It was a gruelling challenge, but we successfully made a playable game in 48 hours for gm(48), the GameMaker game jam from the community of /r/GameMaker. While we didn’t win—not by a long shot—in producing it, we learnt a lot of really important lessons about game design, both from our own processes as well as our reviewers.

In making our game, we had a theme to follow: countdowns. Simple, right? But we wanted it to be more than just the usual “time limit” seen in so many games. We wanted it to be a core gameplay mechanic. That’s what led to “Turnover”, a game based around betrayal, strategy, and fast reactions. New enemies would keep spawning all the time, meaning the player wouldn’t be left alone for long. The player, armed, would be able to shoot at enemies at their discretion. But doing so guarantees the player’s eventual death: the enemies keep on coming. This is where our countdown timer kicks in: if the player does not kill any enemies in a set time frame, existing enemies are turned into allies. Hence, they’re “turned over” to your team. This was supposed to force the player to think tactically and make decisions: do you shoot enemies in self-defense, or try to evade them, knowing they will become your allies against new enemies if you hold on for just a little longer?

At least, that was the idea. The reality turned into more of a horde shooter, with the player simply either avoiding combat altogether, or mowing down as many as they could before going down themselves. The reviews we got from the game showed us a further problem: to those outside of our design team, the mechanics and rules of the game were unclear, leading to the game’s “pièce de résistance”, the turnover mechanics, largely misunderstood and ignored.

Not what we envisioned.

This taught us an important lesson in game design. Mechanics have to be clear to the player, and well balanced. Our ambition led us to pursue ideas we could not possibly balance by the project deadline, nor make clear enough for players to possibly understand-at least, not without an instruction manual. Of course, this was a two-day project, but the same principle can be extended to games with longer deadlines. There is such a thing as “overcomplication”, and while that line may be blurry sometimes, knowing it’s there is extremely important.

I am happy that we did this Game Jam. It really showed us what we can and cannot do, and some of the things we need to think about when designing a game. We’re grateful for all those who took the time to review the game and tell us what you thought about it.

You can try out the game here!

-Carl Plata