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Noah More Heroes (plus Global Game Jam 2011 recap)


Noah More Heroes, the action survival simulator we made for the 2011 Global Game Jam, is now out. And as a teammate noted on his Twitter feed, 'it is glorious'. As of writing, the game is the top viewed New Zealand Global Game Jam entry, and the 9th world wide out of nearly 1,500 entries.

Here are my thoughts and recollections on the brilliant Game Jam that we had this year:



For the second year running, the event took place at the Media Design School. Thanks heaps to MDS for again providing the location, and especially David and Porter for hanging around and helping everyone out. Stephen was again the local co-ordinator, and did a fantastic job.



Before we could start work, we were shown a keynote video from the International Game Developers Association. It had an iMovie 11 trailer showing footage of Game Jammers around the world (I'm in it very briefly), various helpful hints for rapidly creating games, and the keynote from Keita Takahashi which, while amusing, had virtually nothing to do with games.

Finally, the various "achievements" were revealed, as well as the theme: Extinction.


Genesis of an idea

Immediately after the keynote, everyone formed brain storming groups (Which were meant to be comprised of people that we did not know beforehand) and had to spend fifteen minutes coming up a game concept based on the theme. The concepts would be then pitched to the entire group in order to build teams. 

After debating various ideas (Including a Cockroach Nuclear Holocaust Simulator) we settled on Noah's Ark: The Tower Defense. The concept was simple: The story starts after Noah has already collected his animals. In order to stop his ship from being overrun with animals escaping the flood, he must build an elaborate series of defense towers.

As it turns out, Michael's group also pitched a concept based on Noah's Ark, called "Animal Ark". My memory is fuzzy on what it originally was about, but I believe their concept was more or less the same as the original story, except it involved battles with pirates or rival arks on the high seas. 


The Team

Given our relatively similar concepts, the Tower Defence group joined forces with the Animal Ark group. The final team consisted of:

  • Sergio Cornaga - Art. Although Sergio was primarily an Artist, he also contributed enormously to the design of the game. He was also responsible for Noah's voice and some sound effects, the brilliant readme file, packaging the game for public release, and for the Noah More Heroes page and logo on the GGJ site.
  • Michael Schaeffers - Art and Programming. Michael designed the 3D ark that appears in the game, as well as the graphics for the various scenery objects. He also created a Sound Library for managing and playing sounds (Including randomly picking different noises), which was impressive considering he had no prior experience with Blitz3D.
  • Andrew Young - Art and Programming. Andrew's chief contribution was the excellent GUI art work, as well as the codebase that handled the GUI in game. Again, this was impressive as he had no prior experience with Blitz3D, but on top of that he had to wrestle with the awkward Blitz3D library I developed for rendering GUI elements on screen.
  • Anthony Lau - Art. Anthony drew four beautiful animated characters for the game (Cow,Chicken,Pig and Sheep), complete with four directional walking and eating frames. He also had a hand in engineering some of the audio, and does the sound of Noah crunching food.
  • Kei Kasai - Art. Although Kei was officially part of a different team, she still found the time to create the great looking title menu for us.
  • Damian and Josh from Thinkt - Audio. Damian and Josh weren't part of any team, but provided a much needed service by creating sound and music for anyone who needed it. Although we created many of our own sounds for the game, quite a few of Thinkt's audio files made the final cut.
  • Myself - Programming. As the chief code monkey build the base engine and spent the rest of the game jam stuffing features into it.

Matthew Gatland was briefly on our side, before defecting to create his own game.


The Final Concept

All of the ideas behind the Tower Defence version were biffed, and we more or less went  with the Animal Ark concept. Although we did add a lot of twists, like a perpetual flood cycle, a gloved hand launcher that can pick up animals from the ship and steal wood from others, the need to eat constantly (with ludicious gibs), and our Noah having the strength and vocabulary of the Incredible Hulk.

Sergio penned the storyline, which describes the final concept very well:

It is the year 4000 AD. Noah is the last man left alive on Earth. Global Warming has caused an increase in the sea level, and with it have come vast quantities of pirates. Noah must build his ark and take down the enemy pirates, all the while making sure he stays alive by eating livestock. After all... he only needs to save two of each animal.


The Title

The initial working title was "Noah vs Pirates", which was fine but no one was overly enthusiastic about it. Kei forced the issue when she asked for the title so she could work on the title screen. After we tossed a few ideas around the one that stuck was "Noah More Heroes", which of course is a pun on the Wii game.


