A Look At The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 Entries

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 28 April 2016
Category: Features
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The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 72-hour game jam featured indie games competing for top honours under the theme "Down, But Not Out" and a chance to be showcased at rAge in Cape Town. The winning games included some addictive gameplay, interesting premises, and... a little bit of tickling?

Last year the rAge expo in Johannesburg featured a game-jam competition hosted by NAG so it was great to see that this year the same was organised for the inaugural Cape Town expo and that it looks to be an ongoing event in future.

The Cape Town competition, which was open to anyone from the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region, was announced in February to give those interested in participating time to get ready for the jam weekend, which took place from Thursday 2 March 2016 at 19:00 to Sunday 5 March at 19:00. The catch, like that of similar game jams such as the Ludum Dare Jam, is that they would only learn the theme of the competition, "Down, But Not Out", when it was announced on the day, and then would have 72 hours to create their game based on the theme and upload it for judging. There was no central jam space - they could work from home or, if they were a team, they could gather anywhere suitable to jam together or even work over the Internet.

Six of the entries submitted to the NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 competition were showcased at rAge and I spent time at the stand trying them out and watching visitors interact with them to see what caught people's eyes and what they found entertaining. A seventh game is available from the jam's download page on itch.io so I tried it out at home after the expo.

A Look At The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 Entries

I think the competition announcement was a bit rushed as it seems as if these seven games were the only entries but the quality was nevertheless impressive. The stand at rAge and the project were co-sponsored by Intel so I asked there about the judging criteria but it turns out that some mysterious entity at NAG judged the winners, which were announced a few days after rAge.

I thought it would be important to have feedback from people who actually tried the games at the stand, and Intel is hoping to add a benchmarking component, using some of its tools, in a future jam so that the results can be more scientific. Personally I think a combination of all three would be the best way to go about it - perhaps we'll see that at future jams.

Here's a roundup of the entries and my thoughts on each game.

Dark/Run (aka Dark-Slash-Run)

By: Daniel Lawrence

Dark/Run, a dungeon crawling role-playing game with roguelike elements, was a prototype rather than a finished game that was developed in GameMaker: Studio. There is one level that includes pickups you can grab on your way to a boss battle against the Gate Golem, with minor enemies also in the mix. The hero's swishy sword is rather phallic, which I assume is unintentional, but the controls work well and the boss battle is balanced, with a couple of attack loops it cycles through to keep you on your toes.

A Look At The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 Entries

The game's take on the jam theme was that there is a revival mechanic that sends the player to the last checkpoint upon death and the player has to find the spot where he or she died to recover lost equipment. Another plan was to have the player's maximum health permanently reduce after each death but this was not implemented in the prototype. It's a clever idea, however, and something I'd like to experience, although it might get frustrating after one too many deaths essentially makes it impossible to continue.

The indie-game series Monsters' Den uses a variation on this kind of penalty - when you die party members lose a piece of equipment - and there are scenarios in which you can eventually get to the point where you are now permanently outmatched and can't get your stats up high enough with the help of your remaining equipment to continue, which leaves you with no choice but to quit the game and restart, which isn't a fun way to end a game. (Somehow being permanently wiped out with a "game over" is more satisfying.)

A Look At The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 Entries

I enjoyed Dark/Run and was disappointed that there wasn't more to it but time constraints worked heavily against what was an overly ambitious project for a 72-hour jam. Nevertheless the game ended up winning the competition. I'm in two minds about that because other entries worked more carefully within the time constraints to present a complete game and I think that that should be recognised as it's one of the key challenges of a jam. Dark/Run does hold a lot of promise, however, and the developer has stated an interest in taking it further. I look forward to seeing the results.

Daniel Lawrence: Blog, Google+, itch.io, Twitter

Tuk Tuk Taxi

By: Matthys G Potgieter and Storm Muller

It may not have had the best graphics at the jam but Tuk Tuk Taxi, which was developed in Unity, is a great example of how smart gameplay can keep people engaged and competitive. The game is essentially an endless runner and its goal is simple: you control a tuk tuk and you have to keep it going for as long as possible.

A Look At The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 Entries

You start out slowly, scoring points as you progress by staying on the road, but the game then begins to pick up speed so split-second decision making is harder and it increases the likelihood that you will crash. To add a bit more of a challenge to the game the controls also have a bit of a swervey lag to them that becomes apparent when the speed picks up and it requires some driving finesse to keep going.

