If you’ve been reading this site for a year or two, you’ll know that I like to post lots of screenshots and video whenever I’m building a new version of ANGELINA, even playable demos. This time I’ve been quieter, and the screenshots on Twitter have been fewer and further between. That’s because next week ANGELINA is going to be entering Ludum Dare - the first game jam entry we’ve attempted. It’s going to be a big debut for the new system, and I’m rather nervous indeed.
Ludum Dare is a worldwide event where thousands of game developers all make games from nothing in just 48 hours, guided by a single theme (like ‘roads’ or ‘alone’). Game jams are an increasingly popular way for people to get involved in a game development community, and also a source of many indie hits. World of Goo, Evoland, McPixel – all of these games began as rapid-fire prototypes built inside game jams.
There are a lot of reasons for me wanting to enter ANGELINA in game jams generally, as well as why I want to do it now. Firstly, capability. This is the first version of ANGELINA that can take in abstract themes like the ones that serve as the seeds for game jams. Previous versions either didn’t have a theme, or had very specific inputs like Guardian articles. Secondly, challenge. While most people think of the time limit as the biggest challenge for game jams, for a computer system the time limit is almost inconsequential – ANGELINA won’t be needing sleep or food during the jam. What’s difficult for ANGELINA is expanding a single word into an idea for a game.
Humans do this somewhat effortlessly. The last Ludum Dare, 10 Seconds, included games with obvious time or move limits. But it also included games that interpreted second to mean a person who engages in a duel, or to mean a second helping of food. I’ll say it right now – ANGELINA won’t be blowing you away this time around. But it’s going to be our first attempt, to see what we can do with very little, and to reflect on ways to improve.
Another reason game jams are important is because they’re part of the rich culture of game development. My supervisor’s project, The Painting Fool, has exhibited its artwork, held portraiture sessions, sold its work to collectors, and will continue to engage with the art world in the way that human artists do. I think it’s important that ANGELINA do the same for the gamedev community. I’ve been speaking to Alan Hazelden a lot lately about co-operation and collaboration in game development. Game jams are another example of how the game development community share and interact with one another.
Finally, after three years, this January I am going to begin writing my PhD thesis with a view to finishing my PhD by this time in 2014. The last three years have been crazy for me. ANGELINA isn’t going anywhere, that research will follow me for a long time, but I can’t think of a better closing note for the thesis, a nicer way to end, than to report on ANGELINA’s first attempt to compete and work alongside humans in a game jam. Possibly the first time software has entered? I’m not sure. Either way, it’ll put a smile on my face to write up the outcome, good or bad.
So, one last push next week to get things ready. It’s been a hellish ride so far and right now I’ve got that familiar December feeling of hating the sight of my project files. Keep your eyes on the site, though, and I’ll be posting more details of Ludum Dare as they come in. Thanks for all the help so far on Twitter!