Earlier this month, we hosted the third annualGMTK Game Jam, which is a game-making marathon where participants have to design, develop, and release a game in just 48 hours.
That game had to fit a theme, and this yearthe theme was “only one”, which encouraged designers to make games with only one bullet, or only one room, or only one button.
The response was enormous, with well over7, 000 people joining the jam, over 2, 600 games submitted before the deadline, and more than46, 000 ratings.
It was more than twice as big as 2018’s jam, and – once again – thebiggest game jam on itch.
In fact, it was so big that it temporarilycrashed the site’s servers.
Which was a bit, uh, stressful, seeing as it happenedin the last few moments of submission.
But with a slight time extension and some technicalhelp from the site’s staff, we got there in the end.
And so, as ever, I want to send the jam offby showing the 20 games that I think are most deserving of note and attention.
UnfortunatelyI couldn’t check out all 2, 000-odd uploads, but I did play over 100 of the top-rankinggames to help find these personal favourites.
So without further ado, let’s jump in tothe rundown of the best games of the GMTK Game Jam for 2019.
Which is in no particular order.
Lots of games in the jam went for the oneprojectile idea.
Like Missile Control, where you guide a bullet after its shot.
Or Unloaded, where you shoot a bullet, but then draw it back to you with a big magnet.
Of the lot: Kickochet is the best one I played.
So, playing as this cute little ninja, youthrow out a single shuriken per level – with the goal of hitting every red cube, and turningthem green.
Once the shuriken is in play, it bounces off walls, rips through enemy turretsand triggers explosive barrels.
And your only control is to, well, as thename suggests: kick it.
Walk up close to the shuriken and click the mouse button and youcan boot the spiky projectile and alter its trajectory.
I don’t know how it doesn’tshred this dude’s foot into a million pieces, but no mind – it turns the game into a deadly, fast-paced football match where you’re trying to keep up with your own shuriken and pingingit off in new directions to get around corners and defeat bad guys.
Helpfully, the game has a little slow-mo whenyou get near the shuriken, so you can fiddle with the angles and line up the perfect shot.
This is a really fun game and could easily be expanded into a full release.
Well doneto Casey “Boz” Weeks and team When you first play Project1on, you mightnot get why it’s such a high ranking game in the jam.
So you move a circle to a yellowsquare and you win? Is that it? But then, suddenly, the goal is impossibleto reach.
And you’re encouraged to hit shift to change view.
And at this point, you’llget to see what all the fuss is about.
Turns out, this isn’t some rinky dink 2Dplatformer.
It’s a 3D world – just, you can only move on one flat 2D plane.
So inthis 3D view, you can shift the entire world about to get platforms and obstacles intomore useful positions, then flip back to 2D and complete the stage.
Sometimes you’ll be bouncing back and forthbetween the two views.
And you don’t just pull and push the level on a single axis, mind: but you can flip and rotate the 3D world however you like: though the controls area bit fiddly.
But ultimately this is a terrifically clevergame with huge amounts of potential and I hope creator arthur740210 – very catchy name- continues to work on this.
One of the problems I find with tower defencegames is, after you’ve put down a few good towers, you’re pretty much set.
The enemyforce can’t possibly get past your ironclad defences, and you basically just busy yourselfwith upgrading your towers until the end of the round.
TowerBag definitely doesn’t fall into thistrap: because you only have one tower! You plop this thing down in the path of a waveof enemies, and then when foes start approaching from another angle, you need to lift the toweronto your back, and walk it over to the other side of the screen.
To stop you from just sitting underneath thetower and waiting for the next chance to move, the game litters the map with collectiblecoins: forcing you to juggle between picking up loot and moving your tower.
And when youhave enough money, the only way to upgrade your single tower is to lift it up and physicallytake it to the upgrade tile in the middle of the map You definitely do lose a certain amount of strategyby only having one tower – but you gain so much movement and dynamism by dramaticallylimiting the player’s options.
