Okay here’s a weird, non-standard thing.
See, I made my game jam game. I put it on this site. I hated it and brewed about it for a bit. But i believe in tracking my mistakes as well as my successes, so I figured it was better being done and moving on. But then a few days later, before the jam ended, I got a different idea and wanted to act on that, and so I did. What that means is this article has two distinct parts.
Part 1, here, before the fold, is me just showing you a game and linking to its itch page. After the fold is Part 2, the original version of the article, which is written by a more bummed out version of me.
The game I made is called The Coffee Question, and it’s based on the idea of trying to remember a complicated order for the whole staff when you run down to get people coffee. It’s a small game, only 27 cards, and it’s fully cooperative. You play it in two rounds, and have to try, collectively, to memorise an order of the food you’re there to get. Consider it a lesson about writing things down. It’s also built around a lot of different references to what I think of when I think of Desert Bus and food, though some concessions have been made to make the things hard to remember.
I think it’s fun! I recommend it! I like cooperative games for Desert Bus, feels more charitable. You can go get it over on itch.io. You can also get it here:
The rest of this article is preserved for archival purposes, and the other game is there for consideration, but really, don’t worry about it. The game is fine I guess, but I was really upset by the whole process. This one also had the same kind of upset but after writing about how you should route around those problems, not doing that in my followup shows how silly I can be.
Desert Bus 2023 happened! I made a game for it! Here’s my game jam game for it! I am not happy about it! I have thoughts about it and my approach that are bad! I’m going to talk some smack about it but also there’s a free to play print-and-play game pdf in this post! It’s just after the picture but before the fold!
Okay, there’s a Desert Bus themed game jam that goes with the Desert Bus Event. Last year I did it, and I liked it and I liked the game I got out of it. The game I made out of it was a game about THE ANTI BUS and what I made was a drafting game full of references to the day to day events and memes of that desert bus event. I finished it and moved on to this year’s, armed with the knowledge that no, of course nobody looked at my game, because why would they? Very few game jam games get any attention.
But this year the prompt was COFFEE QUEST.
And I am still mad about this prompt.
I’m mad about this prompt because I let myself be pushed completely in the wrong direction for this game jam and the result was feeling like the game I made could never work. The game I made, if you look at it, has a terrible name and a dumb theme. It’s about people doing the shifts of Desert Bus and doing things to keep the energy up of each scene so they don’t fall asleep. The person who plays the most energetic card each turn wins, but there are cards that change that relationship. It’s a very simple game where you pick one of your two cards, and they do something. Coffee is the one trump card in the deck that beats everything but the three anti-coffee cards. That’s it! The whole thing is built out of what assets I could use for the $2.50 I already spent on art assets.
I did not want to make the same kind of game I made last year. I wanted to make something different, with a different prompt. But the only feedback I got about what I was doing was that it ‘should be about Desert Bus.’ Which… isn’t the rules of the Jam. It’s really not.
Look, my thinking now, after I’ve done is that if I made a Kingdom Hearts fangame with coffee minigames in it, that counts. If I made a game about gundams fighting, that counts. If I made a Roborosewater Cube, that counts. If I made a game about surveying teenaged girls, that counts. The idea that you need to fit ‘Desert Bus, The Event’ in your game is stupid. It’s huge and it creates the demand that the whole game be abstracted until it’s literally just a collection of references. The idea that you need to fit ‘Desert Bus, the game,’ in your game is even more stupid. The whole point of the jam is to be open and the whole point of Desert Bus, the game is that it sucks.
But when I found myself, responding to feedback, thinking I needed to make my game ‘fit’ inside the confines of Desert Bus rather than responding to Desert Bus, I wound up feeling like I had to try and make a quest game, you know, a game about going somewhere and achieving something, that related to coffee, the most boring kind of g-rated personality alongside ‘weed guy who won’t say weed’, and somehow find the room for everything else in the whole event to be referenced.
This is stupid! I should have just said ‘no, I hate your feedback,’ and ignored it. But I didn’t, I instead tried to imagine a way to approach this impossible space of making a game in a week that was also a seven day marathon and a quest game and the most boring game in the world and do it in a way that made it interesting. What I should have done, day one, is discarded all of the feedback, and day two should have been spent coming up with a thing to focus on that I liked – something I liked in the whole idea space that I could play with. A coffee game, a game about how coffee tastes like dirt, a game that had a quest for going and getting coffee – a game about a barista on a quest, a game about building lego instructions where you can use coffee to burn through more –
Even then I hate these ideas because I think that coffee sucks and I think ‘using coffee’ in the game needs to be something that actively engages with coffee and doesn’t treat it as just a generic powerup or feedback button. Like, it wasn’t that I got bad advice about coffee games. I just got bad advice for trying to accommodate that initial feedback that it ‘should’ be about Desert Bus more and these things are directly at odds with one another.
So here are my lessons:
- Don’t try and force a relationship to a theme you hate. You can drop jams. Nobody cares. Nobody cares if you succeed, if they care that you give up, then they really are fucking with you.
- Don’t try and encapsulate bad games with your game designs. Make good games that interest you. Your interest is vitally important to the whole experience.
- Have a ripcord. If you have to, if you’ve committed for some reason, have a good reason in your mind to get out of it and something you can throw into the hole and bury forever.
I hated this experience and that’s a sign I should have quit. I should have quit and wrote about quitting and how good quitting made me feel. Instead I made something that sucks and now I’m writing about how much I hated pushing through this experience that sucks.
Don’t do that! That sucks! Game jams are meant to be fun!