Our favorite flavor of jam is the game kind, but what goes into one? Guest author Jupiter Hadley talks about how game jams have grown to popularity and given rise to amazing titles.
When it comes to creating games, especially game jam titles where you have a time restriction, there are definitely some genres that people seem to think are easier to create. One of these genres are ‘arcade games’. Arcade games are a type of game genre that covers fast-paced games that require hand-eye coordination skill to play without much story or strategy elements present in the game. These types of games have been around for a long time - back into the days of having to go to cabinets in arcades to play games, which is where the name comes from.
Arcade styled games are particularly popular in game jams, where developers need to produce a fun experience in a short space of time. An arcade game can be played reasonably quickly as well, so when it comes to voting for a winner in game jams, the players will be able to get a good feel of the game without spending too much time playing it. These types of games are wildly popular on mobile devices where people are only playing on the device for a brief amount of time.
Though many people feel arcade games are one of the easiest types of games to create, this genre isn’t so easy to do well. This is for a number of reasons - some developers make an arcade game, or perhaps a game with an arcade mode, thinking that ‘arcade’ is synonymous with ‘simple’. Simplicity in the gameplay objectives is only part of what makes a game an arcade game, but along with simple goals, you will require several other aspects.
One of these aspects is replayability, and it’s a very important one. Super Hexagon does this rather well - despite never progressing particularly far, I have sunk many hours into this game. Again, it has simple goals, but offers a significant challenge that makes you want to beat not only your high score, but ultimately the game too. Trying to better my high score whilst there was wonderful music playing in the background really kept me playing. I want to beat my last score, and hopefully see a new shape, even if that means dying over and over before getting to it. Though this game appears super simple, the addictiveness of it, the simple but cohesively flowing graphics, and the beautiful music really make for a fantastic arcade game. Having extras you can unlock or things like high score tables, add significant replay value to arcade games, making them much better for the player, and drastically increasing the time they spend playing it.
Having an arcade game that appears uncomplicated, but contains within it an unexpected twist, will aid you in the creation of uniqueness and fun to an arcade game. Many developers start off by making clones of classic games such as ‘Asteroids’ or ‘Break-Out’. Adding a small, unexpected mechanic will change the gameplay immensely if implemented correctly. This difference elevates the game from being a direct clone, distinguishing it as something more original - albeit inspired by an older game. Snacktime for Snakes takes a simple ’Snake’ clone to an entirely new level. Instead of having one snake on the screen, there are multiple snakes that all blend in with the environment. Each snake is racing to catch and eat mice which also blend into the environment, before spawning a new snake and starting again. Though these additions are simple, the idea and surprising elements in Snacktime for Snakes adds a ton of fun and replayability as well as a freshness to the classic. It is easy to use a clone as a base game to learn from, but when adding your own flavor into the game, you could potentially be on the path to creating something substantially better.
Taking on the retro aesthetic is also fairly popular when it comes to creating arcade games, especially since most of the original arcade games are retro now. Maintaining a consistent aesthetic will make an arcade game stand out and look great when compared to other games of any genre. Handsome Mr. Frog is an elevated retro-styled arcade game with a fun gameplay element. You are a frog who can eat enemies and objects, then spit them back out at other enemies! This game has a beautiful looking world, fun graphics, and is great to play again and again.
Arcade games are incredibly fun to play when made well, and often very addictive. They can also be on the easier side to create. Making something that is both replayable and enjoyable however, may take more planning, work and fine tuning than you initially think. I enjoy seeing loads of arcade games both entered in jams, and being created each and every day. I just hope that more of them take on their own styles, elements, and polish to become a great arcade game, instead of a simple game without replayability, or straight up clones of classics. It may seem easy to create an arcade game, but it is certainly quite the challenge to make a good or impressive arcade game!