A game jam. On the Hurtigruten. Down the coast of Norway. For two days. For about £60.
I suspected this fabulous idea might be popular and thus was on the website the moment the tickets went live. So were many others. I secured 2 of the 100 available tickets for the first Splash Jam—the other 98 were sold out within ten minutes.
Thus my good friend Laura—not usually a game maker but a fine coder and up for an adventure—and I donned all our jumpers and boarded the day’s only flight from London to Tromsø, which is about as far north as one really ever need go.
Though it was dark, we knew that it was icy cold the moment we landed, mainly because the plane noticeably slid down the white runway to a halt.
Teaming up with some other lovely jammers from the plane, we made our way to Flow where we were greeted with tasty slushies, pizza, and a room full of optimistic-yet-colourful lighting and people keen to make games.
The theme for the jam was revealed to be beginnings, and we were encouraged to voice our first ideas and then discard them as being too obvious. Mingling was also encouraged via the medium of the small, painted rubber ducks that came in our swag bags.
Anyway, I put my hand up when the skill ‘writer’ was called out (there were only a couple of us, this jam) and joined a group of new friends with a view to making a game inspired by the magic of Quantum Leap, called Oh Boy! I was then also asked to join a group that wanted a writer to work on their game about dreams. I hoped to work with both groups but it wasn’t to be, and I would quickly end up working on the dreams game exclusively.
(I’m going to talk about the game and how I inadvertently designed the levels in another post, as I think this one might be long enough as it is.)
We picked away across the icy streets and snow-covered verges to the boat at midnight. I was, I confess, already feeling quite tired from the travel and mingling so Laura and I went to our bunks and turned in, opting to explore the boat in the light of day.
The Hurtigruten ships are pretty awesome. There’s a pool and jacuzzis up on deck, a sauna, all-you-can-eat breakfast and lunch.
I guess the views are alright too.
But this is where Splash’s two main issues start to come out.
The idea of having a game jam on a trip is a solid one; I know Splash was inspired by Train Jam, which takes place on the 52-hour train ride from Chicago to San Francisco. However, having been on the train in question (if not the Jam) last year, it’s not the same kind of trip. I got quite a bit of reading and writing done on the train, sitting in the observation car; I could look out of the windows on either side of the train easily, and the scenery would change from forest to salt flats to canyons slowly enough that I didn’t feel that I was missing out if I looked back down at my books for ten minutes.
Working in the office-y conference rooms on the Hurtigruten felt like a wasted opportunity, particularly when I wasn’t sat by a window. Yet going up on deck to admire the majestic, freezing views meant neglecting my work. I felt quite torn, and eventually compromised by working next to a window in a lounge area not far from the conference rooms when possible, but I didn’t feel like I had the time to get off the boat at stops and had some guilt about leaving my team-mates in the other room.
For me, I guess the Hurtigruten was simply too distracting for a focussed jam. Which makes sense, given that it’s meant to house and entertain passengers for days. The journey itself is meant to keep you busy, which isn’t quite so true of the train.
The other main difference, of course, was that we were at sea. On our leg of the Hurtigruten’s much longer voyage we were on open sea on two of the nights and, oh boy, could we tell.
— Sarah Cole (@iRNY) February 20, 2016
Behold the violently self-emptying pool.
The first night on the boat went well, but the second two saw people rushing to the toilets to throw up whilst others begged anti-nausea tablets and lay on the floor. Some strong-stomached individuals stayed at their laptops with steely determination, but most were forced to abandon theirs in favour of bathrooms and beds.
I found the strong travel-sickness tablets on the second night and was sufficiently befuddled by them to be singing sea shanties from Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag unhelpfully at people as they tried to stay upright. Sorry, guys.
The upshot of all this was a lot of people were out of action from 9pm to the early hours of the morning and the games seemed to suffer somewhat as we lost so much time to nausea. I think a fair few people had to downsize the ambitions for their games and that many were a long way from finished. Ours certainly was.
Anyway, we all slugged through two days of game-making and sea shanties and eventually disembarked in Trondheim, which is about halfway down Norway. We processed through the town like a wobbly convoy of Jack Sparrow impersonators and set up at WorkWork to showcase our myriad of peculiar games, whatever state they were in.
What a variety! Somebody had a game for iPad which involved treating the device like a baby, throwing it repeatedly in the air, with bonus points for tricks. Another had made the beautifully-named QWOPTOPUS. Ardo was one of my favourites, where the language was comprised of the controller button symbols. You can view some of these on itch.io HERE.
I realise that I sound pretty down on Splash Jam in this post. Sorry. That’s probably because I have my fatigue goggles on; I got back from Splash Jam a week ago but am still exhausted. The excursion was far more draining than expected, and it took me two days to acclimatise to solid ground again.
For a more balanced and evocative view I definitely recommend Simon Parkin’s wonderful post over on Eurogamer, but I wanted to write about my thoughts on Splash anyway.
Would I do Splash again? I’m honestly not sure. I did have a good time, but as much as I love game jams and the stunning scenery, I fear that between the distractions and the sea-sickness it may not be quite my cup of tea. Still, it’s a fine endeavour and I do genuinely hope it becomes a regular fixture.