University Game Jam
Squirrel Squabble is a game of deceit and Mexican standoffs... with squirrels!
It was made over 5 days in a university game jam by a team of 6. The theme was "Honor Among Thieves" and the game won an award in the "Most Hilarious" category.
This game was made during a 5-day long university game jam, where the teams combined students from different specialisms. The theme was Honour Among Thieves. While most of our peers went with the ideas of pirates and criminals working together, we decided to subvert the theme. Instead of cooperating, the player would challenge and trick bandits, gathering information needed to break into a safe and steal a fortune. And so, the idea of bandits squabbling with one another in a western saloon was born. We also made them all squirrels, because why not.
As the only game designer, I was in charge of creating gameplay systems based on ideas generated by the team at the start of the jam. I planned out and designed the progression of the game, created the dialogue system to facilitate the narrative my teammates and I wrote, and laid out the level. I was responsible for everything done in the game engine, ranging from coding the gameplay systems, importing assets, building and polishing the level, to coding the UI elements.
Having been elected as a team manager by my team, it was my duty to make sure we worked the best we could. I ensured that there was a high level of communication through both text messaging and group meetings. I made sure everyone contributed equally both in decision making and in workload. I also promoted a healthy approach to work, encouraging all team members to take breaks and work reasonable hours. We used Trello to manage the project, so I was additionally responsible for keeping the backlog and determining the priority of each task.
By the end of the jam, we produced a small game combining adventure and visual novel elements. It contains a dialogue system, a flag-based quest system, and quick time events. Our game won the Most Hilarious category of the jam, thanks to the humorous dialogue, playful tone of the game, and many, many jokes. It was widely enjoyed by tutors and students alike and even was speedran by many of our peers.
The experience of working with a team of different specialisms and managing a game project helped me develop my teamwork and communication skills. During this jam, I have also taken my first approach to flag-based dialogue systems. While it was flawed due to a hard-coded, inflexible progression system that resulted from inexperience and time constraints, it still helped me develop on the technical side of these systems. Thanks to this, I was able to create much more refined and advanced systems in my subsequent projects by building on this experience and through further research.
Mechanic Insights & Highlights
The inclusion on the upper floor in the indoor scene was a deliberate level design decision. It was done to separate the level into sections vertically. The lower level is where most of the gameplay happens, as it's where the player interacts with the saloon's patrons to gain information from them through deception and duel challenges. On the upper floor lies the game's goal - the safe - where the player has to use the gathered clues to break in and claim the reward.
To make the final segment of the game resemble cracking a safe, the player is not given the exact order of the code's numbers throughout their playthrough. While the game specifies what the first and last digits of the 5-number code are, the player has to work out what order of the middle 3 numbers is. There are only 6 possible combinations. It is low enough to not make the guessing process frustrating while emulating the experience of breaking in.