unsurpassable walls between us and the deveopers of the world, that we share the same emotions, we stand on the same ground, and a little step is adequate if we are to touch their souls [3].

I wish that people that want to develop games come to GGJ each year, and having done it, get on with their lives. Whether in game industry or any other field of study to which they will carry this experience and knowledge… In this way, we will witness the dissolution of this wish that affected a whole young generation and maybe how it will transform this generation of people.

* : GGJ 2010 participant, member of Parazit
[1] About ViralFire
[2] “Postmortem: Itchy”
[3] “GDC notes (2) Back shelves” (Turkish)

Published in: on February 6, 2010 at 5:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

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