Game Jam’s are one of my favourite things about the Indie Game Community. Huge numbers of people come together either online or in person with a common goal, making a game against the clock, usually with a theme to involve that they don’t know until the time limit begins. It’s a chance for people to test out their wildest ideas without having to make a full length game, a chance to take some risks and it’s often a breeding ground for creative and experimental game ideas. We at Indie Haven love seeing new game concepts, so we’ve decided to start showcasing some of our favourite games from various game jams, starting with LD48.

Next up on the Game Jam interview list is Stacy Smith, developer of “ When All You Have Is A Hammer, All Your Problems Start To Look Like Nails”. The game can be downloaded for free for PC here.

Laura: Could you start by introducing yourself and giving a brief one line description of your game?

Stacy Smith: My name is Stacy, I had a brief stint as a professional game developer, and now I write graphics demo’s for a living. My game is a puzzle platformer about moving giant hammers around.

Laura: Fantastic. Could you tell us the theme of the game jam and how you incorporated it into your game?

Stacy Smith: Well the theme was minimalism so initially I decided to use that as an excuse to make the graphics really basic. I’d had the idea for the game a while ago and there was going to be a nail on every level, but that meant teaching all the controls in one level. So in the end, the theme of minimalism was that the nail was the final element in the game. You spend the whole game learning about and using hammers, and there’s only one nail.

Laura: And was this your first game jam?

Stacy Smith: My very first. I was a virtual participant, so I didn’t go to a physical jam location. There’s a thriving indie scene in Cambridge so I probably could have found a local jam to take my laptop along to, but I wasn’t even sure how far I’d get. I often say that it takes two days to set up a build environment with the projects we do at work. The fact that I even finished was a huge achievement.

Laura: And why did you decide to take part in this as your first?

Stacy Smith: I had tried to get into the indie scene here before but when you code all day, you sort of don’t want to do more of the same when you get home. Lately my job has involved less and less coding so I guess I had more leftover mental capacity for it. Left to my own devices I over plan things and spend forever coming up with ideas and re-factoring and changing things, so a jam seemed the perfect opportunity to set my self the constraint of “code it once, don’t go back unless it’s fundamentally broken”.

There’s also the events of GDC. I was at GDC presenting some lectures on graphics optimisation and whenever I go there I like to visit the IGF stand. This year I got a chance to talk to some devs who I really admire and it sort of got me thinking about wanting to make something again.

Laura: Last question, what was the biggest challenge you faced making the game?

Stacy Smith: Sprite count. I should go into more detail on that actually. That map files are ascii text files with different characters represent the different blocks, and when I started making levels to test the various game mechanics. Then I made a level and it crashed the game. I spent two of my precious hours debugging the level loading code and it seemed related to size, but oddly I had bigger levels in the game already.

Eventually realised I’d got this part in the code for batching sprites together and I knew later I wanted it to detect if it had a full batch, then draw them all and start a new one. But I just gave it an error code while I was doing small levels and forgot about it. When I found it it felt a total Muppet. So I guess my biggest problem was my own attention span. With no design doc, no diagrams, no project plans, it all had to fit in my own head.

Actually could I give an alternate answer to that last question? That was the biggest development problem… but there was something more pervasive. I think a lot of indie devs live the indie lifestyle to the point where they can eat sleep and live their jams. I don’t. I didn’t create a game in 48 hours, I created a game in more like 30 hours. I don’t live alone so it was very antisocial of me to sit in the dining room for two days coding, and I had to be in bed at a sensible time or I’d wake my other half. Also I had to walk the dog, and on the second day we all went to see Iron Man Three (dog not included) and I felt really torn between putting more into the game and going to do fun family stuff with other people. In the end I took the advice from Anna Anthropy’s Dys4ia post-partum, when she said that sometimes it’s more important to go outside and have a walk, have some real life experience, make sure you don’t get sucked into obsessing over your creation. I think a bit of time out helped me come up with slightly more amusing level introduction strings, which was the very last part I did when I got back.