Molydeux Reveux: The lessons of Molyjam

May 26, 2012

Writer Mike Walbridge’s goal: play every Molyjam game and tell you about as many as he can. This is the final installment. Check out the archive for more.

I have done it! I have played every single Molyjam game I could possibly play. Some I couldn’t play because of broken links—others, because I lacked the necessary software (a few phone games) or hardware (like a dancepad!). A few I was able to watch, instead of play.

Some stat points:

  • There are about 250 game entries.
  • Of these, about a third were interesting in some way.
  • Only about 15-50 are actually fun/entertaining to play, depending on your opinion.

Lessons and general experience

There were also some common themes that perhaps any experienced game designer knows, but the layman might not. Still it’s possible that playing through all these is a great way to help devs brainstorm for ideas, big and small. Playing through all the games was interesting and educational if you like game design and theory. I would not recommend playing them all if you mostly just want to play something that is fun to play. You have to appreciate the 48-hours factor going into these. Things I noticed:

  • Unless you’re trying to change audiences, particularly from adults to kids, it is not enough to have a new theme on an old mechanic (like substituting hugs for kills).
  • It is enough to make a new spin or variation on an old mechanic, so long as it is actually playing differently.
  • How a game plays is the best way to get your attention and mind engaged, even more so than graphics, music, or writing. It takes exceptional writing, which games rarely have, to break this rule.
  • Accessibility matters.
  • Simplicity: the plug ones were the best.
  • Design: the better or worse your designs are, the better the tightness or worse the ambiguity of the resulting game. Some of the tweets really should not have had a game made around them. Others yielded quality experiences that were both numerous and various. More on that below.

Most commonly used tweets

Some of the tweets inspired a very large number of games. I’d like to comment on the game spawned by these tweets as a whole.

“Game where your arms are controlled by a psychopath who keeps firing guns at innocent people. You must turn away from them and run”: This one had the widest variety of ideas attached to it and the broadest spectrum of quality. Some of the best and worst were to be found in this tweet, which attests to its possibilities.

“What if you lived in a world where all guns are required to be plugged into wall sockets? Now THAT would be a tactical shooter wouldn’t it?”: This was the most specific tweet as far as mechanics go and this, I suspect, is why I liked the games from this tweet the most. This had the largest percentage of great games. Ironically, it was the least poetic, artsy, or alternative of all the tweets made, the least typically Molydeuxian. Sometimes the best idea is the one that is still closest to the norm. The evolution of arts, styles, and -isms is always gradual, isn’t it?

“You are a Pigeon who must go around the city trying to persuade business men not to jump off buildings by retrieving items from their home.”: Most of these were flat, boring, and unimaginative. One was touching as a brief “art game”, but this tweet gave itself too many boundaries.

“You control a mystical rabbit at a bus stop during Winter. You must find as many creative ways as possible to make people miss their buses.”: This puts too much a burden on the programmer. How much room for creativity can you design in 48 hours? There were a lot of bold attempts on this tweet, most of them were poorly executed.

“What if the pause button was a weapon? Until developers think outside the box we’re going downhill.”: This idea wasn’t actually that creative— Braid has pretty much done this, and in way more styles. Still, there was more than one good game from this.

“Imagine carrying a radioactive baby in a pitch black environment, your baby would act as a torch. Rocking the baby intensifies the glow etc”: Too narrow. Almost every single game here had a button-mashing mechanic to ensure you still had light, which made these games stale quickly. Molydeux’s fault!

“Romantic parkour game in which you and the love of your life must hold hands and jump around a city evading death and injury”: Bad idea. Most people ended up coming up with rhythm games or co-op jumping games. The former implementation was highly unoriginal and worse than what it copies, the former was entertaining and different but I fail to see how you could make an entire game off it.

“You are a bear but for some reason your oxygen comes from hugging people. Problem is that hugging people breaks their bones.”: This is an attempt at making the player feel bad for the actions he must take but the premise was ridiculous. Almost all of these were stupid and reduced-to-2D top-down and side-scrolling versions of Pac-Man.

“You are a scarecrow in a world with just 1 bird”: This got way too many attempts and has similar emotion-invoking ambitions as the bear tweet. You can’t design a game based on that. There is no mechanical premise here. There are limitations. So what? What are the narrative and mechanical possibilities of this? Not many.

“Survival Horror combined with Bowling”: Little thought put into this one also. Most of the games here were simply actions games where you bowled instead of shot. Strictly speaking though, it is actually unrestrictive enough to let make a good game out of it, which is probably why this tweet had some of the largest variety of approaches. Most of the ones made were too ambitious or simply not well-executed, though.

The best of Molyjam

The Molyjam was by all its own standards and ambitions a success, even if not all the games made were. The most helpful criticism I can offer is for Molydeux to write better tweets and teams to use better tweets. Some of the best ones were the singletons using tweets no one else used.

If you want to get a varied taste of the game jam and just want to play the best, here are my personal top ten, with some honorable mentions:

  1. A Civilized World
  2. In the Dark, the Blind Can See
  3. Recidivism
  4. You are the Road
  5. The Shadowland Prophesy
  6. These Automatic Arms.
  7. Nebulous Hero
  8. Plug and Slay
  9. Cellxplosion
  10. Dokideux Panikku

Honorable mentions:

  • Tether
  • Six
  • Blindness
  • Pause Pirate!
  • Octopi Everything

Congrats to Molydeux for inspiring a worldwide gamejam and to those who participated and made the inspiration into reality. I was not able to digest all these games in 48 hours!