There’s a great postmortem of the Metaplace game jam we did a couple of weeks back at WorldIV.com » Surprisingly, Making Games is Hard Work.
I did jacks — I was planning on doing Pente after that. My thoughts on it:
- Gosh, a lot of people don’t know what jacks is! Which caught me by surprise. Perhaps it was a side effect of growing up in a third world country, but cheap games like jacks and marbles were all the rage when I was a kid. And yeah, jacks is considered more of a girl’s game than a boy’s game, and we had a room full of guys in the jam. (Ironic, since it is a truly ancient game. Next time you read about “knucklebones” in your favorite fat fantasy novel, they’re playing a form of jacks.)
- I cheated. We were supposed to pick stuff that was designed already. But I’ve never seen a videogame version of jacks. So I did actually sneak in design in there. 🙂 As it turned out, that was easily the biggest time sink, as I wrestled with stuff like how to handle the ball bouncing mechanic.
- Reduce mechanics! I ended up throwing away the element of how hard you throw the ball at the ground to give your self more time. I also threw away the mechanic of sweeping up more than one jack in your hand at once. This made the game much simpler.
- Always do core mechanics first. This is one that always seems to elude people new to rapid prototyping. Don’t get distracted with the complicated matchmaking system. Don’t get caught up in even the timer. Make it so you can pick up a jack. Then make it so you can pick up several jacks. Then add the timer. Then add turn-taking. Layer things in, don’t jump to the ideal.
- Flavor matters a ton. As much as I say “do blue squares first!” I do try to get placeholder graphics in as soon as I have the core mechanic, because you are aiming for an experience too.
- Jacks kinda works better one-player this way, because turns are kind of long. I compensated by letting you watch the other player’s moves, but it is still not entertaining enough to just watch them.
These were designed a little games that you can click on someone else and invite them to play. The screenshots, by the way, are what jacks looked like about an hour after the jam ended, so I got all the way to “alpha” — playable, reasonably balanced, and with a general visual design in place.