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  • Big Hadron Games: A 16 Flash Game Mega-Postmortem

    [04.21.09]
    - Matthew Jenkins
  • Consider it a thesis in rapid prototyping. For their final semester before they became the first Masters of Digital Media, six graduate students made 16 Flash games in three months.

    How did they do it? In teams of two and three, the students developed games in as little as 48 hours. Their mantra: everybody makes games. Each student on every team was responsible for the art, code, and design.

    It was an exercise in making experimental games fast. It was an experience in renaissance game development. It was the birth of a new kind of company -- Big Hadron games (BHg).

    Smashing Ideas Together

    The name comes from the Large Hadron Collider that started operating in Switzerland last year. The collider was built to smash things together at high speeds to find new particles in the universe. Over at BHg, we did the same thing -- smashing different game concepts together very quickly and producing new mechanics.


    BHg is comprised of six graduate students orbiting around the elusive fun particle.

    The Plan

    The initial plan was to make a Flash game every two weeks. We would work in pairs over the first two months and then assess what we did and choose one or two games to polish up at the end. The flexibility of this approach combined with the very small teams allowed us to quickly reconfigure and adapt as we progressed through the semester.

    First Cycle

    Our first cycle went very well, particularly since more than half of the Big Hadron team was new to ActionScript 3. We produced three games with unique mechanics and/or a twist on a traditional game genre: LightBender, a physics-based light bending game, Dewberry Farms, a game which incorporates elements from Populous and SimCity, and Evasive Maneuvers, a shooter with a twist.

    The development cycle was a bit like a traditional one in miniature. After a flurry of brainstorming, we moved into a development phase and by the end of the first week had something playable. The games were played by a few playtesters (read: fellow students), we took their comments and improved the game during the second week.

    Second Cycle & Global Game Jam

    During the second cycle we were invited to participate in the Global Game Jam (https://globalgamejam.org/) -- an event that spanned 53 countries and produced nearly 400 games in a single weekend. Members of BHg participated in three games -- For Shame, Treelings, and Slast. We learned two very important things:

    1. Quality games could be produced in as little as two days.
    2. There's a point where sleep is more important than video games.

    Participation in the Global Game Jam allowed us to collaborate with others in the industry and see what could be done fast, but the cost was our second round of development -- most of the second week of the second round was spent sleeping off the Jam. Nonetheless, we still produced three more games -- Acceptable Means, a bunny torturing game, Political Catastrophe, and a remake of a board game called Urubamba, designed by two team-members in a previous semester.


    The game Treelings "grew" out of a collaborative effort at the 2009 Global Game Jam.

    Third and Fourth Cycles -- Lightning Rounds

    Armed with the knowledge that a full game can be completed in two days, we decided to shorten our development cycles to one week. We also decided to increase our team sizes from two to three, a decision partly driven by our experience at the Jam, and partly made because we wanted to try something new. The third cycle went very well, and in a week we had two complete games, StarCatcher and SpaceGlob, a game in which you bounce up platforms to reach the stars.

    At this point, we were approached by an academic group, Seneca College, who wanted us to build something using a library they developed to facilitate 3D content on the web. The library was called Canvas 3D JavaScript Library (https://www.c3dl.org/). We dove right into it.

    Within a week we had developed three more games using this new platform -- Duck & Cup, a guessing game, Duck Dreamz, a maze game and a game of asteroids -- all in 3D, viewable using Firefox and the Canvas3D plugin. During the final week long development cycle we produced two further games, Tide Pool Defender, a variation on tower defense, and Turtle Evolution, which explores genetic algorithms.

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