Game Jams with James: A Fireside with Nik Sudan

This is the sixth installment of “Game Jams with James”: Chats with developers about game jams, games from jams, and short form games. For our sixth “Game Jams with James”, James is talking with musician, artist and developer Nik Sudan. Nik is known for his rapid output, his wild alliteration-filled game titles and for his high level of polish. There is nothing quite like a good Nik Sudan game.

James: How do you feel about short form games?

Nik: Short form games are fantastic! Those are the kind of games I situated myself with when I was growing as a developer, and I think that you must embrace them to get into the game development scene. There is the ‘prototype’, which I tend to make a lot. This is something very simple that was made relatively quickly and is usually unfinished or unrefined. The majority of jam games fall under this category, and these are fun because you never know what you are going to get next. They are like little bubbles of creativity!

On the other hand there is the ‘concentrated experience’. This can be just as long as a prototype game, but has a lot more to it; for example, quality of assets, level of detail or game design in general. These do not appear as often in jams due to the amount of polish required, but when you play one of these it is a wonderful little time that will make your day.

I have always wanted to work on larger projects, but I have realized that it all comes down to developing short form games! They give you that game development opportunity you crave whilst keeping short enough for you to not lose motivation. This is especially important when having other hobbies – like music in my case – and a full-time job.

Video of “Grimstorm”, a game by Nik Sudan

James: I love how you break down short form games into two different categories: The ‘prototypes’ and the ‘concentrated experience’. Do you have any examples from your own work for each type? It would be cool to see how you categorize games of your own creation.

Nik: Unfortunately, my mind is fast moving and I never find myself working on something for too long. This is why I really like to jam! However, there are a few exceptions of games that made it beyond the ‘prototype’.

“Grimstorm” comes to mind first – a “Castlevania”-style game about running through a castle to defeat an evil lord. This was made for Adventure Jam back in 2015, and to this day it is the game I am the happiest with. I am not content with a few features, the game balancing in particular, but it had elements that made it a game I can look back fondly on, like the map design, dialogue and music to name a few.

“Protocol” was another I was happy with. This was made for a Cyberpunk Jam back in 2014, and managed to score second place! It involves a rebel motorcyclist trying to get away from robot enforcement. Although the mechanics were simple, it had enough polish for the experience to feel more than a prototype.

I talk about these ‘polished’ games, but they are barely polished when comparing them to others. I do want to make something that I am properly happy with one day, then I can rest easy and go make music in a field somewhere – yeah, that sounds nice. I am currently working on something big! Fingers crossed that it becomes a hit.

Video of “Protocol”, a game by Nik Sudan

James: What is your favorite game jam?

Nik: There are so many jams nowadays, I cannot pick one! However, I am a big fan of Adventure Jam. It has been going for a few years now, and the premise is pretty simple: Make an adventure game! You get all sorts of interesting games that you could play for ages, and you get a nice period of two weeks to make your project. The community is definitely one of the friendliest I have come across.

I also really enjoyed the GM48, a jam where you must make a GameMaker game in forty-eight hours. I had been attending GameMaker meetups for some time and a few people went on about it. I decided to give it a try and had a huge amount of fun! They have a solid system in place, and the community is really helpful and encouraging too. Ludum Dare is great for when you want to develop along with a huge crowd. It can get kind of overwhelming, but it is a great feeling to be a part of the huge hubbub.

James: From theming to style constraints to jam size, it seems like there are unique elements you admire about each of these jams! If you had to pick a single aspect that these three jams share, one crux of what makes a jam special to you, what would it be?

Nik: I definitely think it is the people. There is no point entering a jam if there is no one else jamming along or actually caring about it. All of these jams have a great community involved, which drew me back to them. I have been involved in all more than once because of this. One thing I like seeing are jam regulars. They are the core of what makes a community. You may not see them again until the next jam, but you can rest knowing that you have made a new acquaintance. You never know who you are going to meet through a game jam. The people I have met have gone on to invite me to some great stuff all because I made myself known in one small jam.

Video of “Windowframe”, a game by Daniel Linssen

James: What is your favorite game jam game that someone else made?

Nik: There are so many good jam games I have come across over the years, it is impossible to name just one! However, I am in awe every time Daniel Linssen makes a game. Every time it is a work of art, so meticulously crafted, I do not know how he does it.

James: Daniel’s work is so stunning. The quality he produces in such compact time is astounding. Given that many of his games are jam creations, where do you think his work would fit on ‘prototype’ to ‘condensed experience’ scale?

Nik: You know, I think his work is a rare example by an individual which makes it to a ‘condensed experience’. Daniel knows what he is doing in each of his projects, and does not deviate from the end result. This may be a different story behind the scenes, but the finished game is what matters the most. However, there is always room for improvement, as there is only so much you can create in such short periods of time, especially if you are just one person. Strive to become like Daniel with your jam entries, and when you go on to make something bigger it is going to rock people’s socks off.

Video of “Super Sneaky Sample Stealer”, a game by Nik Sudan

James: What is your favorite game jam game that you made?

Nik: That would have to be “Super Sneaky Sample Stealer”. This was a game I made for Ludum Dare with the theme “You Only Get One”. The objective was to claim as many free samples as you can, but the vendors will only give out one per person. In order to get around this, you have to steal shirts and pretend to be someone else without getting caught. It is a silly little game that placed really well, and I am also a fan of the soundtrack I did for it too!

James: This is one of my all-time favorites of your games! Considering how polished it is, how did you manage your schedule and time? How does Nik Sudan jam?

Nik: This has definitely evolved over the years, and there are many inconsistencies. Now that I have been working with a team and with larger projects on a daily basis, I can transition these skills over to game jam development too. One element I will not stress enough is to make sure that you plan your game. I think this is the most important, to the point where I actually gave a talk about it! Do not go overboard with it as you have such a short amount of time, but make sure you have enough to base your project on. It is very tempting to dive right into the code editor, but seriously: Do not. Spend a few minutes thinking, jotting down ideas, combining your favourite game elements et cetera. You will thank your past self immensely.

“Super Sneaky Sample Stealer” was created in a weekend, and I think it had some great planning, even though I spent the majority of the first day at a cinema! I think taking it easy and planning to make something feasible with the time I had was key. Of course I had to make some compromises midway through development. There was this survival system where you had to keep on eating samples in the day and sleep in the night. There was also a hunger bar, but I am so glad I removed all of these, because this would have made it a real mess.

Further reading, a few notable Nik Sudan games: