Global Game Jam 2019 Post Mortem - Best GGJ I've Ever had!

Jan. 29, 2019, 2:08 p.m. Behind the Scenes Gamedev Music Portable Game Console Product Release

I've just done another Global Game Jam this year. It's my fourth time joining it. This one totally went unexpected. Originally I planned to join using the game console I'm developing. I ended up not using the game console and made music for the team. I also did a little bit programming. And it's the best Global Game Jam I've ever had!

A screenshot showing the playable

Here's the link to the playable, which takes forever to load.

And here's the source files of the music composition which you may be interested in. The .ptt files are Palette MCT files, and the .mmp is the LMMS source file. Please notice that the FluidR3_GM.sf2 SoundFont file is required for the .mmp file.

Pre-jam

Before the event, I thought that I'd take the 2019 Global Game Jam event as an opportunity to market the hardware portable game console that I'm developing. For this reason, here's what I've done:

It took me quite a while to prepare all these things. I got all these done before the day of the jam. Great. I'm all set. I'm ready for the jam. All I needed to do is to get someone to form a team with me! It could easily be done during pitching session. And I'd just give the game console devices and ST-link programmers to other team members for the game development! :D

By the way, I dragged a couple of random tourists that I just met in a local hackerspace a few days ago into the jam. I told them not to form a team with me. Mainly because they probably aren't interested in my game console.

First Day (25th Jan 2019)

Before I knew it, the day for me to market the game console had come... I was very excited about it. :)

First Day: Registration and Dinner

As usual, I joined the site without a team. I took the shuttle bus and arrived there. There was a loooooong queue for registration. The photo below is just, perhaps 1/6 of the entire queue. The queue was clearing very, very slow.

A photo showing a lot of people queuing for registration

It seemed to me that it'd take forever to get it cleared. So I decided not to take the queue and sit somewhere nearby and joined the queue after it's almost cleared. The queue took around 25 minutes to clear. That's not surprising considered that I was almost the last one in the queue and there was more than 400 jammers on the site. But still, I didn't enjoy the wait. :(

Right after the registration, surprise! There's another queue! Since I went to the site late, the dinner had long started and there's another long queue for all-you-can-eat dinner! It took me another 10 minutes to get the food. Since I'm late, I didn't get the food that I want. Luckily I still had enough to eat.

After fetching the foods, I found those two random tourists that I met a few days ago. They were chatting with a local while having dinner. Being too shy to chat with other strangers, I just joined them and chatted with them.

After the dinner, it was theme announcement. As usual, there's a lengthy welcome session and introduction video. It was announced that the theme was "What Home Means to You?"

First Day: Pitching, Team Forming and Brainstorming

During the pitching session, I was sitting on the same table with those two tourists and the local. I was observing to see if the game console would be any good to them. Well, seemed not. However, it seemed to me that everyone in the group were very friendly. They weren't like the teams that I've joined in the previous Global Game Jams at all! We're all the same. There isn't any hierarchy. What they're trying to do was to make good use of the skills of the members of the team. It was apparent to me that forming a team with them would make it an awesome game jam. So I decided not to use the game console and formed a team with them.

We discussed about the game idea, which is sort of like a simple RPG. We've sketched out our idea on a piece of paper. With the sketch, we discussed about our roles. We've got a programmer, 3D artist with programming skill, 2D artist and a jack of all trades (which's me). And we decided to have one of us to be a main programmer, one of us doing 3D art, one of us doing 2D art and I'd be doing music. Not because I'm good at it, that's because no one else in the team could do that. xD

One of the ideas we've come up with was very clever. We've talked about having multiple tracks of music. There'd be items on the map, and when the character get the item, a track of music would be played. So you'd get more and more musical instruments playing for each item you've picked. I was asked if that was possible for me to send them the tracks, and I answered yes. In fact, it's fairly easy. :) I just loved this idea. It made good use of my own skill as it isn't something that you could do for a game without an audio guy.

Similar thing happened to other team members. We've come up with ideas that'd make good use of all of our skills. It made each of us felt that our skills were well-respected and helpful! In fact, that's how come we had a game with both 2D and 3D graphic. :)

At the end of the day, I've launched Palette MCT the music composition tool. But I haven't started any real work. I went home and slept. As I had really bad experience with sleeping on-site, I'd never sleep on-site again. I didn't want to get sick for two whole weeks! Not again!

Second Day (26th Jan 2019)

This was the most interesting day of the event. Most of the work were performed in this day. I launched Palette MCT again and started working on composing the music.

