What’s the Global Game Jam?

The Global Game Jam is a worldwide, weeklong event in which video game studios create a brand-new, playable game! Our game this year is Kai-Chew: City Buffet, and if you’d like to play it, we’ve got the file ready to download at the end of this post. In this city-builder sim, you’ll spend your resources to craft a city in a way you think will be most nutritious for your Kai-chew, Nomzilla! He’s got to have plenty of sustenance to fight his rival, Mawthra.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look as each of our team members reflect on their role in the process.

Anna Alsager – Creator & Art Director

Our 2D, city builder/destroyer game focused on building the biggest, bestest, most nutritious city for our monster to consume.
The original pitch: A city builder game where each building has different stats, buffs, and nutritional values that will benefit our Nomzilla. The goal is to build a sufficiently-sized city with enough perks that will entice our Nomzilla to break free from the water’s surface and feast on what we have created for him. After his eating spree, he gains certain benefits and abilities which strengthen him in different areas. These buffs will help power up our beast for an inevitable fight with familiar foes like “Mothmaw” and the “Jawberwalky”. All of this is done only for us to do it all over again; monsters getting stronger and the cities getting more elaborate the more we play this loop. This game is not only a city-building game, but also a monster-raising, fighting game.
For “Kai-Chew City Sim” (our internal name for the project while we worked on it), we wanted to create a strategic gameplay experience that rewards the player with humorous characters and cutscenes. To allow for these pieces of levity, our art style was adapted to be more cartoony and stylized. Taking input from all of our artists, we decided to lean towards a bright, choppy-in-style design leaning heavily on fun and quirky animations.
Speaking to my personal experience with this whole developement process, being sick the entire week of production was a downer, but I was able to help create some art assets for the world, fine-tune our style, and help clean up the beautiful animations created by our animator, Anna Dale. Though our prototype seems rough around the edges, its concept was fun and a nice, manageable challenge for our team. We hope to someday revisit this idea and go the extra mile with art to give it the polish it deserves. I am proud of our team and what we accomplished in such a short time.

Samantha Riff – Project Lead & Concept Artist

For this project, I was kind of a mixed-bag resource to do whatever odd jobs needed doing as they came up. I tried to keep track of tasks and their statuses as a project manager, but also did some work on UI layout, creature design, and the title screen art. In-engine, I also helped with some of the more basic UI setup like the tool tips and button sounds. I first learned how to use the UI tools during last year’s game jam, so it was fun to go into UI this year feeling like I knew what I was doing. I still ended up cutting corners in the setup that bypassed using any code (and thus would be a hugely messy, wasteful, and non-scalable solution in the long run) BUT this did mean I really solidified anything I was learning through repetition.
All in all, the greatest joy was getting to work with such a cute art style and working all together as a team again after many months of all being on separate projects. Also, rubber monster suit movies hold a very special and nostalgic place in my heart so I was 1000% ready to flex my vast and useless knowledge of Kaiju. I hope we can flesh this little jam into a full title one day because I have a never-ending list of creature ideas I would love to propose.

Gavin Nichols – User Interface, Special Effects, & Programming

We have an occasional practice at Soma that we like to call “Fallow week” where we intentionally do work that is either not directly profitable or at least does not have the goal of being profitable. Sometimes this ends up being working on a personal project or learning a new skill. That’s not to say it’s a lazy week; you have to produce SOMETHING during fallow, but what that product is, whether it be a completed lesson, a new shader or technology, or the next leg of a personal project, is up to you. Part of the purpose of fallow work is a spiritual reset, a pallet cleanser so to speak, something new to experience and keep you fresh. As a part of this practice, the last couple of years we’ve done an internal Game Jam. This year we combined forces to work on a silly little game about building up a city, only to have it be demolished by a giant (and super cute!) monster, who then goes off and fights ANOTHER monster, and either wins or loses based on how well you built your city to feed it.
For me personally, this was a great time of collaboration. The nature of my work as of late has been largely solo projects and tying up loose ends on my own to allow others the space needed to tackle more immediate needs, so it was really nice just to be able to return to some classic game dev as a part of a team, complete with silly inside jokes and super-creative, collaborative problem-solving. I ended up doing a lot of the UI layout, special effects, and some helping with the programming, so nothing super new on the technical side for me, but man it felt good to be back in traditional game dev, especially with something so silly and cute. It was also really nice to see some new creative sides of some of my coworkers that I hadn’t previously been able to experience myself. The whole week really refreshed my soul in a much-needed way.

