At Codeglue, we’re always looking for new and exciting ways to challenge ourselves as game developers. That’s why twice a year we organize a game jam, where our team has one week to create a brand-new game from scratch. The result? Van Hellswing, a fast-paced action game where players try to survive waves of bats. In this post, we’ll take you behind the scenes of our game jam and share the process of bringing Van Hellswing to life.
At Codeglue, we have a long tradition of organizing game jams, which is a week where the whole company works on prototype games in small teams. Each jam has a theme with some constraints, and then everyone in the company is free to present their idea to the group. After the presentations everyone gets to vote and the winning pitches get to be turned into prototypes during the jam. The game jam of 2021 had the theme of Netflix, and in that jam, Van Hellswing was conceived under the name Gunslinger.
These game jams allow us to rapidly test out new, unique, and silly ideas! The prototypes we create during these jams will then form the basis of potential original games that we will continue to work on.
The pitch for Gunslinger was straightforward and to the point: Inspired by the Netflix show Castlevania (itself of course based on the famous games) we wanted to make an FPS where the player would play as a modern-day vampire hunter, trusting their grappling hook and sacred shotgun to get the work done. It would be a battle against endless waves of enemies and the focus of the jam would be to make the movement feel as good as we could get it during the week so moving around would be hard, but very rewarding.
We outlined all the mechanics we wanted into the game in detail and got to work. We decided on a retro look to honor the old Castlevania games. The main mechanics we focussed on were the grappling hook, a dash, and a shotgun jump! Stringing these moves together would allow the player to quickly maneuver and dodge all the different enemy types we would throw their way.
During the jam, we constantly communicated, which I have always found super important. Things can change rather quickly in a jam, and with our focus being to make everything we added really feel good, we had to cut systems and ideas if they were starting to drag for too long. After three out of the five days were done, we had pretty much everything we needed in the game and we started to polish, adding little additional systems to make existing systems feel nicer and particles and sounds to make everything have weight. These are usually the things you don’t have time for in a game jam, but as it was our focus, we really wanted to nail this step.
By the end of the week, we had a build that felt rather polished for a game jam game, containing 4 different enemy types, and a movement system that would lay the base for what we would eventually build upon for Van Hellswing!
9 months later we decided to continue developing on Gunslinger, trying to build a demo to see if the rest of the world was as enthusiastic about this no-nonsense shooter as we were. For this demo, we wanted to iterate on what was already there, make it even better, and figure out some things that we didn’t have time for during the jam.
We wanted to expand the movement system with mechanics like wall-running and momentum retainment, create more elaborate and interesting enemies to fight, and tie everything together with a slick level that encourages players to move fast, constantly trying new routes and tying together leaps, runs, jumps, double jumps, dashes, and grapples to stay ahead of the horde!
This is also where our biggest learning point happened because, unlike the game jam, the communication lines broke down. While the team was pretty clear on what they wanted to make, this was not in line with the expectations from management. As already mentioned in the first section of the article, communication is incredibly important in game development, and as the two parties were misaligned, by the time this was corrected, the game was in an odd spot.
The team had completed the movement set but had not yet started on the iteration of different enemy types that could take full advantage of that move set when this misalignment came to light and we had to change plans abruptly. The budget was running out and the demo needed to launch soon. We had to scrape together what we had and start pushing toward the finish line.
Sometimes this is the harsher side of game development, where something needs to get out of the door faster than you would like. Nevertheless, we adjusted the vision for something that was in range and worked our damndest to exceed that goal.
As sad as the cut content was for everyone that worked on it, it does offer a shiny glance into what the future might hold for Van Hellswing! We also could not be more proud of what we managed to build. We feel it lives up to the original vision, and exceeds the original demo we had in a couple of really cool and exciting ways! The game looks and feels great and we cannot wait to see what the players will do with it.
On Friday the 7th of April the demo of Van Hellswing was released! You can download it now here: https://codeglue.itch.io/van-hellswing
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We’re incredibly proud of what our team was able to accomplish during our game jam, and we’re thrilled to see Van Hellswing out in the world for players to enjoy. We hope this post gives you some insights into our development process and inspires you to take on your own creative challenges. Stay tuned for more updates from Codeglue!
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