Global Game Jam 2021 Hackathon Retrospective – Ash the Pirate

A retrospective look at the creation process of Ash the Pirate during the Global Game Jame 2021 hackathon.

Complete a hackathon every year. It’s a great excuse to leave your everyday problems behind for a day or two and force yourself to overcome new challenges.

Cover Image for Ash The Pirate

Last weekend, I built a game for Global Game Jam 2021. I brought my 4 year old son into the process. He’s great at videogames for his age (thanks pandemic). I wanted to show him that he could be a creator of those experiences, not just a consumer. It was a great opportunity to let him feel a part of a larger tribe of creative humans. You can download and try Ash the Pirate.

The theme for Global Game Jam was “Lost and Found”. During the brainstorming session that Buffalo Game Space ran for the event. My son piped up and offered this idea:

“How about you’re a pirate, that’s lost his parrot. You have a boat and there’s holes in the boat where sharks try and bite you. You have to press ‘A’ to jump over them.”

“Ash” Age 4

Scope Tightly

It sounded like a well scoped hackathon project. It had a theme, a win condition, and a game mechanic. Now it was time to make it Testable, Usable, Loveable.

Ash The Pirate - In-game screenshot.
Ash sizing up his zombie nemesis who is guarding his captured parrot.

Invest in the experience

You need art, music, and sound effect to make a game immersive. Stephen Petoniak composed an awesome Sea Shanty for the game. But it still needed sprite sheets, tiles, and sound effects. Investing $30-40 in those assets from artists on Envato Elements and Graphic River was worth it. The really made the Game look much higher quality and allowed me to focus my energy on learning Game Maker 2 and writing code.

Ash the Pirate - in-game screenshot of ash freeing his parrot from the treasure chest.
Ash frees his parrot after jumping over the pirate zombie!

Play Test Repeatedly

The best part of the experience was watching my kids Play Test the game. Every few hours, I would take a break and explain the work I was doing and let them test it out. If you want your software to be bug-free, only use it yourself. If you want to make rock solid software, have other people test it. Your assumptions about how your software should work are rarely congruent with theirs.

Ash The Pirate - Global Game Jam 2021

Collisions Happen Every Frame

My biggest takeaway as a newly minted Game Developer, was that collision detection happens once a frame. I repeatedly created bugs in my code by not realizing that a statement would be executed more than the first time it happened. I hacked around the issue of triggering things multiple times using if-statements and Booleans. I’m not sure if that’s a design pattern or an anti-pattern, but in the context of a hackathon – it doesn’t matter.

Ash the Pirate, in-game screenshot of Ash preparing to join the zombie hoard after being bitten.
Ash preparing to join the zombie hoard after uttering his haunting last words “It’s the pirates life for me.”

Ask for Help at Hackathons

As a Hackathon organizer, I’m always disappointed by how participants underutilized mentors. People volunteer their time to help novice developers, but they rarely get asked to supply their expertise. Instead of asking for support, folks spend 4 hours on a bug or an error that a Senior Developer will crush in 5 minutes. As an experienced developer, I didn’t make that mistake. I pinged the mentors and they debugged my code incredibly fast (thanks John, Kendall, Matt, & Jared). This rule about asking for help applies to all domains of expertise. Find mentors, ask questions, you’ll be more successful in life.

TODOs:

  • Design some levels using graph paper with my children
  • Replace the sound effects with recordings of the kids (so they can be in the game)

Conclusion:

Ash The Pirate was playable after 48 hours. My kids learned a little bit about how games are built. I’m pretty happy with the results. This happened because my son tightly scoped the project. I invested in assets to speed up and improve the quality of production. My children play tested the game repeatedly while in development. I didn’t let perfect get in the way of good enough. I asked for help.

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How do you run an Early Stage Pitch event?

Pitch-In is an event designed to help founders of early stage companies. Early Stage Founders present their business idea and receive kind-but-critical feedback.