So maybe, in a post jam version, the developer could seewhat the game was like with two, or maybe three radically different towers.
I’d liketo see how that changes things.
One of the biggest revelations of the jam, I think, is that limiting the players options can quickly turn any genre into a puzzle game.
A gamewhere you can jump is a platformer – but a game where you can only jump once per levelimmediately becomes a tricky conundrum of figuring out when and where to utilise thatsparse resource.
We definitely see this in the retro dungeoncrawler Castle Demonstone, where you can only carry one item at a time.
Instead of beinga mighty solider with a backpack full of swords, shields, potions, and magic spells, you haveto think carefully and logically about which item you pick up, and when.
You can’t keepa potion in your back pocket, but instead must navigate back to it when you’re hurt.
And suddenly the game becomes a stealth experience, because you don’t have room in your bagfor a weapon.
It’s a clever twist on things.
And for anyonewho has anxiety about overencumberance mechanics or leaving a potion until the very end ofthe RPG, this game should prove a cathartic release.
Making a game with only one level might seemlike an easy way to cheat the theme of this jam.
But not the way developer captain_carusodoes it.
In Level 1_1, you’ll play through a seeminglysimple stage as Normalboy: a capable platforming hero who can jump, dash, and swim.
The stageis easy going, but there’s clearly more to it than meets the eye Ypu next unlock Diveboy: a character who canbreath underwater, but can only stay out of the water for five seconds.
Now, that samelevel has a whole new feel, as you explore a secret submarine passageway that Normalboycould never have seen.
Skyboy is different again: this dude plays the level upside down, revealing another secret route full of clouds and flying enemies.
Each character has both advantages and disadvantages.
Greedyboy, for example, is very fast, but dies if you don’t constantly feed him coins.
While Dashboy can dash farther, but dies if he touches the water.
A single stage becomesa varied and challenge-filled playground, because your avatar is constantly throwingcurveballs.
And because my mind often wanders to the topicof metroidvanias, I started to envision a game where you’d need to play as differentcharacters to fully explore one world.
And one hero could modify the environment to makeit beneficial to another: like having Normalboy open a giant waterway for Diveboy to latercome along and explore.
The potential with this one is infinite.
Here’s a lovely game, with a French nameI won’t even try to pronounce.
Lemme just give you the English version: Peaceful afternoonwith the paintings.
The game gives you super simplified versions of famous paintings, butwith the colours all mucked up.
Your job is to swap the colours around, to match the realartwork.
The problem is, you can only change coloursby clicking on a coloured block, and then dragging out a selection box to envelop otherblocks.
When you let go of the mouse, all of the blocks in the selection turn into theoriginal colour.
This limitation leads to tricky challengeswhere you need one colour: but it’s all the way on the other side of the painting.
so you might need to screw up a bunch of blocks to get the colour in the right place, andthen fix the mistakes later.
Other times, you need to store a handy colour in a safespace, only to retrieve it later.
You can’t just swap colours randomly: you need to thinkstrategically about your options.
The game only just fits the theme: developersSacha Chouery and Leo Lefebvre…what? You can’t put a V there.
Uh, the devs say the game onlyuses one shape: a rectangle.
and that’s true! So we’ll let them get away with itbecause this game is just so elegant and effortlessly clever.
And like it says on the tin, it’sa peaceful game that’s perfect for a soothing rest after trying to help hundreds of peoplesubmit their games to a broken website.
Matt Glanville didn’t know that his onebutton game: Switch n Shoot, was the inspiration for this year’s theme.
I didn’t know thatMatt Glanville was going to be taking part in this year’s jam.
And neither of us knew thathe’d end up in the top 20, with his game Singled Out.
Funny how these things work.
But I had to pick this because it’s justso much fun.
You’re a sniper, trying to take out an intergalactic criminal who hassnuck into a crowd of innocent civilians.
All you see is a shifting sea of faces, anda handful of clues about the person’s appearance, like their hair style, ear shape, or hat choice.
You’ve got to try to find the person who fits this description and take them out.
