The Best Games from Global Game Jam 2015
Last weekend, coders, artists, and creatives of all types came together for a unified purpose: to make a video game in 48 hours. This was the 2015 Global Game Jam.
For the uninitiated, a game jam is a challenge to create a game from scratch during a limited time period, usually following some kind of constraint or theme. Like National Novel Writing Month for writers or the 24 Hour Comic for cartoonists, game jams create communities of collaboration and encourage participants to try new things. The games that come out of game jams are sometimes great, sometimes bonkers, but they’re always part of a proud tradition of making art with your friends.
This year's Global Game Jam was hosted at over 500 locations in 78 countries around the world and included over 25,000 participants. This year's theme was a question: What do we do now?
The game jam produced over 5,000 answers to this question.
Below is a selection of just a few standout games that you can pick up and play right now through your web browser, just to get a feel for the staggering variety of submissions. If you want to delve deeper, check out the 2015 Global Game Jam website to see more games on multiple platforms and languages
Note: Though playable from a web browser, many of these games require the free Unity Web Player add-on.
Horse is an excellent introduction to the offbeat ideas that can come from game jams. In Horse, the apocalypse is neigh (heh), and you have been transformed into a hideous, horse-headed monster. Your task is to spend the remaining seconds of the world throwing screaming grannies and children to their deaths. Try to beat your high score!
Horse is an arcade-style game with beautiful pixel art, frantic music, and a surprising amount of polish and sophistication. Killing innocent humans gives you points and adds precious seconds to the doomsday clock. The hellish landscape has three chasms to throw mankind into—bottomless, spikey, and lava-filled—and bonuses are granted for throwing specific kinds of people into certain pits, as indicated by the bonus cards displayed on the upper right. Horse has all of the best elements of an easy-to-play, hard-to-master arcade classic.
Many game jam participants interpreted “What do we do now?” as a desperate question of what to do with a dead body. My favorite one, Bodybag, chose to focus more on the gameplay of body disposal rather than the narrative elements, and does so to great effect.
Bodybag features two simultaneously-controlled characters, but the controls are simple enough that a single person can play the game, though it’s less fun. In each level the two characters dispose of a dead body, which must often be carried by both characters. The controls of Bodybag are wobbly and imprecise, which match the hulking deadweight of the deceased quite nicely. Bodybag is great to play with a friend on a single keyboard.
Meditation has a story to tell, but it is also a fascinating simulation of a wandering mind.
Meditation drills deep into the question, “What do we do now?” giving the player thought-by-thought choices. Some choices, as seen above, are whether or not to keep the mind empty and follow the breath, but Meditation also delves much deeper into memory and fantasy.
Though the art is not as confident as some of the game jam's narrative games, Meditation's storytelling offers a captivating and dreamlike sketch of anger, regret, and ultimately, catharsis.
Unfortunately, many narrative-heavy games use the language of games to drive the story forward, but feature nothing truly interactive. Player choice is relegated to simply changing the order and rate at which the text is revealed. Hugo is a short, beautiful exception.
Hugo interprets “What do we do now?” as the question asked following the end of a relationship. The main character proceeds from day to day, pondering and remembering what once was. To say too much more would spoil the game's impact, but Hugo is a small, heartwarming game that is definitely worth your time.
A sub-genre of the game jam game is the Dada game: games that are intentionally absurd and anarchic. How to God is a funny, satirical, interactive fever dream.
How to God takes after the fast-paced Warioware style minigames, recreating important moments in human history and then explosively subverts them. Goals are ill-defined, and just when you are on the cusp of understanding what is happening, the game airlifts you into a new scenario with new gameplay mechanics, ready to deceive to you. It is also the only game I have seen that features cybernetic French politicians, which alone is worth giving it a try.
Exorcism Express plays like an electronic version of the party game Mafia. One passenger on the train is possessed by a ghost. As the investigator, you may question each passenger and attempt to catch the possessed passenger in a lie. During each round, you choose a passanger to exorcize. If you choose correctly, you win, but if you choose incorrectly, the ghost kills the passenger it was possessing, and moves on to another.
Exorcism Express oozes atmosphere, with creepy, well-mixed sound, and a unique, dreary art style. The possessed passenger also changes every round of every game, making it possible to come back to the game again and again, or at least until you've got all the dialog options down.
If the selection above has awakened your own game jam interest, be sure to learn more about the games of 2015, and post your own favorites in the comments. And if you've caught the bug to participate in a game jam, there are plenty of smaller, upcoming game jams that you can learn about on itchi.io's repository of upcoming game jams.