The reason for this is that there are obstacles in the road that you have to avoid, while doing your best not to swerve into the grass too often as it will weaken your tyres until they eventually burst. While you're on the grass you also can't score points so it's imperative to get back to the road as quickly as possible. There are health pickups that can restore your tyres and points pickups that give your score a boost but you have to make quick decisions as to whether they might be worth aiming for in an obstacle field as the wrong decision or bad timing could cause you to crash.

The game also includes a high-score table, which prompted players at rAge to keep trying to get the boasting rights of a high score at the stand. The result is a "just one more time" mechanic because you know you can do better - against your own best score as well as, on the day, against everyone else who had tried the game. I really enjoyed playing this game, which deservedly won third place in the competition, and I would love to see it developed further.

Tuk Tuk Taxi: Download (Windows)
Matthys G Potgieter: itch.io, Twitter, YouTube
Storm Muller: Twitter

Satelite Down

By: Regardt Visagie

Satelite [sic] Down is unfortunately not available to download from itch.io but it was presented on the stand for gamers to try. In this two player game each gamer controls a sphere that can be used to place military structures on the Earth as well as grab pickups that upgrade the player's satellites, structures, and sphere. While managing these resources the players have to try to get a friendly unit and an enemy unit within their sphere in order to attack the enemy unit to try to take out their opponent's facilities and eventually win the game by destroying all their opponent's satellites.

A Look At The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 Entries

The graphics reminded me of WarGames and are well suited to the sort of strategic combat simulation this game is trying to represent. I played against myself, which is, of course, not recommended, just to get an idea of the gameplay and the controls and later watched a couple of gamers go head to head. The controls were responsive and I imagine that the gameplay can get quite intense when you're up against a friend who is equally skilled at grabbing the pickups and setting up an attack moment. I'm assuming that that's where the game ties in the best to the jam's theme of "Down, But Not Out".

My only wish is that there could be an AI option so you can play against the computer instead of a friend. That would probably require too much programming time for a 72-hour jam, however, so, for this competition, the developer was wise to stick to a two player requirement.

I was really glad to see that this game won second place in the competition as it's complete, fully functional, and fun.

Pile On

By: Martin Grabarski

Pile On really does a great job of relating well to the theme of "Down, But Not Out". Your mission is not to let "noobs bring you down" as you try to keep your character alive while an increasing number of enemies tries to attack him, eventually piling on to the point where you can't defend yourself anymore.

A Look At The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 Entries

The game is a bit of a button masher - there's just one key (the spacebar) for attacking - as you fight to stay alive. Each enemy you beat gets knocked out of the game but the rest keep coming. If they pass you they fall down the hole in the bottom of the screen and land from the top of the screen on to the middle platform where they continue to seek your character out until you knock them away or succumb to the horde.

There are a couple of sweet spots in the game where you can stand reasonably safely and just pound away but, even so, the enemies will eventually outnumber you, restrict your ability to move or punch, and finally take you out for good.

Pile On is another game that was made in Unity, with audio recorded in Audacity 2.0.5, music created in FL Studio 11.1.1, and art created in Gimp 2.8.8. I really like that all the art assets and audio were created from scratch (some of the other games used free assets and/or sounds) using open-source software where possible. You even get an extended version of the music as an MP3 in the download package that's available on itch.io.

At rAge there were a few kids who spent quite a bit of time playing the game, likely aiming to beat everyone's high scores (there was a score sheet on the desk for people who wanted to brag) and I think this is another game that I think has some potential. Sadly it didn't place in the competition but I hope to see it developed further.

Tickle Me

By: Tiané Erwee

Tickle Me, another game that was developed in Unity, definitely deserves recognition for most inventive premise, although I struggle to see the connection with the jam's theme.

A Look At The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 Entries

This game ideally requires three players, although two will also do. The scenario presented is that your baby, as well as the babies of your two friends, have all miraculously become stuck on the slides at the park at the same time during a dad-baby playdate so you each play as one of the dads trying to get your kid unstuck. The method to do this requires tickling your baby to make it wiggle and slowly move down the slide.

Each player controls nine tickle points on the keyboard (due to space constraints you need an extended keyboard with a number pad for three players) and you have to bash the keys to tickle your baby. Each tickle point becomes less effective the more you use it so you have to hop around on the keys you're bashing to make sure that you're using them as effectively as possible.