Thefaster you find them, the more points you get.
It’s a simple idea but it works really well.
It’s tense, it works great in groups, and it’s kinda funny too.
My favourite touchis the tombstone that appears if you shoot the wrong person, to really rub in the factthat you’re a complete monster.
This game won’t keep your attention for weeks, butit’s a wonderful little timewaster for a boring afternoon.
There were other ultra playable Where’sWally-style games in the jam, like the very cute The Orphan Sock – but Singled Out’stombstone gag just clinched it for me.
So, there are game jam games that have thekernel of an idea that could easily be expanded into a fully fledged game.
And then thereare others that would probably never make it as a retail product: but the idea is justsuper fun to explore in a 10 minute freebie.
Infailtration, is one of those games.
This is a hostage situation game, where youneed to shoot terrorists while avoiding the hostages.
The catch is, the CCTV cameras areon the fritz, and each one only shows a small amount of information.
One camera shows yourcharacter, another shows the baddies, a third shows the hostages, and the final camera showsthe environment.
So you’ve got to flip between these cameras, trying to build a full mental model of how the situation is laid out: before committingto your shot.
You’ve got bouncy rubber bullets that ping off walls and smash through windows, but are you sure that the bullet is going to bounce off the wall and into a terrorist’sface, or is it going to ricochet off in the other direction and injure a hostage? Better flip between the camerasfor a bit longer.
Like I say: this probably isn’t going togo anywhere.
The set-up is as contrived as hell and the novelty wears off quick.
ButI still had a lot of fun playing it, and spent way longer than I expected lining up shotsand figuring out my next move.
Which all goes to prove that intense restrictions on theplayer can lead to some really interesting gameplay.
Intercom is a super smart game.
You don’tplay as this poor blind prisoner: you play as some omnipotent observer, who can communicatewith the prisoner through an intercom.
An intercom that can only play a single sound.
But with this rather limited line of communication, you can enter morse code-like communiquesto tell your prisoner pal things like yes, no, go, and jump.
What I really like about this, and the thingthat really propelled it onto the list, is that the developer lets you pick the codesyourself.
J Morgan could have easily pre-programmed the commands for you, but no:you pick them yourself.
When the prisoner asks you to choose a sequence of beeps thatmeans go, it’s up to you how you hammer the keyboard to create the command.
And onceyou’ve picked it, it’s yours for the rest of the game And this creates this wonderful juggling actwhere you need to remember all of the different commands and sound them off at the right time.
One for go, then another for jump and – wait – what did i say for jump? Four short beeps, or one long one and one short one? With even more commands it could get very complex.
Sadly, though, the game ends after only a few screens.
Still, it’s a lovely idea and that simpleact of personalisation when making the beeps just gives the game so much heart and character.
I’d definitely like to see this expanded upon, just to see how manic the game getswhen you’ve got to remember an entire lexicon of beeps and boops for commanding your unluckyprisoner.
Next up is Hivemind.
This is a puzzle gamewhere you control two characters with the same buttons, meaning if you hit left, boththe green and the blue blob will go left.
This instantly conjures up tough challengeswhere you’re trying to get them in sync before going through a goal, or carefullyavoiding obstacles.
Your eyes will be darting back and forth between the two screens, andyou’ll have to think carefully before making any moves.
This is just a well made game, and a well executedidea, and I can say I greatly enjoyed my time with these puzzles.
It feels like no matter what the jam themeis, we’ll always get games where you shoot to move.
It literally happens every year.
Maybe we should just make next year’s theme “shoot to move” and get it all out ofyour systems.
Still, these can be very good games, as proven by Cannon: a cute platformerwhere you have to blow yourself up with an explosive cannon ball to shift about the environment.
That’s a clever differentiator from theother shoot-to-move games: just blasting out the cannon ball doesn’t make you move.
It’swhen the ball bounces back and hits you that you get the necessary lift to climb up towersand spring over gaps.
