Saturday, September 25, 2010

G-Ameland nearly triples in size!

Ameland, The Netherlands
G-Ameland logoThis was the third G-Ameland game development festival for Dutch and Belgian students (and more countries next year, we hope). The last couple of years there were 70 to 80 participants; this year there were 237. Starting on Monday, we all get together for a week of lectures, workshops, and above all game jamming to produce a Flash game by Thursday night. The festival now has its own independent foundation, so it's on a more solid footing this year. It worked just like it did the two previous years, with students coming over to the island of Ameland on the ferry, and occupying bungalows in teams of 4 or 6. I originally had a bungalow to myself, but I had to move out and into a smaller shared one to make room.

Participants in lecture hall.
The whole crowd, and more pouring in.

Day 2: The development theme was sustainability again, although as usual many teams interpreted that very broadly. I gave my GDC lecture, "Single-player, Multiplayer, MMOG: Design Psychologies for Different Social Contexts," then began visiting the teams that I was assigned to mentor. Fortunately they weren't overambitious, unlike many in the past. Unfortunately, the Internet arrangements failed and the students were howling about it. I say it's character-building. Shigeru Miyamoto didn't have any Internet when he conceived of Mario.

Students bouncing on bouncy objectDay 3: I gave a game design workshop for a special group of students visiting for one day from a college in Amsterdam. The results were rather odd. We got a female WWII Dutch Resistance ninja (?!) and a genetically-modified laser-toting whale. Among my G-Ameland teams, one (Ice Puzzles) was actually ahead of schedule. I spent some time this evening playing a board game with Joris Dormans, a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam, and looking at his incredibly cool Machinations project, which enables game designers to diagram and prototype their game mechanics. I'll be writing a Designer's Notebook column about Machinations soon.

Macbook laptop modified with Snow WhiteDay 4: Crunch time. The students had to get their games in by 3:30 in the afternoon. The press and various VIPs also came to visit in the afternoon, although I didn't meet many of them as I was too busy with my teams. Then, working with my fellow judges, we had to examine 41 games. The organizers also asked me to host the awards ceremony, which was a big, and loud, success.

The Winners
Honorable Mention for the Best Paper Prototype: Team 20, Think Twice.
Unfortunately I don't remember much about this game, but the judges were all impressed by how well planned it was. It was completely playable on paper; the team just wasn't able to write the code.

Third Place: Team 35, Microbe Prime
This was a very clever and simple game that incorporated a rock-paper-scissors style of gameplay among three species of microbes -- each was prey for another. The player could control one individual, and all the others were managed by AI. Because of the rock-paper-scissors nature, to keep the entire population alive and growing, it was essential not to let any one dominate too much. More often what happened was that the player foolishly ran around eating as many of his prey as he could, which meant that they were not available to keep his predators in check, and the populations became unbalanced and eventually died out.
You can see it here (without sound):

G-ameland 2010 entry from martijn on Vimeo.

Second Place: Team 17, unnamed game
This was a simple educational game for young children made entirely with images photographed on the island of Ameland itself. The player could elect to buy certain things to place on the island, but making the wrong choices would pollute it. The graphic style was very distinctive:

lucdehaan gameland HKU team 17 from luc de haan on Vimeo.

First Place: Team 31, BeeCo
The winner was BeeCo, a real-time strategy game about sustainably building and defending a beehive. The graphics were good, almost everything worked, it addressed the theme of the event, and it had a surprisingly rich internal economy. It was based somewhat upon tower defense principles (wax moths attack the hive, and you have to defend it with bumblebees), but was more sophisticated. As your hive grows, you get more land to search for nectar. However, the flowers don't have an unlimited supply, so if you grow too quickly you'll run out of food for your bees. It's a familiar mechanic applied to a new situation, and very well-executed... especially considering how little time the team had to build it. Here's the video (without sound):

The afterparty went far into the night. A little too far into the night, to be honest, and some people celebrated rather more than was good for them.

Day 5: Homeward bound by bus, ferry, car, train, plane, and taxi. It was a lot of fun as always, and tiring as always. There were a few growing pains (at first the students weren't very good about leaving enough food for others), but I'm looking forward to next year already.