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JournoDevSwap 2019: Day Three

It's the final push - and the reveal of the winners

The JournoDevSwap game jam is over. Our journalists-turned-developers had just four hours to complete their projects, while a fresh wave of developers-turned-journalists arrived to cover their efforts.

Plus, our developer judges spent time with each of the games to decide who would be taking home the coveted trophy. This year's winner is Alysia Judge and Saul Barrerre with their narrative title Lost For Words.

In case you missed the build-up to today's finale, you can read the first and second wave of reports through the links and below you can read up on everything that happened in the jam's closing hours.

How Does It Feel To Make a Game... When You Don't Know How To Make a Game?

By AJ Grand-Scrutton, Dlala Studios

When I was approached by Will, a few weeks back, I was excited to be part of this but had no idea what I was going to write about. The day comes around (today) and I still had no idea. Looking at the posts from the previous two days there are articles with substance and a real clear vision on what they are trying to communicate.

I rolled in a couple of hours late, still massively lacking any real vision for what I wanted to accomplish. I had a couple of loose ideas about pulling together a couple of questions, asking every team those questions and picking out different answers from different teams to throw together in an article. Effectively letting the teams do the heavy lifting for me and 'phoning in' the actual writing; but it felt like a cop out - because it was one.

Then whilst I was setting up Julia Hardy (TV, radio, live host and vlogger) came over to grab some leftover pizza and we got chatting. She mentioned about how she is conscious of the fact that she is usually the one doing the critiquing, not the making. I found it really interesting how it's not something I really thought about. How does it feel creating a game when your job usually focuses on a completely different aspect of the industry?

Teams got to work straight away this morning, as they only had four hours to complete their games

Something that gets spoken about by a lot by game developers - often designers - is how after you've been doing the job for a while it changes your view on games you're playing for pleasure. You start analysing things, pulling out the ideas you really like, commenting on aspects you would have done differently and at times the pleasure aspect can get lost. What I'd never thought about was how it felt going in from the other direction. How would our writers feel, after spending so long analysing games, actually having to create one?

One of my favourite quotes of the day came from speaking to James Batchelor (UK editor of I just wanted to chat to him about how he found the experience overall. One of the nice things about chatting with James is that he always speaks with real passion. It was clear that he was very proud of what he - and his team - had accomplished. I was then very surprised to hear him say that he feels like he wouldn't want to make a game again. He was glad he had done it, but if anything it had made him miss writing. When we pushed a little deeper onto the 'why' of this feeling he gave an incredible example.

"It is incredibly easy, when making video games is your career, to take for granted the different aspects in which we receive gratification for"

"When I'm writing every word feels like progress. Whatever the word is, it's still progress. With a game you can work for hours and hours on something and it can make only the smallest change in the background."

It is incredibly easy, when making video games is your career, to take for granted the different aspects in which we receive gratification for. As a programmer I always loved the pay-off of the 'solving the puzzle' side of things, but I hated the feelings of frustration that always came before it. I knew I no longer wanted to be a programmer when I felt that the feeling of reward was no longer gratifying, and that the feelings of frustration were taking up most of my time. For our journalist they went in with the drive to create something, but not necessarily the passion for each of the individual aspects.

Part of the magic of game jam's is that you get to work with people you haven't worked with before and get to learn a lot from the experiences of others. With JournoDevSwap it took this magic and pushed it into a completely different perspective.

As well as being for an important cause, I think one thing JournoDevSwap highlighted for me was that we can all benefit from getting in each other's shoes once in a while. Whether it's for a good cause, for fun or just for some perspective.

Journos Turned Devs?

By Andy Green, Bossa Studios

It's easy to slip into the mindset of thinking you know how to do someone else's job, especially if it looks easy.

Take photography; over recent years as cameras have become so cheap and readily available - everyone's a photographer. The average person would be forgiven for assuming they can take a good photo, and the thousands of amateur photographers posting their work online to an often-high standard show there's an element of truth to this.

Journalism or writing is only putting together words, surely? Most people can get ideas down in a blog post and publish them cheaply and quickly for the world to see. We all also have at least taken a GCSE English (or generation-appropriate equivalent) exam at school. So anyone can write...

Now take some journalists with their 'easy' day job and ask them to make a game - wait, that's not so easy. I've been making games a reasonable amount of time, and the idea of getting totally green game journalists and pairing them with a single (albeit talented) games development student to make a game in two days sounds kind of mad to me.

