Pongball & Amnesia Fortnight 2017
Hi people!

April's been a pretty quiet month on the Patreon front thanks to Amnesia Fortnight. Once again, I've coordinated some community activities, which this year resulted in (among other things) a game called Pongball - you can find source code and builds on GitHub and a daily summary of development on the forums.

This post will cover the history of community participation in AF, share some of the contributions I gave to each of this year's community projects, and then reflect on why I found it rewarding. Feel free to skim/skip to the end!

For anybody who's not aware, Amnesia Fortnight is Double Fine's internal two week game jam, where they step back from their larger development projects, remind themselves that making games is fun, and sometimes wind up with a prototype or two that lead to future projects.

The past three Amnesia Fortnight events have been "public", where Double Fine has invited supporters to vote on which pitches get prototyped and streamed and/or documented their development progress before giving prototype builds to supporters to play.

When Amnesia Fortnight last ran in 2014, a number of community members were disappointed that Patrick Hackett's pitch for "Bad Golf 2" (Bad Golf had also been unsuccessfully pitched during Amnesia Fortnight 2012) wouldn't be made and expressed interest in trying to make it themselves. I helped secure permission for that to happen and coordinated community development of a prototype based on Patrick's initial notes.

With Bad Golf: Community Edition as a solid proof of concept, I wanted to do something to further grow and solidify community participation in Amnesia Fortnight. I was given permission to pull together a small group of Bad Golf: CE alumni, and we worked together on video pitches for three possible community developed games:

  • Amnesia Adventure (a point and click adventure game with differently styled scenes, initially suggested by TimeGentleman)
  • The Lost Dev Team (a puzzle platformer in the vein of The Cave or The Lost Vikings initially suggested by Anemone)
  • Pongball (multiplayer pong with pinball-like playfields, initially suggested by lightsoda)

These were released alongside Double Fine's pitches and were voted on by community members within the forums. The successful project would end up being featured in some of Double Fine's videos, be included in the collection of prototype downloads made available to supporters, and have access to a number of Double Fine developers for advice and feedback in the form of daily Q&A "mentor streams" that I hosted.

Pongball was selected to be the primary project, though we all three community pitches receiving development attention across Amnesia Fortnight plus the surprise addition of a fan-made tabletop RPG based on Psychonauts called Tablenauts (thanks Feddlefew!). The Bad Golf: CE codebase also received a small update to get it compiling with Unity 5.6 (thanks InvaderErik!).

While we had fewer contributors (this year's Amnesia Fortnight had lower visibility overall), I think that in many ways we accomplished more than what we were able to with Bad Golf. Pongball has a full game loop, has a more cohesive feature set, and is in a comparatively good state to receive further contributions moving forward.

I credit this mostly to the efforts of lightsoda, and bobsayshilol in getting an initial codebase set up ahead of time, which allowed us to hit the ground running and have shorter time-to-implementation for most contributions.

All up, the Pongball contributors list is about 20 people long, and is comprised of a super wide variety of experience, skillsets and enthusiasm. I'm very thankful for and proud of the efforts of all of these people. You can find them listed in the daily update posts, and many of them participated in the "team photo" above, which was created by kednar.

For fun, here's a gource video showing GitHub contributions over time featuring A Pong of Balls, a music track made by lightsoda for the game.

My own contributions to Pongball were primarily in the form of coordination, repo admin and advice, though I did roll up my sleeves and do some programming along the way. I also recorded the pitch video, contributed some concept art and designed the initial logos/icons that the game uses, which you can see below:

The Lost Dev Team was the second community project to go live. It was primarily lead by Jenni. It was the project that I think I contributed least to, but is definitely one that I'm looking forward to helping out with in the future if opportunity arises.

For The Lost Dev Team, I contributed storyboards and timing for the pitch video and a couple of pieces of concept art, which you can see below:

Tablenauts was a suprise addition to the community AF lineup. Feddlefew had been working on the concept in her spare time and had gotten it to a point where she felt she could benefit from community input.

Unfortunately, Tablenauts didn't quite get to a point where it could be playtested before the end of Amnesia Fortnight, but I'm hopeful that that will happen soon, and I think  it's the community AF game that I'm probably most excited to see realised.

I contributed a bunch of proof reading and this piece of art to go along with the announcement that Tablenauts would be a part of community  AF activities.

Amnesia Adventure was the last community project to get started, arriving 6 days after the commencement of AF development. Jenni, TimeGentleman, flesk and myself were looking to help guide the project through development, but unfortunately TimeGentleman and my own availability became limited.

There was some great brainstorming and although things got a little bogged down after the first week, it looks like Amnesia Adventure is likely to grow over time - on some levels, it may be the most ambitious of the community projects, but it's also the most scalable. Once the start/endgame/hub scene is nailed down and some documentation goes up for how to add new scenes, the game can grow to include any number of contributed "memory" sequences. I'm really looking forward to contributing a little to this project when I'm more available.

In addition to helping to guide some of the early brainstorming and reviewing pull requests, I also edited together the pitch video and contributed some concept art, which you can see below:

It's difficult to know which aspects of this year's Amnesia Fortnight have been most rewarding to me personally. I'm very happy to have helped spawn three new F/OSS projects that look like they'll have at least little momentum moving forward beyond AF.

Although they were fairly loose and unprofessional (note to self, get a backing screen that's big enough to handle my camera's FOV!), the "mentor streams" as a whole give a really interesting and diverse set of perspectives/advice on how to approach and get the most out of prototyping. With Double Fine not doing constant streaming across development, it was also nice to have them as a daily event. I'm still hoping to wrangle one final one that focuses on how and when to step back from prototypes, and how to scale up from a prototype into a full game, but I'm not certain whether or not that will happen.

Having Pongball featured in the Amnesia Fortnight 2017 Closing Ceremony and having builds added to the supporter downloads solidifies and formalises community participation in Amnesia Fortnight. It's a super big deal for the contributors, and opens the door for more stuff to happen next time.

Ultimately though, I think that the things I will be most proud of will be the impact that these projects have had on the lives of participants. It wasn't until I started reaching out to people ahead of Amnesia Fortnight starting that I really began to appreciate Bad Golf: CE's legacy. I started hearing stories about how working on Bad Golf helped inspired and empowered people. It helped some land jobs or follow dreams they didn't think they were ready to pursue. Participating helped others find confidence and reassurance to overcome personal hurdles.

I had never imagined the kind of positive impact that this stuff could have for people, and I hope that it's obvious why I was willing to put my other projects on hold for this.

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