This leads to really tricky moves, like blasting the ball intothe ground, so it bounces back up and hits you in mid-air to lift you up over a gap.
That one took me a few attempts.
This is just a fun, well-made game that showshow a platformer doesn’t need jumping to be fun.
Come at it from a different angleand you’ll get something that feels unlike any platformer you’ve played before.
One Action Heroes, by Tapehead Games, is areally smart bit of work.
It’s a teeny tiny puzzle game, where each character only hasone ability.
The red dude can only move horizontally, the blue chap can only move up and down, andol’ green can grab ahold of nearby friends to move along with them.
It’s a simple set-up that immediately givesway to clever conundrums.
Red might be unable to reach the goal because it’s not on hislimited plane of movement, but blue can launch himself from underneath and push both heroesinto the finish.
And grabby green has certainly got his advantages, but must be used wisely else you also pick up pointless props like boxes.
This game is eminently polished and couldliterally be released on Steam today and no one would know this game was made in a 48 hourperiod.
Make more levels, please! I didn’t expect to see an effective horrorgame made in just two days, but here comes Lurking in the Dark: a creepy little numberthat is dripping in dark, foreboding atmosphere.
the game is a step-by-step dungeon crawler, where your flickering lamp only illuminates one tile ahead of you, meaning you must creeparound to avoid falling into spikes, and freaky monsters seemingly come out of nowhere.
When you see a monster, you can use your torchto your advantage.
when it’s on, the monster runs directly to your location.
when it’soff, the monster stays still.
so it’s a good idea to turn the light off, run aroundsome spikes, flick the torch back on – and watch the beast wander into a trap.
Only, when the light’s off, you can’tsee the spikes yourself.
So as you’re first exploring, you’re having to create a mental model ofthe space, so when you’re being chased by an angry monster, you can safely dance pastall the hidden spikes, and then flick on the lamp and turn the tables on your oppressor.
This is a really clever idea, and there’sa huge amount of potential here for more light-based puzzles and mechanics.
Well done to the creators.
Another one bullet game, now.
This time, we’refacing off against an evil army of ever-expanding polygons, and the idea is to rip through theirgooey bodys, splitting them into smaller shapes and chowing down on their tasty vertices.
One of the things I really like about this, is the way it subverts the usual mechanic – as seen in God of War and Titan Souls – ofhaving your projectile magnetically return to you.
instead, you fly towards the bullet, which rapidly snaps you about the battlefield and this can lead to all sorts of fun strategieslike quickly darting out of danger by warping towards your bullet, or flying behind an enemyfor a flanking black stab.
Another great thing about this game, by Barbaand team, is how it has a n undulating difficulty.
bigger shapes are easier to hit, but harderto fully kill.
While single line shapes only take a single bullet to murder, but are extremelytricky to actually strike.
As the shapes fall apart, the game’s challenge changes in aclever way to keeps the gameplay fresh and exciting.
Nice There were a number of comedic games in thejam, like a game where you must delete an asteroid, a game where you generate doorsand kick them into aliens, and a platformer where every texture is, uhm, my face.
My favourite, though, Only One Minute BeforeRestart: a game where you’re almost finished writing an important email – when an automaticupdate tells you that your computer will restart in one minute.
You can try to delay the update, so you can save your work, but the computer has a few security checks to go through What happens next is a farcical series oftests and checks, from simple passwords and maths quizzes, to full on mini-games.
It’sa really silly minute-long joke but I enjoyed it a lot and the ever-expanding absurdityof the situations gave me the biggest laugh of the jam.
Kudos to the creators.
Someone asked me in the comments the otherday, how do you come up with a good paltformer mechanic, as good as something like the dashin Celeste? Well here’s one, courtesy of the game Soulward, by Gumboot.
This is a charming platformer where you canthrow out a shard and then instantly warp to its position.
Throw it overspikes, up impossible towers, past obstacles, and through enemies to make progress.
There’s also a clever idea that while you’reholding your shard, you’re invincible: but when the shard is out, you are completelyvulnerable.
