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Priceless Play -- 10 August

The tiniest slice of the Game Maker's Toolkit Jam 2019

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The Game Maker’s Toolkit Jam is, according to itch.io, the largest jam on its website. Wow! That sounds… overwhelming. The 48-hour jam is focused on “design, mechanics, and clever ideas” and ran from the 2nd of August to the 4th. There are nearly 3,000 entries and there’s no way anyone is going to be able to accurately cover all of them in a sustainable timeframe. But we can certainly get a delicious sample.

This year’s theme for the jam was “only one,” and it’s going to be tough to pick only one game which reigns supreme above the rest. To get a little taste, here’s a non-representative flight of a handful of games from this year’s GMTK Game Jam.

Before I begin, I want to say that I’m not huge on 48-hour jams, especially given the crunch-climate of the games industry. They can feel a lot like they’re encouraging spec work, or as if staying up all night is the only way to finish a game. That being said, 48-hour jams can also encourage going with your gut, throwing caution to the wind and pushing the limits of your creativity. Complicated feelings! Think critically and game on.

Lonely Chess from Iddmeister

I love chess variants. Maintaining the grammar of chess when the rest of the game has been reworked is not only entertaining, it can also be downright funny. I think of Zach Gage’s Really Bad Chess or Pippin Barr’s It Is As If You Are Playing Chess as prime examples.

Lonely Chess doesn’t always maintain the grammar of chess (pawns can move diagonally whenever they’d like, for instance) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t wildly fun. It also manages to tick the second box for chess variants — it’s funny. Effectively, you are playing chess with just one piece. Pawn by pawn and bird by bird, the number of your opponent’s pieces slowly escalates while yours stays singular. If chess with the regular thirty-two pieces feels daunting, I recommend giving one a try.

Martian Scout from Elendow

Martian Scout is a short, sweet, and surprisingly difficult game from Elendow, of the studio Mango Protocol. If Space Invaders and Flappy Bird and Snake all got put into a blender with a dash of Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, you’d get Martian Scout. You fly a spacecraft which can only accelerate. In order to avoid the various spacey obstacles thrown your way (laser tentacles, asteroids, you know the drill) you must accelerate the appropriate amount. The game looks cute as all get out, but it’s also here to send me careening into space dust. I hope you get to Mars faster than I did.

One Card Carnage from Cakeprediction, BerserkBoyGame, Fredrik Svanholm, Daniel Kim, and Jason TomLee

One Card Carnage is a deck-buildy rogue-likey Crypt of the Necrodancer-y slick piece of game design. The premise is this: you must defeat the dungeon enemies by playing individual cards each turn. They’re spawning quickly, and the cards aren’t always in your favour. They move when you move, and the deck is getting thin. It’s a clever conceit, and well-executed here. Especially for a 48-hour build.

One of the clear successes in One Card Carnage is the voice of each individual dev — the sound design is clutch, the UI is consistent and responsive, the sprites are cute and distinctive, and the game runs smoothly. The game is a palpable team effort, and it pays off. Do I wish that there were more modes of combat, the goals clearer, or that the deck were better balanced? Sure — but those are nitpicks which indicate the strength of the concept for a larger project. I hope to see more deckbuilders like this in the future. (Please give me more deckbuilders.)

Statless from Tiny Face Games

Statless is a cute endless combat RPG where there is only one stat to look out for: crystals. HP is crystals. Money is crystals. Mana is crystals. Everything… is crystals. The game was made by Tiny Face Games, or Michael “Leopold” Langer and Leon Müer, and it’s a sweet play. After each combat, you have to negotiate where to spend your hard-earned crystals. Weapons? Potions? Armour? Everything has a price and the price is (you guessed it) crystals. You’re equally as likely to die on the battlefield as you are in the shops. So take care and carry on, brave warriors.

Tread Lightly from Tom Ariaudo, Benjamin Lorion, Antoinette Stoll, Caroline Romano, and Léonard Allain-Launay

Tread Lightly is a gorgeous and eerie top-down exploration game, where your goal is to solve the mystery of the abandoned mansion where you find yourself and to stay in the light. Fortunately for you, you’ve got a working lightbulb to carry around with you and place in sockets around the house. Unfortunately, you’ve only got the one and the sockets are a little old and have a tendency to break… Can you solve the mystery before the darkness consumes you?

Tread Lightly is another game which really shows the power of a cohesive team. It’s beautiful from start to finish, and honestly shocking that the game was made in only 48 hours. The “stay in the light” trope is a mainstay for horror games, but needing to swap out lightbulbs made for an enjoyable change of pace. I had so much fun creeping through the different nooks and crannies of the house, reminding me of the spooky I Spy point-and-click games of my childhood — with a dash of demon summoning, of course. Tread lightly, for there are ghosts lurking in the shadows…

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Who am I?

Kat Brewster

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Kat Brewster is a sometimes writer, sometimes game designer, and most-of-the-time academic based out of the University of California, Irvine. Kat's research focuses on play, the future of digital work, and queer archives. You can reach out on Twitter @katbamkapow.

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