Three years of Adventure Jam. Part two: One Of Us
I returned to Adventure Jam in 2017 with a new set of challenges. In 2016 we had joined as a team and always knew what to do and who would do it. We were all working together locally. In 2017 I did not have that luxury. At the time, contact with my old team for AWAKE had broken up and I was a solo developer.
Yet I knew I wanted to participate in the jam – I had met other developers who participated at AdventureX in London earlier and their enthusiasm won me over. Furthermore, I was working on a game project by myself which didn‘t really get anywhere, so creating and actually finishing something small sounded very promising.
This is my second time writing about Adventure Jam. I have participated in this jam for the past three years, creating three games: Awake, One Of Us and The Ransom. My experiences creating these games were very different and valuable and I‘ll share my key takeaways for each in this three-part series. This post will detail the development of One Of Us.
Forming the team and concept
I decided to find people to collaborate online for the duration of the jam. While there is a pretty active discord server for Adventure Jam, it was unexpectedly hard to find people to jam with – even though I had a track record from the previous year.
I eventually found an artist who was willing to collaborate with me, let’s call him Jeff, under the condition that we create something „related to fairy tales“. This was fine with me – it‘s not my favorite setting, but it‘ll do for a jam. I started formulating ideas immediately (it‘s allowed to write the script and design before the jam) and came up with a murder mystery set in a fairy tale world. I was super excited when Seb Peters also joined the team to create sounds and music. We had met at AdventureX 2016 in London where he was showcasing a game.
Having recently played The Wolf Among Us I immediately thought about werewolves. This would be an ideal setting to practice writing a „whodunit“-scenario, which I wanted to do for a while. Intrigued by the idea of „cast design“ I had recently heard about from the development of Uncharted 2 I designed a rather large set of characters who were connected in various ways.
The game‘s structure, having phases of exploring and talking to characters that ultimately have to lead to a decision who might be the murderer and has to be killed, was directly borrowed from the real-life game of werewolves/witch-hunt. This structure was a huge challenge: the narrative of the game is very branching. There was no knowing which characters are still alive to write dialogue for the later parts of the game.
This resulted in a rather large and convoluted script. For the campfire discussions I designed the main topics the characters would discuss and every line was written so that it could be said by a number of characters. The script was 610 lines long, 2.4 times the number of lines I had written for AWAKE which had 253 lines.
When the first day of production came, I had planned it all out. I knew which experience I was going for, the script was ready and a list of all the assets was there, we just had to complete this thing. In hindsight, I wonder why I didn‘t realize that the scope of the game was way too huge. The game was set to feature 7 screens, 9 characters, 610 lines of dialogue and has a branching logic. Looking back, a ludicrous goal for a 2-week jam.
I don‘t know if that was the reason but when the jam started our artist Jeff was nowhere to be found. From time to time I received messages from him that he was flying around the world and would surely finish the jam but as the days passed without any art being produced I started getting nervous. I never heard from him again.
After the first six days, I had given up. I could not create the game art by myself and asking for help on discord yielded no results. Then, a random message from a buddy changed everything. Torin Carignan contacted me on discord, asking how things were going – Torin was an artist I had worked with before back in the Storyyeller days. After some back and forth he agreed to join me for the jam and see this game through.
There was only about half the jam-time left and we had an ambitious design but we were finally ready to start production. Torin urged me to cut a lot of stuff from the design to reduce the amount of art he‘d have to create. Luckily, I also found another artist, Alexis Claflin, who agreed to create the art for the characters.
It was Alexis’ first jam and also the very first video game she worked on. It‘s awesome that people have the chance to make first development experiences in jams like this and I was super excited to have her on board. This significantly improved our chances of finishing the game.
The finish line
The closer the deadline came, the more work Torin and I put into the game. It felt great to create this game together in direct collaboration. For the duration of the jam Torin and I were in direct contact at all times. We improvised where it was possible of course but I am also impressed with the amount of content we have created in this short time.
Seb had been packed with other work during the Jam, one of his other games was in negotiations to be ported to a console, but thankfully he managed to squeeze in some time to create music for One Of Us. It was so great to see everything coming together!
I also managed to convince the Voice Acting Power Squad to once again lend their voices to our game. I was a bit nervous about sending them the script because it was pretty long, but they recorded it all in one (very long) session! Once again it was awesome to watch them record the lines live via twitch and I am eternally grateful for their awesome support.
Reception and takeaways
One Of Us was pretty well-received by players. It was voted into the top 10 of the jam, qualifying it to be played and rated by the judges. This also meant that we could watch Dave Gilbert play and comment on the game on twitch, which was a super awesome experience.
Other than that, One Of Us didn‘t score any major rankings or awards – and that‘s fine! It‘s a jam game and we all learned so much in the production of it. We had a great time together, collaborating and finishing something. Our participation was never about winning awards, but about being a part of the jam.
The game design was not without problems, of course. Aside from talking to characters and making (very few) decisions, there wasn‘t much to do. It was also very unclear for players what triggers the night cycle (a problem that also occurred in Awake), resulting in wild theories and players being stuck just because they didn’t hit the hidden triggers we had programmed. Nevertheless, players were hyped when they found new clues after the first night, hinting at a branching narrative. But we weren‘t able to provide many of these clues due to the sheer volume of stuff we had to create.
Since the idea was to test writing a „whodunit“-mystery, it‘s pretty important that the players don‘t choose the correct murderer early on. That way, playtime is severely limited and players would not get to see any branching content, which usually was an „aha!“-moment for players. We gathered statistics on who players picked, showing that many players indeed chose the correct murderer on the first night.
In hindsight, I guess I underestimated the player’s detective skills. Many players reported thinking that Red Riding Hood was too innocent, so she has to be the killer. This was a valuable lesson for me. I think we all have consumed so many murder mysteries and crime stories that we are very used to their structures. The simple tricks and twists don‘t work anymore.
All in all, the key lessons I learned during the creation of One Of Us were about teamwork and collaboration. It‘s extremely difficult to find people to work with via the internet. That’s why I valued the local development we had during Awake a lot more after this jam. I think the game would have turned out a lot better if all the brainstorming and designing hadn‘t been done by just one person, but by multiple people in collaboration. This didn‘t happen for One Of Us for various reasons.
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