Joshua Durkee – Programming

Going into this project, the biggest hurdle I expected was creating the building system. We wanted to allow the player to build different building types with different stats and effects, and for some buildings to affect adjacent buildings. We have 2 programmers on our team currently, and accounting for meetings, we had roughly 3 days to do all the code for the project. This meant that the building system needed to be developed fast, so other systems like UI or tracking resources could have our attention. My initial idea to manage the complexity was to make the game into a side view and only have a “1D grid.” All the buildings sit in a row next to each other. This would make it easier to code placing the buildings and having them affect each other. However, after some research, I found a building system made by a user named UnityCodeMoney that did most of what we wanted, and he was kind enough to offer his project to download for free. After looking through his code a bit to determine if I could effectively edit it to add the remaining features, I decided to use the package. It provided a good base and I was able to add the functionality we needed without much effort or complication, so it helped a lot to create a more complex building system on a limited time budget.

Erin Marantette – Building Design

I was charged with designing our buildings for the game with an isometric view. I haven’t had the opportunity to work purely from an isometric perspective before so this challenge was a fun breakaway from my typical work. It was relaxing while I was creating, but there was some stress due to the time constraints that arise from only having one week to work. We were very intentional to make sure we had functional art in the game first before we created the final art, so my first deliverables were greyscale and rough (see images above). We  then created nicer colored versions that made it into the current iteration. It was fun and relaxing, which was quite nice during the current work season.

Joel Nelson – Stat Design Team

Kai-Chew: City Buffet was such a fun concept for a game. I was on a design team with Neil, working out the stats on all the buildings: costs, revenues, win conditions, and the like. I haven’t participated in a game jam at this scale before, and I was surprised at how many iterations we went through in such a short time. Trying to find the right difficulty balance for a short project like this was more challenging than I expected since we only had playable testing grounds for our balancing on the last day. Before that, all our tests had to be hand-implemented and calculations had to be done manually with a calculator, which can get costly when you’re trying to finish the design in under a week.
I’m happy with what we made, but we also had a lot of ideas that I think would be fun to add if we return to City Buffet in the future. We had concepts for 2-by-3 tile malls, and mansions that would need to have parks near them . . . there was also talk of a zoo that would make animal noises when it was destroyed by Nomzilla.
Ultimately, of course, there’s only so much you can make in a week, and it was delightful to see all the coding, art, and UI come together so quickly. It got to the point where even when I wasn’t personally making adjustments, I would have to update my copy of the game every 15-20 minutes, and several big improvements would have been made each time I did.
I think with more time this concept has a lot of potential, and I hope we develop it further in the future.

Anna “Sunny” Dale – Character Animations

For Kai-Chew, I handled drawing animations for our two characters, Nomzilla and Mawthra. At the beginning of the week, when we were waiting for designs to be finalized, I did rough animatics of what some of the fight scenes might look like. When I was sent the final turnaround sheet for Nomzilla mid-week, I was really able to get started. My goal was to produce a series of animations for Nomzilla that would bring fun and convincing movement while also being done quickly enough that our programmers would have time to implement the animations before the end of the week. I had a blast animating for several days, trying to keep in mind the weight and dimensionality of the character, while also considering that for his walk and chomp cycle to be consistent from all angles, every action needed to happen on the same frames for each of those sequences, and should be able to transition from one animation to the next seamlessly.
This was my first time participating in a game jam, and it made an excellent little vertical slice of the game-building pipeline for me. It was delightful to watch people’s ideas go from conceptual to realized and implemented in a matter of days. And working in the animation department for a few days gave me the chance to get to know parts of the team I usually don’t usually work with. Kai-Chew: City Buffet was a ton of fun to take part in! I’m so grateful the team gave me this chance to animate.

Download Kai-chew: City Buffet here!

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