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