August 04, 2020
Soma: Born from a Game Jam
Taking a break from Dead Spread, I participated in my first ever game jam during the weekend. Doing this gave me some great experience in rapid game development and a brand new game we are very excited about!
After a spur of the moment decision, I signed up to take part in Game Jam Aotearoa 2020, a competition to make a game from scratch in 48 hours. I had been working on Dead Spread for the last 9 months and thought it would be a good opportunity to try something new. Here’s my journey and learnings on the way to creating Soma.
On Friday evening at 7pm we got the theme: “Proximity”. My mind almost immediately went to magnets, and I had an idea of a game around magnetic fields (images like these were inspiration). I knew I had to keep it simple and to keep scope to a minimum. My strong preference was to have a very polished, complete “slice” of the game. What I mean here is that rather than fit in all the features I wanted in my game, I would rather have just a few features but do them well.
So from the magnets idea I played around with a few concepts. I spent a fair bit of time thinking up game mechanics that involved magnetic lines coming in from the edges of the screen. These lines could attract or repel the player causing a bit of a challenge moving around the screen. This concept very quickly turned into an early playable demo (video shown below). At this stage I kept all the graphics as placeholders, had no concept of score or anything like that, and still wasn’t even 100% certain I had “found the fun”. Happy with the night’s work, I decided to get some sleep.
At 5am my cat (THE “Fat Cat”) awoke me and I was instantly wide awake thinking about all the things I needed to do!! The first thing I worked on was building in a goal to the game, and implementing a basic scoring system. During the morning I also cut a major feature: the objects that attracted the player. This had just not been working well, and though I still felt there was a lot of potential there, it was cut to keep scope down. It was also during the morning that the game started to feel whole, and started to have a good sense of fun.
The afternoon was spent making things look and sound nice, getting a good overall feel for the atmosphere of the game. Somewhere around here the game went away from the “magnets” look, and more to a space-like particle theme. Game elements felt smooth and free-flowing. While working on the menus and the title screen a name was finally landed on. My partner thought of the name “Soma” thinking of the Hindu mythological elixir of life. I thought he meant the drug Soma from Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. But both these meanings fit in with the feel of the game and felt right. The player moves around this world collecting Soma - the game had a theme.
|Friday night||Saturday night|
On Sunday I woke up at a much more sane hour. The morning was spent on polishing the menus, adding icons + splash screens to the application, and making sure I could build a functioning APK. All went relatively smoothly, to the point where I ended up adding a few small improvements from my “Nice to haves” column. Doing things this way was definitely safest. I had built a complete and stable game already in the morning which was ready to submit in the worst case, so adding these finishing touches was relatively low risk.
After setting up a quick page on itch.io, I submitted my game with two and a half hours to spare. Time for a family dinner and some rest!
Soma will be released on both the Google Play Store and the App Store in the coming week. Beyond that there are a few new features and further improvements I would like to add before calling it complete. I intend to keep Soma as a very simple, well polished game and hopefully people will find playing this casual game a pleasant experience.