Cold rush

Hardy Fin­nish devs head to La­p­land’s frozen woods for Sur­vival Mode – a 48-hour game jam by can­dle­light

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Fin­nish devs hud­dle to­gether for the Sur­vival Mode game jam

For most, the idea of cre­at­ing a game in 48 hours is daunting enough, but the Fin­nish Game Jam as­so­ci­a­tion is keen to layer on more hard­ship. An FGJor­gan­ised event in 2014 saw teams cre­ate their games in the cramped en­clo­sure of a mov­ing bus, and this year the as­so­ci­a­tion ramped things up even fur­ther for Sur­vival Mode, in which game cre­ators braved plum­met­ing tem­per­a­tures, dwin­dling bat­tery power and, erm, nice warm saunas.

“We were think­ing, what can we do that would be very Fin­nish?” Univer­sity Of Tam­pere game re­searcher and lec­turer (and FGJ pres­i­dent) An­nakaisa Kul­tima ex­plains. “There aren’t that many north­ern sites for the Global Game Jam – our Ro­vaniemi site has been north­ern­most for a cou­ple of years now, and we were think­ing that maybe we could go even fur­ther. The orig­i­nal idea was to bring peo­ple on a ski­ing hike, be­cause there’s a net­work of empty cot­tages [in La­p­land] that are looked af­ter by the govern­ment.”

The plan would’ve seen teams trek be­tween cot­tages for the week­end, but se­vere con­di­tions in the pre­ced­ing fort­night – which saw tem­per­a­tures reach -38°C and an ex­pe­ri­enced hiker lose his life – saw the 28-strong group hole up in a larger build­ing pre­vi­ously used by lum­ber­jacks. With a rel­a­tively balmy -10°C to con­tend with, the jam could pro­ceed, but plenty of other chal­lenges would present them­selves.

“The cabin in the woods was 50 min­utes away from civil­i­sa­tion,” Kul­tima ex­plains. “We didn’t have elec­tric­ity other than the gen­er­a­tor that we brought, so peo­ple were us­ing headlights and can­dles. Peo­ple had their mo­bile devices, and Fin­land is pretty well cov­ered – it’s ac­tu­ally pretty dif­fi­cult to get com­pletely away from the In­ter­net nowa­days – but be­cause the skies weren’t that clear and we had a lot of snow­fall, the In­ter­net was re­ally shaky. Some peo­ple were able to use their own devices, but oth­ers didn’t have any net­work cov­er­age at all. So some peo­ple were in a bet­ter sit­u­a­tion than oth­ers were, de­pend­ing on their ser­vice provider!”

The group had three petrol-pow­ered gen­er­a­tors avail­able, but two were there as backup (both in the event of a fail­ure or if there was a mis­cal­cu­la­tion of how much power would be con­sumed), and devices could only be charged dur­ing sched­uled breaks.

“It made you plan for work­ing with­out your com­puter quite of­ten,” Markus Pa­sula, CEO and co-founder of Grand Cru Games, and Sur­vival Mode par­tic­i­pant, tells us. “So you think, I’m prob­a­bly go­ing to run out of lap­top bat­tery at this stage, so then will be a good time to go and do some pho­tog­ra­phy. There were only three hours of sun­light, and I was shoot­ing the 360-de­gree tex­tures for the back­grounds – so I’d get the best qual­ity if there was at least some day­light left. So try­ing to sync those times to­gether with when I was out of bat­tery on my lap­top was im­por­tant.”

The lack of a con­tin­ual power sup­ply, day­light or guar­an­teed on­line re­sources forced the teams to be­come un­usu­ally re­source­ful. One group han­dled all of their cod­ing on iPads us­ing Codea, and Kul­tima be­lieves that, thanks to a stash of ex­ter­nal lithium bat­ter­ies, the devs didn’t make use of any of the event’s sup­ply of fuel. For vis­ual re­sources, oth­ers used pho­tog­ra­phy, draw­ings and even clay modelling – re­serv­ing their bat­ter­ies un­til the whole lot was ready to be in­cor­po­rated into the game at once. And then, of course, there was the sauna.

“It was an old, wooden build­ing – a tra­di­tional sauna with only one room for get­ting changed,” Kul­tima says. “We all went for a sauna on the se­cond night, and af­ter a while most peo­ple had left. So I came out think­ing, ‘OK, now there’s loads of room for me to get dressed.’ But when I opened the chang­ing room door, it was com­pletely packed. Two peo­ple were sit­ting on one side – one do­ing voice act­ing, and the other record­ing – and then a huge au­di­ence on the other side gig­gling be­cause the lines were pretty amus­ing. So peo­ple were cool­ing off and get­ting dressed, but still mak­ing games! So even though there were breaks, a lot of peo­ple just found ways to con­tinue their work.”

Kul­tima views the trip as a suc­cess, but also the first foray into po­ten­tially more ex­treme events. “It was a nice trip, but I wish it was harder! If you think about it, this group of peo­ple is used to play­ing games in which there are all sorts of un­nec­es­sary ob­sta­cles for you to over­come. So we’re used to this kind of think­ing – that it’s kind of fun to have ob­sta­cles. So we’ll def­i­nitely con­tinue in pur­su­ing ex­treme game jams, or at least other ridicu­lous con­straints. You do get a lit­tle bit bored jam­ming reg­u­larly, so I think that this is some­thing peo­ple are in­ter­ested in, in or­der to see what kind of ex­pe­ri­ences you can have. I hope it in­spires oth­ers, too – per­haps there will be a sim­i­lar win­ter set­ting in Canada, for in­stance, or maybe a desert jam some­where? I can’t wait to see.”

“It was 50 min­utes from civil­i­sa­tion. We didn’t have elec­tric­ity other than the gen­er­a­tor that we brought”

Game re­searcher and Fin­nish Game Jam pres­i­dent An­nakaisa Kul­tima

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