Second Day: Coming up with the Chord Progression and Melody. A 12.8 Seconds Piece

There're two ways of composing music. The first way is to come up with chord progression first, then the melody. The second way is to do it the other way around. Personally, I love the music that's made melody-first. However, it'd take a lot of time for me to do that. So I decided to do the chord progression first.

The whole point of using Palette MCT is its chord progression function. It makes coming up with a nice chord progression super easy. Before knowing this software, I mainly did it by trial-and-error. This piece of software is able to filter out the chords that doesn't sound right. It saves me a lot of time!

I was wavering between composing a minor scale piece (the one that sounds sad) or a major scale one (the one that sounds happy). I decided to compose a minor one and settled with a common I-vi-V-I chord progression. Then I randomly came up with a melody. I composed a short 12.8 seconds piece.

A screenshot showing the user interface of Palette MCT

Don't get confused with the musical sheet in the interface. The whole point of using the software those tiny colored rectangles with T5/3, S5/3 and D5/3 on it. Those are chords! That's the main reason why I use this piece of software.

And here's the intermediate result:

Second Day: Enhancing the Intermediate Result of Palette MCT with LMMS

I exported the result from Palette MCT to LMMS and further worked on it. The imported piece contained only three tracks, they're melody, chord and the base of the chord. To make the music sound nice, I'd need to make a lot of variants of these tracks and assign them to appropriate sound synth (instrument).

After discussion with other team members, it was apparent to me that we'd need a lot of tracks. So I added a lot of them. In the end I've got 3 melody tracks, 3 arpeggio tracks, 3 chord tracks, 3 bass tracks and a few beat tracks.

I've developed a Python script to semi-automate the task of converting chord into arpeggio of arbitrary pattern. In musical sense, chord is defined as multiple notes being played at the same time. And arpeggio is just like chord, except that you're playing the chord notes one by one. For example, if you're playing C-E-G at the same time, that makes a chord. But if you play C, then E, then G, then E, then repeat, that'd be an arpeggio.

Arpeggio is a very common technique to add variety to the music composition. The problem I had was that the chord get changed once a while. When I'm trying to make an arpeggio out of the chord, I had to manually create the notes of the pattern according to the chord.

Here's how the script works. It accepts two tracks. The chord track and the template track. The chord track can be imported from Palette MCT. And I'd manually come up with the template track. That's easy, tho. I'd just make a small section of the pattern and do copy and paste. Here's an example. The top one is the chord, and the bottom one is the template. It shows three different chords being played over time.

A screenshot showing a Piano Roll in LMMS of Chord Track

A screenshot showing a Piano Roll in LMMS of Template Track

After running the script, this arpeggio track would be generated:

A screenshot showing a Piano Roll in LMMS of Resultant Arpeggio Track

Notice how the template pattern track had followed the chord. When there're a lot of chords, this tool saves me a lot of time. It also eliminates manual handling errors.

I didn't mention this script in the Global Game Jam blogpost last year. Anyway, this tool was developed before the last year's game jam. Somehow it's still useful in this year. :)

The sound synth (instruments) were chosen from the default presets, which was further modified manually until it sounded right to me. Then I just threw in the arpeggio notes or bass notes or melody notes or chord notes for each of the sound synth and that's it!

And now I've got a 12.8 seconds of loopable music! :)

Second Day: Extending the Music

Needless to say, 12.8 seconds is far too short. :(

So I repeated what I did. I composed another piece of chords and melody using Palette MCT again, and export it to LMMS for further processing and put it at the end of the original composition. Now I've doubled the music length to 25.6 seconds. Anyway, here's the intermediate product of Palette MCT for the second piece:

Up till this point, the composition was in minor scale. For the third piece, I was thinking if I should try adding a major scale piece into the composition. That'd make the composition contains both minor scale part and major scale part. I've never done that before. And it seemed to me that that could be interesting. And I've already got 25.6 seconds. In case it doesn't sound right, I'd just scape the major part and keep the 25.6 seconds minor part. That's still good enough.

So here it goes. I repeated what I did, except that this time I composed a new 12.8 seconds piece in major scale instead of minor scale. Here's the intermediate product:

I further processed this third piece with LMMS. Then I put this part into the beginning of the composition. To my surprise, it actually sounded pretty good. Now I've got 38.4 seconds of music. :) The next step was to remaster it.