This year's cohort of developer-journalists and their student partners

On my way into the UKIE offices this morning, I was expecting everyone to be in early and throwing any old garbage into Unity in a blind panic to finish something for the deadline. I was going to swan around all of the teams talking about the pitfalls of scoping games correctly and reassuring teams that they'd done well given the circumstances, and to never give up.

I was also preparing myself for the reality that I was going to be that person. That person who tries to talk to these panic-stricken developers in the 11th hour. "Andy Green, Can I get a quote from you about your game?" I'd ask, only to be returned with either distant sleep-deprived stares, or angry grunts. Afterall at this point during the game jam, you're treading the thin line between game and hardly functional mess.

"The idea of totally green game journalists with a single (albeit talented) student making a game in two days sounds kind of mad to me"

Arriving at 08:55 - and being the first person to the game jam this morning - surprised me. I waited patiently until Leon, Member Relations Officer for UKIE let me in, only to have a couple of students turn up shortly after me, I began to wonder what was going on, was there even a game jam happening? As people began to filter in and I got chatting to games journalist Laura Kate-Dale, I was greeted cheerily with "Oh our game's playable already, can we show you it?".

Thinking this might be a fluke one-off, I spoke to other jam participants and found that actually, we had most teams pretty close to completion already. In fact, the vast majority of teams were more than happy to talk to me about their nearly finished games. The atmosphere was calm, almost serene - there was hardly any drama to unearth here.

Maybe making games is easy, and I've just been terrible at it all of this time? What's the secret to this ere atmosphere of calm? After some pleasantries at the beginning of the day I began to work my way around the teams in order to find out if they were genuinely finished, or simply just missing something.

Winners Alysia Judge and Saul Barrere

Upon starting my professional interviews with the would-be game developers, the real reasons started to become clear. There's clearly some talented students (responsible adults) helping, and as it turns out, games journalists know a little bit about video games. Starting to fear for my professional safety, I began to crack on and dig into this a little more.

Speaking with journalists Leon and Dominic Sacco I began to realise that this wasn't their first flirtation with games development. Both of these talented gentlemen had junctures in their lives where they'd questioned the prospect of game development verses games journalism before. I found Leon during his education wasn't even aware there was a pathway into games development (as no formal route existed in the 90s), and Dominic had strayed away from the idea of games development because of his own concerns over his mathematical ability, favouring English instead.

Yet these individuals seemed perfectly at home in context of this game jam. Leon as it turns out is handy with a portable midi controller, and is a criminal in the field of starting to make games yet never finishing using Gamemaker. Dominic's a self-described perfectionist, and produced the pixel art for their game from scratch, along with sourcing music for the game jam after finding it quite troublesome converting some of his own past music into chip tunes himself.

Laura and Alysia Judge became the creative leads for their respective projects taking their experiences from writing and their (un)healthy interest in games. Specifically scoping the project appropriately seemed to be keen takeaways from my talk with them. "Don't build Skyrim" Alysia quipped to me cheerily, instantly destroying one of my key pieces of advice to the would-be developers. Laura offered me a good insight into why as journalists they were keen to avoid some common early game-development pitfalls. She attributed this fear of the feature creep too many an interview with developers who'd stressed the importance of finishing games, and telling horror stories of having eyes bigger than their proverbial stomachs.

BBC 5live's Adam Rosser delivered me the words of wisdom "A good man always knows his limitations". Sage advice I thought, before he then quickly told me he was quoting Dirty Harry... Adam's one of the journo-devs with a more diverse background. And whilst hosting a games podcast, he admits to me "I can't pitch my interviews at a hard-core audience". Despite this he too has taken a hands-on approach to being a creative lead on his team, now citing a newly found respect for game development. I mentioned to him the notion of modern game development tools democratising the process - something which he'd said many-a-dev had explained to him - yet now only with the experience he'd begun to understand.

My last professional interview of the day was James Batchelor, my new boss. Prior to the jam he was an absolute game-dev novice, but he took (well deserved) pride in listing to me the frankly astonishing list of skills he'd learnt specifically during this jam. Animation, programming, level design - I was once again adjusting my proverbial collar, it was getting hot in here after all... James clearly took pity on my newly concerned state and for my own sense of professional wellbeing let me know of his newly found respect for game developers, especially indies.

What the eight teams present achieved over the past two days has genuinely impressed me. The unflappable responsible adults (students and programmers) helping these not-so-hapless journalists make a selection of surprisingly compete, well scoped and creative games has made me think that I need to be more humble next salary review. I've still got a chance However. We'll soon find out if this 'journalist' lark is for me...