Programming language

Although at first I was thinking that we would end up developing in XNA or Unity (as most people there were familiar with one or both), I started working on a prototype in Blitz3D, using the Prince Mince prototype as a reference, and we ended up finishing the game with it. 

In hindsight it was the right choice. Although graphically it could have been enhanced by the post-processing effects of a modern engine, the simplicity of Blitz allowed us to rapidly add and test out features. Also, both Michael and Andrew were keen to learn how to program with Blitz, and learned very quickly.


Version control

Using a shared DropBox folder rather than Subversion was an interesting experience. There were certainly some advantages, for instance changes were synchronized across the network in real time, removing the need for constant commits and updates. File conflicts were very rare since everyone got a copy of each save almost immediately. DropBox also has the ability to revert to earlier versions of files, though we never needed to use it.

It wasn't all smooth sailing though. Sergio couldn't install DropBox on the MDS machine he was using, so he had to download and upload all updates manually. And we couldn't get wireless internet going from Anthony's laptop, so connectivity was maintained with his computer via Pen Drive sneakernet.


Last minute rush

Given how feature packed our game is, we were constantly adding stuff right to the last minute. For instance, the enemy AI was only started within the last five hours of the jam, and the Chicken and Game Over screens were added in the last fifteen minutes. There are still some embarrassing glitches in the game, and although we didn't get them fixed within the time period, we do plan to fix them for the future re-release.


Game Jammer's Choice Awards

After the submission deadline was reached, we were herded into the main room to see all the games in action. The quality of Auckland GGJ entries has improved remarkably, unlike last year every game that was produced is fully playable (I suspect this is due in part to the participation of seasoned programmers from Grinding Gear Games).

What followed was an informal 'raise your hand' vote on prize-free awards for each category. The clear overall favorite of the Game Jam was DeadPixels, a beautifully retro platformer where the player not only has to deal with difficult platforming action but a constantly decaying view. However, I'm very pleased to announce that Noah More Heroes pipped DeadPixels at the post for Best Gameplay.


Bucking the trend

Even I do say so myself, I believe that the game is very unique for a GGJ entry. Examples:

  • Due to time contraints, most successful GGJ games focus on a single gameplay element, and polish that idea as far as possible. We blazenly tried to add as many gameplay, graphical and sound elements as we could think of (Enabled by the simplicity of Blitz3D) with very little regard for polish.
  • If a game focuses on a single mechanic, it isn't long before you have experienced everything the game has to offer. However, the combination of ship building, floods, pirate attacks, food management and co-operative/competitive multiplayer means that the gameplay is constantly evolving.
  • A few of the games this year approached their subject matter with a relative amount of seriousness and subtlety. We gave ours a healthy dose of absurdist humour and not even a hint of restraint.


Working on a team

Despite being my third Global Game Jam, this was actually the first one where I joined part of a fixed team, rather than working isolated and alone in a corner.

Certainly it was a very different experience. It wasn't entirely without additional stress. For the first time I had to share the reins of creative control. Also not only did I feel like I was under pressure from the team to work, but I felt like I had to put others under pressure as well. (If anyone else from the Noah More Heroes team is reading this - I'm terribly sorry if I ever pushed you!)

Despite that, overall the team experience was vastly better than the solo one. Constant feedback meant that the game was constantly being improved by good ideas. Sharing the load allowed me to outsource stuff I'm not good at (Art, Music etc) to those who could do it faster with higher quality, leaving me to concentrate on the stuff I could do well.

But, perhaps most importantly, I had a lot of fun. It was brilliant hanging with a group of similarly crazy, but very talented, individuals. We chose to work in a room in the corner of the building away from the main areas, this. was a good thing as no doubt we would have distracted every other team through our frequent laughter. And the laughter only got louder as the game became increasingly bizarre, with Michael Jackson gloves and showers of animal giblets.

I'm not sure if I will work again in a team for GGJ2012, but if the opportunity arises to work with some or all of the same people again, I'd take it in a heartbeat.


Closing notes

Overall I'm extremely happy with how the game worked out. I definitely want to make it part of the Earok 2011 collection, and I'm keen to get an updated version online soon.

Also, make sure that you check out the New Zealand PC World Gallery for the event.