Second Day: Remastering

At this time, the music was mostly ready. I just needed to remaster it to make it sounds even better! One of the keys of making a piece of music sound nice is to make its tracks more diverse. I did three things.

The first thing I did was to reduce the volume of part of some of the tracks.

A screenshot showing a the Sequencer in LMMS with a few tracks having low volume

Please notice that the middle part hasn't got any track with volume reduced. That's because it's the climax of the music.

The second thing I did was that I built something that I'd call "alternative melody". I've no idea on the proper musical terminology for this thing. It's basically a variant of the original melody that's played at the same time as the original one. Here's how I did it:

A screenshot showing a the Sequencer in LMMS with a few tracks having alternative melody

As shown above, at each instance of time, there're always two variants of melody being played. Two of the tracks are the main melody, with one of the tracks using an alternative melody. Since variety is crucial, I spread the alternative melody into three different tracks depending on the time of the music being played.

The third thing I did was that, I put in a reverb effect to the entire composition. It'd produce an illusion that the music is played from a different environment, like the size of the room, the audio-reflection property of the wall, etc.

And here's the final result with all tracks combined!

Second Day: Exporting the Tracks for the Programmer

Now I've got the music ready. All I needed to do is to send the tracks to the programmer.

After discussion with the programmer, it's decided that the preferred amount of tracks is 7.

I'd have to make the tracks in a way that it'd loop seamlessly. It was dead simple. Here's how I did that. First, I exported the track. Then I take note of the time it takes for the music to wrap to the beginning.

A screenshot of LMMS showing the wrap time is 38.4 seconds

According to LMMS, the wrap time is 38.4 seconds. It means that the last note is released at 38.4 second. Since the instrument sound doesn't stop immediately after the note is released, some special handling is needed to make the music seamless. Therefore, I used Audacity to do this:

A screenshot of Audacity showing the part after 38.4 seconds is highlighted

What I did was to cut the part after 38.4 seconds and move it to the front as a new track. Then I mixed the original track and the new track and there we have a piece of seamless audio! :)

But hey... There're 7 tracks. Of course I'm not going to do that manually! So I've made a shell script to automate the process with SoX instead of Audacity. It worked like a charm!

Then I converted the tracks to MP3 format using shell script. And I stumbled into a problem. Due to the nature of MP3 format, there's always a split second right at the beginning of the audio that no sound is being played, which would make it impossible to make seamless audio with MP3!

After discussing with the programmer, we've found that OGG is the go-to format instead of MP3. So we used OGG instead of MP3.

I sent the programmer the 7 OGG tracks, and my mission had been accomplished! And I went home.

And I was very glad that my teammates were happy with my music. I was also very happy with the artwork of the 2D and 3D artists. Of course, the program was also working great. :)

Second Day: Funny Event of The Day: Running out of Water

By the way, something rather funny happened during this day. The site we've joined was in Cyberport. During some time of this day, a staff of the jam site stood on the stage and announced this in English: "Hey guys. We've got a bad news. We've used up all of the water in Cyberport." It wasn't very funny until he repeated that in Cantonese. "成個數碼港D水俾我地飲哂喇!", which roughly translates to "All of the water in the entire Cyberport was completely drunk by us! Oh noes!" That's when everyone in the room were laughing. Those who couldn't speak Cantonese were confused about what's so funny.

We were told to purchase the water from a supermarket nearby. So we did that. Then we had dinner at a restaurant. When we came back and we noticed that there was still some water. Well, we had no idea on where they managed to get the water. Had we known this, we wouldn't have purchased the water.

Third Day (27th Jan 2019)

This day was rather relaxing. All of my stuffs were done. The 2D artist was working on the video. And apparently, the 3D artist were working on graphic and probably also a bit of programming. I didn't asked about the exact split of work, tho.

Third Day: Polishing the Game: Character Movement (Bad Idea)

Since I've got nothing better to do on the music, I decided to help on the programming. I polished the character movement. The original character movement relied on the system keypress. That isn't a good idea because the movement speed of the character would depend on the system keyboard configuration. If the repeat key interval is set to short, the character would move faster.

As I thought that the main programmer had nothing to do, I did the fix and showed it to her. It seems that there're some issues with the character sprite cycle. So we decided not to make the change.

Later I'd noticed that the main programmer were still working. She was working on the crystal collection counter. I felt bad for disturbing her while she was working on something far more important than character movement.