A Look At The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 Entries

It's an utterly bizarre idea but was well executed. Amusingly at first sight the game causes most people to pause with a bit of a puzzled moment of "I'm not quite sure what I'm seeing here..." but after watching for a bit you realise there's nothing untoward about the game and it's all in good fun.

At rAge there was a little girl who was particularly enthralled with Tickle Me and she spent ages at the stand first playing by herself before roping in members of her family to play with her. The key bashing is a bit exhausting for adults but it was great to see someone who would usually be dismissed as being a gamer finding something that appealed to her. The game also gets points for being multicultural, which is something developers often don't think about even though in many cases it doesn't require much work to present something that is more inclusive.

Tickle Me deservedly won the fourth place prize for being creative and silly but still fun.

Drink For Glory!

By: Kevin Macfarlane, Joshua Grossman, and Dominic Siaki

Although it runs in Windows Drink For Glory! is a quick-thinking button masher made in Unity for, ideally, four players. Unfortunately it doesn't work with the keyboard at all so if you want to try it out you need to plug gamepads into your computer to play it. Preferably you need Xbox-themed controllers to match the symbols used in the game but you can figure out what you're doing with a PlayStation-themed controller.

A Look At The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 Entries

Each person plays as a viking in a tavern who is trying to be the last man standing with an endless supply of beer. A symbol corresponding to a gamepad button will appear under each viking and players need to hit this button to keep him drinking and awake, which is represented by a bar above his head. The bar depletes quickly over time so if players are too slow to hit the right button the viking will pass out and if they hit the wrong button the viking will spill his drink. The game continues until there is only one player left, hence the "Down, But Not Out" part.

A Look At The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 Entries

It's a fun premise with quick gameplay and I really love the pixel art. This is a great start for a fun party game. The final game is a little bit buggy, and having to plug in four controllers is probably a bit of a logistical problem for most people, but there's lots of potential here and I really enjoyed playing.

Drink For Glory!: Download (WIndows)

Down To Earth

By: Ben Crooks

This game is in the NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 collection on itch.io but, for reasons that will become apparent, it wasn't demoed on the stand. Since it's available to download, however, I thought I'd have a look.

This is another game for up to three players, also made in Unity. The premise is that everyone is stranded on a space station with a reactor that's about to explode and the only way to save the situation is to head down to Earth to pick up four components that are required to repair the station. There is only a certain amount of time because the reactor becomes increasingly unstable the longer you take.

A Look At The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 Entries

So, off you go. When you are in space heading to Earth you can control your spaceman with the left and right keys as he automatically spirals down towards the planet. There are, however, obstacles in the way in the form of green emanations that emanate from Earth. If the spaceman touches them he is pushed upwards - in other words, back towards to space station - which wastes your limited time and makes it harder to get down to Earth.

Once you reach Earth you automatically grab one of the components and then a 10-second countdown displays on the planet. At the end of the countdown your spaceman is blasted back into space and now he has to get back to the station so, instead of avoiding the green emanations, he has to try to aim for them to be pushed back up.

A Look At The NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016 Entries

This game is unfortunately buggy and therefore I'm not quite sure what the developer's ultimate intention was. When I played only the red spaceman was able to grab components from Earth. The other two spacemen could go to Earth and be blasted back out to space but they wouldn't pick up anything. If this was the intention then there isn't enough time to get all four components back to the station - at most you can grab two. It did make for an interesting scenario, though, because then the green and yellow spacemen can help the red spaceman get to Earth faster by going ahead and hitting the green emanations, which disappear when you touch them, thereby clearing more of a space for the red spaceman to get through.

More likely, though, I presume that all three spacemen are supposed to be able to grab the components. If this was the case then there would be enough time to get everything back to the station before the reactor explodes. You would then be able to work cooperatively in a way that makes more sense to you - perhaps everyone dives for components or perhaps two players do and the third acts as a path clearer.

Besides the bugs there are some other problems with this game, such as the fact that by the time you're close to Earth you are the size of a pixel and it's incredibly difficult to see where you are or what's happening, but I still thought this game holds promise, and the music is great. With a bit more effort it could be fixed but whether the developer will want to remains to be seen.

Ben Crooks: itch.io, Twitter

NAG Jam: rAge Cape Town 2016: NAG Jam, itch.io, Winner Announcement

Mandy J Watson was a media guest of rAge Cape Town 2016.

Tags: #cape_town, #games, #technology

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