Every year GitHub sponsors a game jam during the month of November: GitHub Game Off. I’ve dabbled with making games my whole life and I’ve found excuses to not to participate in the jam in previous years.
I made a committment to myself to start and finish and I did so, in about 2 weeks (I realized that travelling and visiting family for Thanksgiving was going to not leave me with much time the second half of the month).
From past experience, I knew that making a game from scratch would be difficult in a short time period (anyone who does a game jam in a weekend is a wizard). I took at peek at Godot, but I quickly realized that I’d spend a lot more time learning the tool than I wanted too.
I spied Pico-8 on the list of suggested tools. I’d messed with it some in the past and it’s really straight foward. I had a small sprite up and runnig (well, gliding) after a few minutes and it all started to click. The tool had been chosen. Now time to make a game.
Each year the game jam has a theme. This year the theme is “cliché”. I scanned the list of clichés—over 4000—for inspiration and settled on “the only thing certain in life is death and taxes” as my theme. I wasn’t sure yet what type of game I was going to make.
I converted my sprite into a horrible looking accountant and had him gliding across the screen. I made a gold coin—because 8x8 sprites only let you have so much detail—and had it chase my accountant and an idea was born.
I’ve played a lot of Vampire Survivors lately (check out the Steam version) and it’s a really simple concept: you are a character who shoots their weapons automatically. You slowly grow more powerful over time, which is good because thousands of enemies are seeking you out. The game is also weird, pure fun, and totally awesome.
I titled my game “Death and Taxes: Survivor”. I made a skull enemy to go with my coin (death and taxes, respectively). I gave the accountant 3 health hearts and the ability to shoot and I had something that was playable.
To make my seed of a game into something more, I played with things, logic and did a lot of googling. The Pico-8 community has a lot of resources and had answers to all my beginning questions.
I improved my accountant sprite, added two more enemy types, music, and sound effects. I made a simple title screen, and little intros before each act. I even wrote a little backstory.
I had the basic game up and running after a few days and spent a week adding polish. That’s the part of any game project that can take forever, so I made it “good enough” and let it be.
While I could have worked on this little game forever, I knew I mentally needed the win of releasing. I think it’s entertaining for a few games at least.