I’m in Italy now, but before that I went to Iceland! And I did a whole lot of cool things there, all of which I plan to write about, but not necessarily in chronological order. While most of my trip has been fairly free form and flexible, the dates that I had in mind for Iceland were pretty much set in stone. The reason for this was that Joon and I had signed up for a game jam on a remote farm about three hours north of Reykjavik. Basically I had planned to start with AMAZE, be in Iceland for Isolation Jam, and then everything else could fit into the surrounding weeks.
The world’s foremost Icelandic game-developing farmer is a man by the name of Jóhannes Þorsteinsson. And Jóhannes has the admirable dream of running a game dev residency in Iceland. Unfortunately, he also happens to live on a farm that is so remote that the nearest town of Hvammstangi (Population: 580), is still a separated by a formidable amount of dirt road.
Luckily you can convince game developers to go just about anywhere if you just tell them they’ll be attending a game jam. So once a year Jóhannes organises Isolation Jam at his Kollafoss game dev residency. Joon and I applied immediately once sign-ups were open.
Marín agreed to drive us there, and new Icelandic friends Owen and Nanna came along for the ride. After meeting up with Jóhannes we had about an hour to kill while waiting for the others to arrive by bus. We opted to spend this time messing around in an old school playground. It was sooooo fun.
The first night of Isolation Jam has nothing planned. It’s just a time to hang out, get to know everyone and play video games. We had loads of fun with things like Jesus vs Dinosaurs, Scumbags (a Freelives prototype) and yet more Drawful.
The next morning was equally relaxed as we all slowly emerged for breakfast at our own pace. Around lunch time, we all hiked up the hill to “get inspired” before the jamming could start. After passing some horses, a dead tractor and several swampy areas we reached the summit (If I can call it that) and Jóhannes informed us that the jam theme was “all this”.
He was of course talking about the location, the empty seas of grass, the isolation itself, and if you took it too literally: the farming. We all took it too literally and pretty much made a bunch of farming games.
The next two and a half days were just pure game dev bliss. With the help of Pavel (a talented and extremely chilled CCP artist) I ended up making something that I really like. It’s called Sky Farm and it’s about optimising little farm designs on a floating chunk of land. You should play it, it’s pretty good, I promise!
Isolation jam works really well is definitely one of the best (if not the best) game jams I’ve ever been to. And I think there are a number of reasons for this, several of which are not easily reproducible anywhere else:
- The location. Aside from cultivating a distraction free environment, being on a farm in the middle of nowhere (in Iceland!) affects you. It IS inspiring. And the fact that we’ve all come from so far to this one weird place to do this one weird thing makes everyone even more committed to doing the thing.
- Having your own bed at the jam venue. Game jams often involve not sleeping, and if they do it’s often for short spurts on the cold hard floor of a well lit room. Being able to pop home and sleep in a bed is a luxury. Having a bed just meters away in the other end of the house is as good as it gets. Also, being able to shower is great.
- The length of the jam: Having access to a bed is no good if you haven’t got time to sleep in it. Isolation Jam is roughly two and a half days of jam time, maybe a bit more. This is a great length because it means you end up scoping for a 48-hour jam, but actually have a enough time to take care of yourself and not be rushing the whole time. I can’t remember the last jam where I was able to take it easy, play a few board-games, and still have just enough time to complete an ambitious jam project.
- We were well fed. Jóhannes and Haraldur did all of the cooking (and almost all of the washing up!), which was really awesome of them and certainly allowed the rest of us to just be creative and productive. Thanks guys! Usually if a game jam is catered at all it means pizza twice a day at very specific times. Not the case here! We ate delicious and healthy food every day, and always had access to a plethora of good things in the fridge. Jóhannes is such a welcoming host!
- The pacing of the jam. The meat of the jam may be near constant work, but the nice relaxed buffer on either side makes a huge difference. Jams can often be a case of crunching on a Sunday afternoon/evening, which is always stressful. There’s always that nagging piece of your brain reminding you how tired you are and that you have work in the morning. Similarly, the build up period got me in the perfect mood for making games. I was well rested and positively chomping at the bit by the time the jam started.
- The people. Obviously having great people is important for any social event (and game jams are exactly that). But it’s still worth mentioning that we had an awesome group of fun people. Then again, the type of person who is willing to travel to remote Icelandic farm for a game jam is always likely to be awesome.
After the jam I spent a couple more days polishing the game in Reykjavik, and then “released” it on Itch.io. This year I’ve been trying to shift my focus onto finishing things a bit more, and Sky Farm was a perfect candidate to practice those skills.
It was obvious from fairly early on that Sky Farm had some promise, and after posting it publicly, it became clear that I wasn’t the only one who liked the game. The prototype has been really well received, hooking a good number of people for sizeable amounts of time.
I’m excited about all my game ideas, but now I’m especially excited about this one. Possibly more so than my Stugan game. It feels like it has a clear direction to explore. I know where to dig. And I know how I want to scope the game.
Just got to find some more time to keep working on it, which is proving rather difficult.
Please enjoy this gif of Joon and Jo rolling down a hill. We tried this is several combinations before eventually finding a method that worked with four people.