Week 1: Toronto Game Jam Weekend

My first game jam!

As I write this, I am polishing my skills in the last hour before Toronto Game Jam (TOJam) 2021. I am very much looking forward to putting together a little game, my first complete game in the Unity engine, over the course of the weekend. That really sums up what a Game Jam is: usually a ~72 hour period over weekend when teams or individuals race to conceptualize and finish a game. Before the pandemic the TOJam usually took place at the George Brown College campus, now it’s online and takes place mostly though the social media audio app Discord. I am quite familiar with Discord: my friends and I set up a server that we still use, originally to play Minecraft at the beginning of the pandemic.

Toronto Game Jam Poster 2021

I was a bit confused about the registration for the TOJam. Initially I thought that team formation happened at the beginning of the weekend, and that you could go in and find a team. This is not how it works apparently, and I think that’s a good thing for my purposes this weekend (though I would love to try a game jam with that style at some point). The reason is that I really want to use this weekend: A. as a benchmark for my skills learned to this point and an opportunity to figure out where to focus for the next month and B. to port my game CyberSoviet (see last week) from GameMaker to Unity as an initial project to test my skills (including making the art! But not the sound, I may buy that royalty free).

Concept art for CyberSoviet Unity

I will surely blog next week about my experiences in the game jam, but for now I will just note my progress in the last week:

Reflections on the Past Week

Programming: “Watch-then-Do”

This week I completed the Introduction to Unity Course on Unity Learn and added that certification badge to my LinkedIn! I was thrilled about this after discovering that all of Unity Learn (the official learning platform for the Unity Game Engine) was made free last year, and it is extremely high quality content – which is all accredited! This makes me feel better from the has-to-be-considered resume gap concern about taking the next year to learn. If I am not going to be in school, I still have the bias that there needs to be some credential to show for it (right or wrong).

Working with sound in Unity Fundamentals

Unity Learn has been amazing. The most important learning-how-to-learn realization I’ve had is their insistence on “Watch-then-Do”. The platform uses a lot of videos to explain the concepts, and they are very insistent that you should not follow along with the videos. You should wait until they are completed and then go forward. This is a good reminder to me, as I had previously been doing tutorials by struggling to follow along. I don’t think I was absorbing as much in doing so, so watch-then-do is a good reminder.

A lot of the Unity Learn Fundamentals course has been about the uses of Unity and learning to learn. I found that I got very hyped by the possibilities of the Unity Engine beyond gaming, and I have certainly drunk the kool-aid. As I wrote last week, I am most interested in interactive experiences in general. I do think there is an interesting opportunity to visualize strategic foresight and futures scenarios in VR or do immersive futures in terms of games. Part of this journey is to learn how to do this and perhaps apply my skills this way.

Another advancement has been gaining another 30% – (now at 70% complete) in CodeAcademy C# course. I hope to finish the C# course by the end of next week. I feel that I am getting stronger in my basic knowledge of the language, but I really need more practice in actually getting comfortable in writing the code. This is why I have also moved on to the Junior Programmer Pathway in Unity Learn where I will really apply these skills in C# in Unity specifically and get more comfortable. I’ve already made a mini game through the Junior Programmer Pathway!

Learning with Unity Learn – a little tank driving game!

Going forward with programming – 2 languages?

I do love the style of CodeAcademy for an initial introduction to the topics. I think when I am done with the basics of C# and feeling comfortable, I will resume my lessons of Python 3 language (which I am half way through the basics) and carry on learning that on the side. The reason is because there is a lot more Python content on CodeAcademy than C#, like MachineLearning, Computer Science and Data Science, and I want to take advantage of those because I like the learning style and I feel it will improve my computational thinking even if it is not Unity specific. I feel like with a little more C# experience I should feel comfortable and maybe even enriched by jumping between the two.

I’ve been loving mainly doing my CodeAcademy learning on my laptop on the patio outside in the morning. It’s been nice as I struggle through key concepts like classes! I hope to write a short blog post on object-oriented programming and their classes and interfaces next week just to solidify my knowledge.

Supplementing CodeAcademy with some good-ol’-youtube to solidify the concepts

Art

I’ve been making art too! I know that eventually I will need to get the Adobe Suite just to learn that even for employability reasons, but I have been looking for less feature bloated alternatives to get into game art making for the time being. Long story short, I found Aseprite, which was $20 on the digital distribution platform Steam. It’s a great little tool for making pixel art and animated sprites (characters) very easily and I’m loving learning to use it. I haven’t animated anything yet but that Is a goal for this week/weekend. See my self portrait below!

GCEH Self Portrait 2021

Learning to Learn

As for my learning plan – I am still in the divergent phase of figuring out what and how I want to learn (though I obviously have an overall plan sketched out). Luckily my girlfriend is an expert in learning plans – she has a degree and tons of experience in pedagogy – so I have asked for her help. I think this weekend will make things clearer. I will make a post in the next couple weeks of some of the YouTube Channels I have been watching. I do think I am going to supplement my game design knowledge with some courses from Coursera from CalArts. I am also reading a book called Elements of Game Design by Robert Zubek. So all is good on this front.

The Draft Learning Plan

Game Reflections

I want to cap off these posts with a little blurb on what I’ve actually been playing this week and any notes or insights I have from it. I won’t say much this week other than I’ve been switching between the factory games Factorio and Dyson Sphere Program. I am intrigued that such well optimized games that are so expansive were created by such small teams. It is very impressive. More on this in a future blog post.

My goals for the next week:

  • Complete C# code academy 
  • Complete at least 2-3 missions in Unity Learn
  • Finish game jam game
  • Plot out learning next steps and plan
  • Take Aseprite Tutorial
  • Create InDesign Preliminary Portfolio as Tutorial
  • Plot out blog trajectory (classes post, resources post, game post)

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