There’s something I like about these projectile-chucking games, that constantlyswitch the feeling of play between powerfulness, and powerlessness, in a super dynamic way.
this game has a few issues where yourshard goes off the camera and you have no idea what you’re about to warp into.
But aside from that, this is a really nice ideafor a platformer and could definitely fuel some smart levels, enemy encounters, and puzzles.
The first level of Chicken Hike is easy.
Inthis game, you must draw a line to create a walkable platform for a wandering bird.
And here’s the solution.
But then, level two is a lot tougher.
Becausewe can only use one line per level.
Like I said earlier, limitaitons create great puzzles.
There’s just so much to like about thisgame: the way it uses gravity and physics to make you think about momentum.
And an input that’s so simple, anyone can pick it up and play.
I wish I could have gotten past this level- ideas in the comments please – but a little more time for playtesting could create a verysmooth difficulty curve of clever conundrums to work through.
Block Steady, by Gustav Kilman, takes a momentto get into.
You see, you’re on these perilous platforms and you’ve got to bonk these enemiesto kill them: but this creates a chain reaction of explosions that rip the floor out frombeneath your feet.
You’ve got to be in, well, relative safety by the time the lastblock drops to see the next stage.
Ultimately, you need to still be on screenwhen there’s only one block.
Happily, the game sports wonderfully tight controls anda zippy lightning-quick pace, which makes it really fun to leap through enemies, boundup walls, and jump from enemy to enemy.
And, again, there’s a small puzzle elementto proceedings.
You can’t just jump on foes at random, because the floor will start disappearingbeneth your feet.
You need to think carefully about how what path you’ll take, which willlead you from enemy to enemy, while also keeping a bit of security to stand on.
There was a number of games in the jam whereyou only get one jump per level: my favourite execution of the idea was Happy Accident.
Here, you get one Celeste-style dash – which you direct by aiming the mouse – and one jump- powered by the space bar.
Between these two moves – one super analogue, the othervery digital, you’ve got to get your gooey hero to the finish line.
At first, I thought the paint streaks werejust a nifty aesthetic choice.
But no! They’re a handy indicator of where your last shotwent, giving you the tools you need to make slightly different trajectories.
Again, there’s a real puzzle aspect to proceedings, which causes you to pause before every shot.
Overall, this submission from Cryptic SilverGames is well worth trying.
And finally, I really enjoyed the puzzle gameBuddy System, by Prodigalson Games.
It’s about a pair of robots who share the samepower cell.
Whichever one has the battery can move around, and can then throw the powercell at its buddy.
Who then catches it, switches on, and takes control.
The two robots muststand on their respective platforms to finish the level.
That’s easy enough in the first few stages, but then obstacles start appearing that force you to switch back and forth between the twobots, and then start bouncing the power cell off walls to ping it around corners.
Thereare all sorts of clever ideas like buttons that open and shut doors and conveyer belts, giving the game a surprisingly large number of stages for a 48 hour creation! But that’s not the point: the point is, this is a clever puzzle game that immediately suggests all sorts of ingenious interactionsand consequences.
And I could happily play this sort of smartly designed game for hours.
So that’s an incredible amount of innovationfor just 20 games.
But of course, there’s a lot more that I could have talked about.
So please head on over to the itch.
io submission feed to see all of the games for yourself.
A link is in the description.
I hope everyone had a great time with thejam.
Even if you didn’t end up in the top 20, I’m certain that you learned somethingnew about making games, or found someone new to collaborate with, or enjoyed chatting withthe community on Discord, or got your first taste of actually finishing and uploadinga game.
And so I hope you’ll join us next year, for GMTK Game Jam number four.
I want to give a special thank you for your feedback on this year’s jam: we’ve definitely got a lot to learn and we’ll be putting your ideas into practicein 2020.
For starters, itch.
io has promised that it’s got the problem under wraps, andtells me that it now withstand any jam of any size.
Next year, let’s put them to the test.