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Jump 'n Jazz Checkers is a beautiful implementation of the classic board game, but the real story is how it was made.

After Bejeweled 2 was released, the TAG game studio was stuck in a long stretch of maintenance. Version 2.0 of the platform had just been released. It was backwards compatible, but it introduced many new features that were only available to games written for the new platform. Since we wanted a lot of those features in our old v1.0 titles, we had to port them. Thus, maintenance mode began.

We were almost a year into porting, and everyone was getting tired and bored. We grumbled amongst ourselves about working on old games, wishing we could do something new. Unfortunately, as the studio was rather small, there were not enough resources to work on a new title while porting old ones.

Feeling everyone's discontent (and feeling a bit discontented myself), I came up with an idea - a game sprint! A small group of us would get together on our own time for an extended work session, and rapidly build a game. That way, we could have fun working on something new without taking time from our required projects.

I talked to Larry Cadelina, TAG's main producer/designer, and found out he was sitting on a design for a Checkers game. With a relatively simple rule set, it was the perfect game for a sprint. I also talked to QA Manager Aaron Feil and artists Andrea Lam Leong and Aaron Berger, all of whom were interested. We all agreed to donate a weekend to the project.

Before setting a date, I brought the idea up to the Studio Head. She loved it! She gave us permission to do the sprint during normal work hours, instead of on our own time. The plan was to build the game, and then demo it to TAG's management team. If they liked it, it would be deployed. With that in mind, we set up a 36 hour work session starting on a Thursday morning and ending the following Friday evening.

Now, most TAG games took 4-6 months from start to deployment, so trying to complete a game in 36 hours was pretty ambitious. Nonetheless, when Thursday rolled around, we shoved our desks together into a single office and got to work.

In what could only be called an exhausting and exhilarating work session, we pushed hard for two straight days. Thanks to good organization, a great design, a lot of dedication, and a lot of caffeine, we pulled it off! The game was not quite ready to ship - it needed some polishing - but the bulk of it was complete, including a network multiplayer mode and awards.

We were set to demo the game to the management team the next week, but it was missing something - music. We didn't have a dedicated audio guy; we usually contracted out for that. I wanted some title music to give the game more personality and to really sell it, so I composed it myself. Now, I'm not a musician, but I played a some piano as a kid and drums when I was older, so I had a bit of a feel for it. I composed a jazzy theme that was simple but had a cool vibe. I put it in the game, and we demoed it to management.

They loved it! They gave us the go-ahead to finish polishing the game and to deploy it. We spent another two weeks on it, and it spent some additional time in QA. Ultimately, it took about a month from start to finish, which was five times faster than a typical game. And somehow, in the end, my title theme stuck! Everyone seemed to like it, so we left it in the game. That's the great thing about working at a startup - you can truly wear any hat.

In the end, the game was deployed, and we went back to porting old titles with a much needed boost in morale.

Building games in 36 hours is not a sustainable or scalable development method, but it was a fun one-off experience that gave us a chance to push ourselves to the extreme. We were close-knit team who worked together very well, and yet the work session made us lean on each other more than ever before. It let our individual abilities shine, yet showed what we could do together. It's one of my fondest memories from TAG, and I'm glad we made it happen!

Platform Notes

Jump 'n Jazz Checkers


Company: TAG Networks

Platform: TAG (Thunder v2.0)

Language: C++

My Role: Programmer++, Composer, Organizer

Team Size: 4 people