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Welcome to the Jam

I (finally) made a game worth playing.

As a child, I wanted to create video games so bad. I didn’t know how to program (nor anyone willing to sit down and teach me), but I did have a spiral notebook I packed with ideas: some of them just a title and a genre, others with a character in mind. A few I had built a world in my head, and was ready to get started.

But I didn’t. Never did. I may have turned a few into stories at some point, but otherwise, those ideas are lost to time. A book of childhood fantasies that never came true.

I have better tools now. And over the past week, I’ve exercised them. And with that, there’s now a game named Caretaker.

In Caretaker you play as the new resident in a small town named Spectreville, tasked with meeting everyone in town. Your job is to chat with them, hear their problems, and be a friendly presence. And you’re well-suited to their chatter, but you’re not quite sure why they keep disappearing… but the answer’s waiting for you. Just out of reach.

Hopping up and down is not something I do a lot. I hopped up and down a bit when I clicked the “publish” button to post it to for not only other players to try, but because it was an achievement. It’s not a AAA title, it’s not as deep as it could be (and who knows, maybe WILL be in the future), but because I made it for a game jam I didn’t have much time. The goal was to be done in one week. Seven days.

I still finished in four.

For the uninitiated, a “game jam” is a challenge or competition to create something new and playable within a short period of time. These range from a few days to a few months usually, and center around some theme (either by content or design). Mine had two standards to meet: the theme (“friendly”) and the presentation (a proper Game Boy game, able to run on Game Boy hardware). Caretaker is my submission meeting those criteria.

If it’s a contest, then people that submitted their projects will have theirs voted on to declare a winner. As my first jam I’m not worried about winning anything; there’s something amazing about knowing people are playing (or will play) my game, and anything beyond that is just icing on a monochrome cake. Though I won’t lie, the prizes for first-10th place are pretty sweet and I’d love to win something.

Logo for Game Boy Showdown 2023, credit to the host Tronimal.

The best part of the process has been meeting the community of aspiring and experienced developers. One was extremely helpful in helping me understand the use of variables and “if:than” usage to accomplish effects I was hoping for throughout, and would be a much more simple and uninteresting game without them. And that will help with my next project, whatever that may be, in a subsequent jam. I looked through current and previous jams with similar topics and presentations, and seeing what they did got me considering what else I’M capable of pulling off in a short burst of time. Can I add battle mechanics to make a fleshed-out RPG? Should I test a different genre and style, like a platformer or a shooter? Could I remake this game, or build on it, down the line to make it better than the four-day incarnation?

This jam hasn’t just given me a chance to flex. It’s given me time to learn, stretch, focus, and to push myself in a way I never have before. And I’m looking forward to my next game, or jam, or even any other project. Pushing oneself leads to confidence, confidence leads to action, actions lead to being better at anything even remotely related.

I’m gonna be the best I’m capable of being, dammit. This is just another way to learn something new and build on what I’ve done. Next time… I’ll be even better next time.

Stand Tall, friends. However you decide to push yourself, whatever you’re trying to accomplish, I hope your skills rise to meet the challenge. And even if you don’t reach the bar, you’ll be better to do it next time!