Lessons in Prehistoric Love & Game Jams
I’ll start off this article by pre-empting your question with an answer – “Game Jam”. Usually comprised of several teams of 2 or 3 people, the Game Jam typically occurs over an intense weekend where programmers, artists, designers and coffee collaborate to build a game from scratch.
The purpose of Game Jams varies. Some are organized by big-name studios to foster the design process of their creative teams, allowing members a chance to develop their own ideas while still having access to top-of-the-line equipment. Others function on a local level, fostering the game development community, providing indie developers, students and artists alike a chance to network (provided they can bring their own computer).
But whether the Jam takes place in hotels, garages, or in a million dollar studio, the idea is always the same: the team is small, the deadline is looming, and there is usually a theme involved. With the clock ticking from the get-go, Game Jams are an exercise in design that force creators to quickly strip away the over-complication and feature creep that can slow down production. It’s game design distilled. There’s no time for epic stories, astounding cut-scenes, or multiple systems. Instead, a mechanic is singled out and then showcased.
As a result, what emerges from a weekend of little sleep tends to be short, to the point, and probably out of left field.
So there you are, the answer to your question: How does a dating simulation game about a t-rex and a girl find its way out of the ether and onto your browser?
Its game mechanic of choice is, well, choices. Like a streamlined version of Mass Effect that ditched all those side-combat missions we had to complete in order to get a love-interest cut-scene, this game tests players by having them pick the most appropriate dialog options.
You are the main character in the story – a high school girl with a massive crush on a fellow student, who just so happens to be a T-Rex. In the interest of one day fulfilling your desire for mammal-on-cloaca love, the goal is to try to keep the date going. Or not get eaten. I can’t decide. The finale spectrum doesn’t over complicate itself, sticking to “Good”, “Normal”, or “Terrible” outcomes.
There’s a lot of obvious questions here – such as “Where did this dinosaur come from” or “How can he talk?” or “Why am I attracted to reptiles?”. But addressing these items would likely have taken more plot than the team had time dedicate. Instead, they wisely decide to abandon the idea of “OMG, it’s a dinosaur” all together, simplifying the plot to centre around the mystery of a broken ukulele. This only serves to enhance the inanity of the game, as it becomes clear that this talking, romantic t-rex also plays instruments, and yet still nobody seems to notice that I AM IN FACT DATING A DINOSAUR.
Despite Jurassic Love’s short turnaround time, there’s still attention to detail. The game has the courtesy to provide a tutorial stage, allowing the players to warm up for their date by picking out which barrette they want to wear. Visually, the backgrounds and characters are great. The artwork looks completely professional, and must have required a superhuman effort from the one-person art team to have been completed with colouring and shading included. And while it may not seem like much, the added feature of being able to skip quickly through dialog shows an attention to player usability that increases the likelihood of a second playthrough.
To be clear, the gameplay of Jurassic Heart is not cutting edge. Decisions are fairly straightforward, and there are only 3 or 4 choices to make in the whole game. Despite all this, Jurassic Heart still manages to entertain by embracing the limits of its scope and staying fully aware of its silliness. If nothing else, it serves as a good example of what can materialize when game makers put their fingers to the keyboard with a lot of caffeine, a little sleep, and a free weekend.