This past weekend, thousands of people gathered all over the world to develop games in the span of 48 hours during the annual Global Game Jam. It’s an event where people drink a lot of coffee, cry while debugging, and come out on the other side with weird, wonderful little projects. Boomba Cat is one of these — a multiplayer competition to see which Roomba reigns supreme and earns the right to have a cute kitty sitting on top of it. It’s available for PC and can be downloaded from the Global Game Jam website, and the developers are working on releasing a full version.
Four players can play Boomba Cat at once, and each controls a colorful robot in an arena that floats in space. The countdown starts with a minute and 40 seconds on the clock, and the goal is to knock other robots off and fill up a white meter by avoiding damage. Whoever fills up their meter gets a reward — a cat dropping onto their Roomba from the sky with a startled yowl.
While the cat is riding around on their robot, the player continuously earns points. And other players, of course, try to knock them off the platform and earn the cat for themselves. Whoever has the most points wins. It’s delightful, and I had a stupid amount of fun when I played the demo at the Los Angeles Global Game Jam site at the University of Southern California.
Boomba Cat is an effort from 11 people, most of whom met for the first time at the Global Game Jam. Each year, participants are given a theme as a springboard for their games. This year’s was “transmission,” which can mean anything the game jam participants want it to mean. Some folks created games around viruses or picking up radio signals, for instance. Boomba Cat’s team member Ben Mears says that their project gradually evolved from a Marco Polo-type co-op game featuring player avatars that looked like hockey pucks. In the initial idea, one player would be blindfolded and have to find the other players on the map based on audio cues and controller vibrations. However, they decided that the gameplay wasn’t engaging enough.
“We also started to focus on making the player interactions with each other really fun,” said Mears in an email to GamesBeat. “Then someone on the team pointed out that the hockey puck characters looked like those popular vacuum cleaner robots, adding a cat to ride on the bots was the next logical step and then we had our final game concept, then we actually found a reference GIF of two animated cats on a robot vacuum.”
By day, Mears is the games community manager at Side Effects Software, the company that created the 3D animation software Houdini. During the game jam, he took on the roles of 2D graphic artist, sound effects engineer, and producer. Many of the folks involved tackled various tasks, and some people took it upon themselves to learn new tools like the game engine Unity and Houdini.
“Here’s a quick rundown of what our team members worked on for the most part: Paul did art and programming, Alex did music, Ken did art, Drake did art and producing, Ruben did sound effects, Sara did voice acting — mostly cat noises — Christopher did music, Matt did programming, Shrek did art, Martin did art, and Wyatt did programming and producing,” said Mears. “Teamwork!”
This year was Mears’s fifth Global Game Jam, though he’s participated in other events such as Indie Speed Run and MolyJam before. Some of the other team members had participated in Ludum Dare and Nordic Game Jam — and for others, this was their first time. Mears says that it’s always challenging to develop a game in such a short amount of time, but it’s an exciting undertaking.
“Also, in literally the last hour of the game jam, we ran into a major issue with getting a final build of our game created, but our coders tackled the challenge head-on and figured out a solution just before the submission deadline — two minutes before the deadline to be exact,” said Mears. “If you participate in a game jam you will learn something new, guaranteed.”
Boomba Cat got a nod at the Global Game Jam’s closing ceremony at USC, winning the Excellence in Gameplay award alongside another title created at that location. Based on how people responded to the game — and winning accolades doesn’t hurt — Mears says the team is going to try to polish the prototype and release a full version of the game.
“After showing Boomba Cat at the USC GGJ showcase and seeing how much fun all the players had, as well as winning an ‘Excellence in Gameplay’ award, we are thinking that we should probably keep working on the game a bit more and release it as soon as we’re able to,” said Mears. “Of course, this is a challenge because everyone on the team has jobs, families, other responsibilities, etc. but the good news is that we were able to finish most of the game during the game jam. Now it’s just a matter of fixing bugs, adding more content, and making minor changes to improve the game overall.”