TL;DR: We made games and you can play them here!
You can't think about online video 24/7. Well, I mean you can try. But unless you prefer your breakfast served in capsule form by a kindly lady wearing white whilst you whimper softly about aspect ratios, it's good to take a break once in a while. Which is why, every month or so, we on the vzaar dev team take a break and get together for a good, old-fashioned code challenge to slow down the inevitable descent into fatuity. It mainly works.
In the past, we've come up against some pretty varied challenges. We've refactored code. We've written programs to encrypt and decrypt messages using Bruce Schneier's Solitaire Cipher. We've even created DSLs, and if that made you snigger then grow up, because I'm talking about Domain-Specific Languages. Yeah.
When the opportunity finally fell on me to set the next challenge, I wanted it to be a bit different to the previous exercises. And I wanted it to be fun. It ended up being at least one of those things. That's because I remembered what it was that got me into programming in the first place: playing games on my rubber-keyed ZX Spectrum, and the joyful revelation that I could make my own, simply by writing millions of lines of code that become infinitesimally less incomprehensible as time goes on, until maybe one day you sort of understand what you're doing.
The challenge, then, was obvious. The dev team must Make Dan A Game. Some of them took this more literally than others. These were the rules:
- Use any language you like.
- It can be any sort of game. Dan does not mind.
- Console, browser, or even GUI. Your choice.
- The game can be small or large. Or somewhere in between.
- The game must be fun.
Simple, right? Well, yes and no. As I should have remembered from my early attempts, making games is hard. During my idyllic youth, the most accessible method of making a game would be to copy out hundreds of lines of BASIC, and pray that you didn't make a mistake.
While the games had exciting titles like ROCKET, they were a far cry from the games we played in amusement arcades. In most, the general flow of gameplay required you to enter a number, after which you'd be told that you'd died. If you're part of the generation before me, you were even less lucky. If you even had access to a computer, the best you could do would be to put a punchcard in it, which would come back out several days later with some extra holes that would inform you you'd died.
So, now we're all up to speed with my meandering, subjective take on computing history, let's take a look at some of the "highlights" of the pioneering vzaar game jam!
Lawrence - Virtual Startup Party
As we all know, Lawrence loves support. And he loves the warm glow of doing a good job. Not everyone in support holds themselves to such high standards though, and to illustrate this, Lawrence's game was based around the existential ennui of dealing with a company that only responds to one email a day. He achieved this by making a text adventure that would only allow you to make one move a day. It's a brave mechanic; maybe what you'd even call an anti-game. On the plus side, this gives you plenty of time in between turns to sit outside Parisian cafes smoking Gauloises and generally being a 19th century hipster.
The game's score is worth noting: an 8-bit version of Get Lucky on a permanent loop, which I'm pretty sure is what Heidegger was listening to when he wrote that "profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference."
Dan's rating: A+ for inventing a new genre, D for making me think
Play Lawrence's game here!
Terry - PONG
Terry was so old-skool in his implementation that he somehow made a version even less feature-packed than the original. Nonetheless, the power of a truly iconic game shone through and we all ooh-ed and aah-ed as Andy inched shakily up and down the screen, uttering a strangulated beep of excitement when he successfully volleyed the white square towards the other white rectangle.
Dan's rating: A for nostalgia, C- for effort
Play Terry's game here!
Alan - Flappy Dan
Yes, Alan went there. He made a Flappy Bird clone. And despite the topical appeal of a flap-like, it's actually a pretty ancient game mechanic so it fits in with our retro theme nicely, kind of like if your grandparents used snapchat. There isn't a great deal to say about Flappy Dan that hasn't already been said about its avian precursor, except that it is testament to both Alan's skills as a programmer and the Phaser framework that you can knock out a clone like this in such a short time. Either that or it's testament to how bad of a game Flappy Bird is.
Most notably, it was the most popular game amongst the vzaar staff, and I can honestly say I never expected people to be so passionate about avoiding smashing my face into a Mario pipe.
Dan's rating: A++ for quality, E- for the very crude pixel rendition of my face.
Play Alan's game here!
Dan - Space Invaders By Candlelight
"It's the dead of night. You hear a deafening cacophony outside, and as your instinct to protect your family is the first to take hold, you rush outside with only your trusty candle and laser gun. You can see missiles raining from the sky, but where they are coming from? What could be happening?" This is how I should have begun my presentation. With a story about how my game was some sort of conceptual piece about the nature of the unknown.
But in reality, I didn't have much time, so I stole a space invaders demo and added a lighting effect that would obscure everything but the player itself. Feeling that this was slightly unfair, I added levels and made the candle's radius increase each time, so that you might gain a glimpse of your unseen nemeses. Feeling that this was slightly too fair, I then made the aliens stronger and more trigger-happy each level until it reached just the right amount of early-video-game-impossibility.
Dan's rating: A++++++
Everyone else: "I don't get it"
Play Dan's game here!
So that's how the first ever vzaar game jam went down. If you're interested in making games, it's easier than ever so give it a try! Feel free to look at our source code, but please bear in mind our games were the result of frantic - rather than responsible - hacking. And please leave us a comment to tell us which game you liked best! Especially if it was mine.