What’s the Format of a Pitch Event?

The format is fast-moving and straight forward:

  1. The host introduces the companies. They also set the expectation that audience members provide kind-but-critical feedback.
  2. Three companies run the gauntlet
    • The Founder pitches for 5 minutes
    • The Host moderates 5 minutes of Question & Answer
    • The Audience fills out a feedback form
  3. Host thanks the attendees and Founders for participating
  4. Host provides aggregated feedback to Founders

Benefits of Seed Stage Pitch Events

The event lasts an hour and provides a tremendous amount of value to the community.

  • Pitching creates initial momentum. Folks with ideas become publicly accountable as the Founder of a startup.
  • The community begin’s to understand what good startups look like. Community pattern recognition improves through exposure to more startup ideas and more founders.
  • Community-wide analytical skills develop as group members ask questions based on their specialized knowledge.
  • The event reinforces the “Give First” and “Everyone is Welcome” social mores.
  • By audience members sharing their wisdom and network with the founders, the community gains a sense of pride and ownership.

Need to see an example of a Pitch-In?

Want to see what an event feels like? Check out this edited video of our May 22nd Event featuring 3 great startups.

Pitch-In -Startups in Buffalo, NY May 22nd 2020

How should presenter’s prepare for their first pitch?

I’ve previously written about pitching your company as a first step in founding your startup. Here’s the cliff-notes to help your presenters.

  1. Recommend that they build a Lean Canvas (?) for each one of their business ideas or customer segments. This will help them to build a more insightful deck and prepare for most questions they’ll receive during the Q&A portion.
  2. Build a deck based on Guy Kawasaki’s pitch deck template. If they’ve never built a venture deck before, this will provide 80% of what they need to be successful.
  3. What about the other 20%? Practice, Practice, Practice  – Schedule zoom meetings with friends in advance to knock out any technical glitches, they should run through the deck until they know it inside and out.

Where’s the feedback form for event?

A template version of the feedback form is available here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeBUklEbZJW0DdXb68arJNkvGxu-eGF1aREde630aotsOdHjg/viewform

Please feel free to copy it or share your feedback on the questions we ask in the comments of this post.

Why is the Western New York Startup Community growing?

I spent today compiling a retrospective report that summarizes the past six months. I’m left in awe of all that you have done as a startup community.

We have grown and supported each through a pandemic, the beginning of a recession, and the current social unrest. Our community has been galvanized by these stressors. We will emerge even more robust than we entered due to your contributions.

I’m unable to thank you all personally. Nor, even begin to account the ways you have individually helped one another. However, I can share some growth and activity number that represent the tip of the iceberg.

Startup Community Growth

Since January 1st, 2020 — the WNY Startup Community Slack has grown from 306 members to 1,180. That’s 386% growth! That’s 100% due to the value that you all add through your original content and replies. Combined with your invitations to join and your openhearted welcoming of new members.

Buffalo Bridge has grown from 0 to 5,991 readers, again — all because of you. Jack does Jack things, Andy curates the content that you post to the slack, we package it up and send it out. If we’re being honest — 95% of the value comes from you.

Together, we’ve organized and attended over 58 Techstars supported events. These events wouldn’t exist if community members did not volunteer their time and expertise. Additionally, fewer people would offer up their time if it wasn’t for the hundreds of you who attend. Most importantly, this number completely ignores the dozens of other events that were organized, promoted, and executed by members of this community without Techstars direct support.

Why Should We Keep Growing?

All of this activity is leading to more Startups. Convincing first time founders to move from Idea Stage to building their startup. You’re making the difference, by proving that it’s possible and connecting the support networks that enable them.

When you read this, acknowledge the work that you’ve done to build a brighter economic future for our city. The work you’ve done to strengthen our community and develop genuine friendships.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the rapid and relentless change and disruption that we’ve seen in these past six months. But I know with certainty that we will emerge a stronger and more vibrant startup community. Because of you.