From Game Jam to Hex Heroes

In May 2013, we both felt like joining our school’s game jam at the end of the month. I had just graduated and Mario was just starting his last semester, it was the perfect time to take the weekend to prototype a new game. Game jams last 48 hours and developers can use any tools to create a game. Although we’re given a theme at the start, we had already been planning the game the week before.

Before the jam, we knew we wanted to make a Wii U game. There was just so much potential to create something innovative, even in just a weekend. Being fans of Nintendoland, we wanted to expand on the party genre in a more complex way, with one player on the gamepad and a four-player split screen on the TV. Eventually, we decided on making a cassic RTS game, using Warcraft and Age of Empires as inspiration, among other games.

The first step in planning for a game jam is identifying your resources. This doesn’t mean just the game engine and software we plan to use, but our own personal skills. With a part time animator and only 48 hours, our art had to feel complete with minimal animation. As a result, we decided on a board game look and feel, where the characters would be on wooden bases and the terrain would be made of hexagons.

We coaxed a couple of friends of ours to help us during the game jam. In the end, the art team was comprised of a building modeler, an animator, and Mario, who modeled characters. Two programmers helped on AI and player actions. and I programmed the gamepad and UI. By the end of the jam, we had a small demo that controlled all four players at once as they chopped trees and battled wolves and the gamepad view that could scroll over the action and place buildings on the terrain. There wasn’t much of a goal or a semblance of a level, but the assets were there and the audience could see our ultimate aim. We took home “most innovative concept” and that was a win for us.

In planning our game before the jam, we sacrificed any real way to incorporate the jam’s theme in a meaningful way. “Ascension”, the theme of the gamejam, became nothing more than the working title. After a couple months of bouncing names back and forth, we decided on something we thought sounded whimsical and worked with the theme. Mario’s obsession with alliteration bred the name “Hex Heroes”. The name both referred to the aesthetic of the game, and to the plot he had in mind, where a hex had befallen the land you fight to save.

In the following weeks, we met often to plan out our next steps and prioritize the work ahead of us. During one of these meetings we decided to make it our mission to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, marrying the social experience of local play with the core experience of an RTS. This mash up of two genres invoked Mario’s revelation of the ‘paRTS’ (par-tee-ess). Like most puns, it was worthy of facepalm, but we had to use it.

We’re giving it our all to make Hex Heroes a must-have for Wii U owners.  We can’t wait to start showing off the game and the progress that we’ve made so far. We have big plans and lots of work to do!

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