At IndieCade East this year, Move38 hosted a Blinks Game Jam where Game Devsigners (developers + designers) of all experience levels worked in teams to build games for Blinks. We sat down with Holly Gore and Jeff Kowalski - two of the Devsigners behind the game Boom Brigade - to learn about what it was like building for Blinks as first time game designers.
We'll get to Blinks and gaming, but first tell us a little about you.
Jeff Kowalski: I'm a 29-year-old writer and podcaster living in New Jersey. I'm avid about both video games and tabletop, primarily from a mechanical perspective. Weird, I know, coming from a writer.
Holly Gore: I grew up in New Jersey and currently reside in Brooklyn. I do IT for a law firm in the financial district. Jeff, Colin (Another member of the Boom Brigade Team), and myself all went to the same college and did theatre together--that's how we know each other. We’re a bunch of creative nerds.
What do you do when you're not writing, working on podcasts, or playing games?
Jeff: Sleep. I've got MoviePass, so I end up at the theater a lot.
Holly: I'm still fairly new to New York so I like to explore new bars and restaurants and balance out the damage by going to the gym. My other passions include craft beer, houseplants and gardening, and spending way too much time on the internet.
How did you hear about Blinks and the Game Jam?
Jeff: I follow IndieCade on Twitter and they'd sent out a message looking for people to sign up. I'd been interested in the indie game scene for a while, and this seemed like a good opportunity for getting involved in that community.
Holly: I heard about Blinks approximately two days before we dove into a a 12 hour Game Jam with them at Indiecade East. It was definitely trial by fire!
Have you always been into games? Is it a recent thing? What are some of your favorites? You can include board and video games.
Jeff: I've played since childhood. I've been a hobbyist game maker since high school. I actually had to cancel on a friend who was having a game day the same day as the jam once I found out I got in. I play D&D on a regular basis, and while I enjoy board games, there are fewer opportunities in my life to play those. As for video games, I usually gravitate more towards puzzle games or leisurely platformers. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is probably the single greatest achievement in video games, but Bejeweled 3 is a strong contender.
Holly: I've been into video games since I was a kid. My first system was a Game Gear and I have a total soft spot for older consoles like SNES and Genesis. Growing up, I was always drawn to weird, lesser known games: Goemon's Great Adventure (N64), Uniracers, (SNES) Cool Spot (Game Gear), Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete (Playstation) to name a few. Most of what I've been playing recently are old titles. As for my favorites...hmm. I'd have to go with Final Fantasy 6, Toejam & Earl, Pokemon Puzzle League, Ocarina of Time, and Final Fantasy 7. I am also the reigning champ at Connect Four among my social circle.
What was designing for Blinks like compared to other games you’ve designed.
Holly: This was actually my first time designing any game! My mom has always been really creative and growing up, we were able to make games out of everything. My favorite is this simple dice game we play with tiny plastic animals that race each other based on what's rolled.
How did you approach the design for Boom Brigade?
Jeff: I came at the project from a consumer angle, thinking first "What would be fun to play?" over any other concern.
Holly: When we were thinking of ideas, I wanted to build something that anyone could play--gamers, non-gamers, kids, adults, families, strangers at a bar, etc that didn’t require many rules or backstory.
Jeff: While just messing around with the code to see what we could make the Blinks tiles do, we discovered the rotation animation which proves central to Boom Brigade's gameplay. We built everything else out from there.
And what's your background in programming?
Jeff: I hadn't really learned any programming until Blinks. I'd dabbled in software-exclusive coding languages, and some everyday command line stuff (since I run Linux on my laptop), but the IndieCade Gam Jam was my first exposure to C# and Arduino.
Holly: Save for one comp sci intro class in college, I have no programming background. I sometimes use PowerShell at work, but it's mostly using existing scripts or making minor edits.
Did you feel like you were able to pick up the programming concepts quickly?
Jeff: Yeah, I had no problem with it. My brain is already kind of wired for cause-and-effect type of thinking. The few concepts that didn't occur to me immediately were easily explained by Jonathan during the jam. One example is a bit of trouble I had with variables that governed whether certain button presses would have any effect in the game. I'd neglected to keep in mind that button presses would be tracked regardless of which variables were true, and if the variables changed, those button presses would still matter. So Jonathan helped me clean up that code, and now I know how to compartmentalize my code better.
Holly: It helped to have the code repository available and be able to look at the source code for Mortals so we could try and understand the logic. We started with small changes (i.e. make a red blink turn blue when clicked) and branched out from there. Those small achievements helped everyone stay motivated towards expanding and adding elements and taking full advantage of what Blinks can do.
Any advice for someone who wants to get started with game design?
Holly: As with any new endeavor, if you're willing to put in the time and make some mistakes along the way, it'll start getting easier. Just make sure you save early and often!
What's next for you and Boom Brigade?
Jeff: I've got a few ideas for games that I'd like to try my hand at making, as well as half a dozen other ideas that are far too sophisticated for my skill level, so who knows? The sky's the limit!
Holly: During play testing, it's been easy for people to pick up and start playing so I think we hit the mark we were looking for. There's also been a lot of communication between users during play, which makes me really happy because it means people are enjoying it.
Get your hands on a Blinks Dev Kit and start building your own games here! And as Holly says - don’t forget to save early and often!