Third Day: Polishing the Game: Adding Dialog Boxes (Good Idea)

As the 3D artist and the main programmer are tourists, they'd like to stroll nearby. And they were away. However, there was still a little bit of time left. I asked if there's anything I could still do, and I found that the dialog boxes at the beginning of the game and the end of the game weren't implemented.

I asked if the code on the github repo were the latest one with instant messenger and asked if they're ok with me to implement the dialog boxes. I got a green light and I started working. That was an easy one. I pushed it to repo and they deployed it and that's it.

So we've got a working game with in-game objective (collect crystals) and an ending (a couple of dialog boxes). The game isn't particularly fun to play. But still, it looked real good. And the music's also a nice one (self-flattering.pdf)! The trailer looked good too.

Third Day: Presentation Session

As usual, there's a lengthy trailer-watching session for the jam. Each of us have a minute in maximum. Somehow there aren't as much funny vid this year compared with previous years.

And I've found a game that's about bird pooping on people during the session. That totally reminded me of my Poopie game. :D

After the session, each jammers were allowed to cast a vote. One of our team members had voted for our own game. Too bad! We failed to get the most votes. All of our team members should have voted for our own one! :P

Post-jam

This one is literally the best Global Game Jam I've ever had. It's just wonderful. It isn't like any Global Game Jam I've ever had before! Let's have a review of what the previous game jams were like to me:

Flashbacks of My Previous Global Game Jams

Flashback: My First Global Game Jam: 2016

For the first year, I joined the jam without a team. I expected that my skill would be put well-utilized. I even prepared by practicing using a game development library. It didn't end up to be of any use at all. It was a big team with multiple "game designers". I was rather pissed off of being forced to use a library that none of the team members was familiar with. The funny thing was that this thing was decided by a game designer. I was like "hey! Choice of library is none of your business". First mistake: I should have left the team right after that decision.

And I decided to sleep on-site to get the full experience of the game jam. Before the jam, I've asked those random internet people who had joined Global Game Jam. I was told that it's alright to sleep on site. It turned out that it just didn't work to me. I couldn't get asleep. Funny enough, I somehow decided to sleep on the site for the second night even I failed to get asleep at the first night! I shouldn't have done that at all! Second mistake: Decided to sleep on the site.

Since I couldn't sleep well, I couldn't make much contribution to the team either. I was exhausted.

Result? A broken game with 2-week of illness taking away my entire Chinese new year vacation! I'd call it a FUBAR! :(

Here's a link to my blogpost of Global Game Jam 2016 which you probably aren't interested in. There's a lot of grammar mistakes because I was sick by the time I wrote that blogpost.

Flashback: My Second Global Game Jam: 2017

Compared with the first one, this one was a fun one. It's nowhere as fun as the one of this year, tho. I joined the jam with a purpose. So I decided to jam alone. In fact, I pretty much had to because the jam was a part of my graduation thesis of an independent project. If I had a team, the college may take it that I'm not working on the independent project by myself. That'd be a problem. :(

I managed to complete the game. It's a game that's playable by dialing a phone number. It's possibly the first of this kind in Global Game Jam around the world. Despite that the technology used is rather advance, like utilizing text-to-speech and having a hardware device, the end result wasn't that good. The sound synth was simply too bad. I should have recorded the audio clips with my voice instead of using text-to-speech.

Anyway, I was happy enough because I got the game completed. :) But I did feel a bit lonely. :(

Here's a link to my blogpost of Global Game Jam 2017 which you probably aren't interested in.

Flashback: My Third Global Game Jam: 2018

(If you're the producer of the game "Carpe diem" in Global Game Jam 2018, I hope that you'd never read this. This section is probably super cringy to you. I'm sorry.)

This is my first game jam that I had joined a team without screwing up. I was the musical guy of the team.

The main problem I had with this game jam was that there's an idea person who basically did almost nothing productive other than quality control. Most of the time he was just surfing the net with his laptop and his smartphone at the same time! If I remember correctly, he also had a tablet. I've never seen anyone being able to do this level of multitasking before. Anyway, in some other times, he was looking for information about making an awesome game or making an awesome trailer.

Apparently, the team members of the team I joined were from the same company. I was the only outsider. I'd imagine that the idea person would be in a superior position in the company that he was working for.

I spent quite a bit amount of work on a piece of music. I showed it to him and he just rejected it straight away and provided some not-so-helpful instruction. This was the thing that I had problem with. Here's what I thought: "Hey! You did nothing. How come you'd criticize my work? You're worse off." Of course I didn't spout that out! I redid the music and sent him another piece of music anyway. It seemed to me that he still wasn't satisfied. But he compromised and said that it was ok. Well, I guess that's good.

Right before the jam ended, we were filling in the project page on the Global Game Jam website. Surprise! The title that the idea person was getting was "Producer". It's very laughable. If I don't laugh, I'd cry! xD

Anyway, we still managed to complete the game, sort of. I only got to play the game after the jam. It sucked. :P

By the way, I've chatted with a parallel team right before the end of the jam. Apparently their team doesn't have a quality control person nor an idea person at all!

Here's a link to my blogpost of Global Game Jam 2018 which you probably aren't interested in.

This Global Game Jam: 2019

After reading the flashbacks, now you understand why this Global Game Jam is the best one that I've had!

I didn't jam alone. There's no "team leader" nor "producer" nor "director" nor "quality control" guys in the team. We don't have any quality standard for the game. We just put in whatever we've got and contributed to the team. We just took whatever available from other team members. Every team member didn't really care about the art style nor music style nor we'd judge the programming framework or technique used. That made the game jam really, really awesome. After this jam, I think this is really how a game jam meant to be. I guess the guy in parallel team I've chatted with last year was having a similar awesome experience as I have this year. Perhaps I was just being extremely unlucky that I joined wrong teams for years that made me unable to enjoy the jam to the fullest!

Here, I'd like to take the chance to thanks all of the team members. Thank you very much for making this jam the best one in my life, ever! You guys are awesome. And here's a list of the team members:

You can find the website of Kirill and Sneha here on Codercat.tk, which contains a lot of awesome web-based projects! Most of their projects are utilizing WebGL. Even the playable of this game jam is hosted on this site. Do check out their website!

Also, do follow @_jintii on twitter! She's real good at drawing 2D arts, especially in anime art style! nya~ :3

What Went Well

What Went Wrong

What Went Wrong: Me no Speak English

As of the time of writing, despite that I can write English pretty well, my spoken English is only conversational. I'm very well aware of this problem since forever ago. And those random tourists in the team I joined couldn't speak Cantonese. I had no choice but to speak English! >_<

My spoken English is good enough for project communication, not smoothly, tho. Anyway, I'm glad that I started watching anime daily in English dub since about a year ago (I watched it in sub before that). My spoken English had went from almost-non-working to semi-working. But I still need to further up it somehow. That'll take quite a bit of time. Oh well, let's wait and see.

What Went Wrong: Electronic Waste Disaster!

Uh oh. So what about the game console...? Now I've got 5 units of assembled game consoles and three ST-Link programmers laying around:

A photo showing 5 game consoles with 3 ST-Link programmers

(Yes, we've now got PCB for the game console since like a few months ago. I still haven't got the time to blog about this update)

Oh well. Now I've got a problem. What to do with all these game consoles?

I guess I'll save two units and a programmer for myself. And I promised to send a unit with a programmer to someone in India. That'd get rid of 3 units and a couple of ST-Link programmers.

And I've still got two units and a programmer to go. I don't know. Perhaps I could do a giveaway. Maybe I could give them to Ludum Dare participants so that they can make games with this game console.

In fact, thanks to the judges of the sponsors appreciating the art style, each of our team members had managed to obtain an extra unit of electronic waste. It's a Google Home Mini. I think the artists (Jintii and Kirill) deserve the most credit for this one. And the main programmer (Sneha) also deserves quite a bit of credit because she made the game functional. And I, uhm, I just got the Google Home Mini anyway. xD I'm pretty sure that this thingie would still get awarded if they were using random music found in the internet instead of using mine. :P

At least I have some idea on how to handle the game console units. As for the Google Home Mini, it really beats me. I thought about selling it. But it seems that it's only worth like $30~40. It makes this option not very attractive. It isn't very useful to me either. I've absolutely have no idea on what to do with it at all. Oh well, I guess that's "what home means to me". It's an electronic junkyard. :/

Note to Future Self

Note to Idea People or Quality Control People

Please do not join game jams just to criticize works of other team members. We aren't paid to work on the game. If you intend to join a jam and do that to us, I guess you better not to join or you'll be hated. Don't get me wrong, your talent could be much better utilized in corporate world. Your skill could be used for making a lot of money for the company that you're working for. But if you don't have any technical skill and nitpick stuffs that other team members come up with, frankly, game jam really isn't for you.


Comments

Seb
Jan. 29, 2019, 5:18 p.m.

Nice write up! I agree with all your points and had similar experiences

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