Molyjam 2012 report from Brighton: From little tweets, big ideas grow

Published Apr 15 2012, 06:00 BST  |  By

MolyJam promo

Peter Molyneux. Love him or loathe him, you can't deny his importance to the video games industry. The mastermind behind games such as Populous, Dungeon Keeper, and Fable is equal parts brilliant and baffling. He has an OBE, and is a BAFTA Fellow celebrated for genre-defining ideas, but is equally renowned for occasionally crackpot theories and frequent over-hyping of games. But have you ever asked yourself, what would Moly deux?

An anonymous games developer set up the @PeterMolydeux spoof Twitter account last year, and started tweeting game ideas parodying Molyneux's particular oeuvre. The series of tongue-in-cheek pitches included: "What if your tummy rumbling created earthquakes? In a world where food is rare" and "What if ghosts had dreams?". The account, temporarily suspended last year, but reinstated after talks with Molyneux's Lionhead studio, now has more than 36,000 followers.

Peter Molyneux
After Molyneux himself mused on the possibility of someone actually doing something with these humourous, 140 character-max brain-dumps, an idea spread among the community. Thus MolyJam was born, a game jam event involving the creation of games in just 48 hours based on the Twitter musings of PeterMolydeux. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then, well, this is something else entirely.

In late March, groups of developers came together around the world to make their own Molydeux-inspired adventure, including events across the UK, US and Canada, as well as Sweden, Finland, Australia and Brazil. Ed Parris, a web engineer working at a social media agency, organised the Brighton MolyJam, sponsored by local developers LittleLoud and Relentless. As we visited the event it was being live-streamed to Toronto and vice versa, beaming images of rooms filled with developers feverishly working on their games. For Parris, the beauty of MolyJam is in its simplicity.

"Having the list of tweets focuses your attention as you don't have to have an idea, you just have to pick one," said Parris. "So instead of spending lots of time refining the initial idea, you just focus on the challenge of getting something tangible to play."

MolyJam may have derived from a parody of Molyneux, but it is unsurprising that the ex-Microsoft executive has embraced it wholeheartedly. Parris said that Molyneux is "over the moon" that so many people got involved in the event, resulting in almost 300 games being produced in his image, or something thereof.

MolyJam feature gallery
So taken with the idea was Molyneux that he even created an inspirational video (including his own personal message) for the participants before the start, and attended the London night (he was unable to make it to Brighton due to a prior engagement in the Netherlands). He also offered the prize of a job at 22 Cans, the new studio he set up after recently quitting Microsoft and Lionhead, for the best game.

Various games studios have hired talent direct from the community, such as Finnish studio RedLynx selecting its level designer after seeing tracks he made as a player on Trials HD, or the Sony-owned Media Molecule hiring its community team for LittleBigPlanet 2 after two fans had set up their own service. However, Parris explained that the prize of a job with Molyneux was turned down as it would have changed the event into a competition, rather than a co-operative jam. He, like others, feels that MolyJam is more about learning, networking and having a game to show at the end of it.

Among those attending Brighton MolyJam was Tobias Cooper, who had just graduated, but hoped to break into games development. He teamed up with Rob Sienkiewicz, a more experienced developer, previously of the now-defunct Split/Second: Velocity studio Black Rock, but now at the start-up Second Impact Games. The duo teamed up with Frank Kimberley, a music and audio engineer by trade, to take on this tweet: "You are a small girl flying a talking kite. The kite seems to know about a upcoming major terrorist attack and floats towards clues."

The benefits of Cooper getting involved in MolyJam appear relatively obvious, but for Sienkiewicz taking part meant the chance to share ideas, network and do something different. For Kimberley, it was a chance to apply his skills in a different way in the hope that it could lead somewhere new.

MolyJam feature gallery
"There are people here who know exactly what they are doing with the crunching and programming, so for somebody like me it is about being creative away from programming," he said. "It's about knowing that I can do what I want and I have got other people around me who can help me achieve my goals. If things go well, then I can certainly see myself going further down this path, particularly for sound design and music."

Beautifully animated and scored, the game produced by Cooper, Sienkiewicz and Frank features a girl wandering through a field, exploring the world until she realises that her kite has a bomb on it. Well, in the world of Molydeux, anything is possible.

Mikolaj Holowko, aged 27, has been making games since he was 14. He said he finds his day job as a web designer "boring" and hopes one day to go full time as a games developer. For him, MolyJam offers the chance to not only share ideas and learn, but also crucially be forced to finish a project rather than always starting something, getting distracted, and moving on to the next thing.

MolyJam feature
At the end of the 48 hours, everyone who participated at MolyJam had to present their idea to everyone else, before it is shared online and maybe even played by Molyneux himself. There's nothing quite like a bit of pressure to get things moving.

Holowko picked the "romantic parkour game in which you and the love of your life must hold hands and jump around a city evading death and injury". Taking inspiration from ICO and Outlander, his game - which was not quite finished - had an almost noir aspect, as two star-crossed lovers leaped from platform to platform, escaping some unknown danger.

Most people appeared to have built their game in Flash, but others used different programmes and a variety of developer tools. For his game, Parris selected the tweet "Can you visualise a world where horizontal is impossible? You are forever falling or attached to verticals?". What resulted was an action title mixing Space Invaders with reverse Doodle Jump, culminating in the little, falling character spewing out Molyneux heads.

MolyJam feature
Elsewhere at the Brighton event was a game involving players becoming Samuel L Jackson in a new B-movie called Babies on a Plane. You hurry around a grid of airline seats, frantically trying to calm down babies that have started crying. It's a two-player game, and even has a retro soundtrack.

Those not weird enough for you? Well how about Murdoor, in which you play as an office door that can either let office workers out after the day or mercilessly crush them. The game, which incidentally won 'Best In Show' at Brighton, works on iPad and iPhone, so expect to be crushing admin staff soon on a screen near you.

Molyjam is a fun and social event, but it could also have real educational benefits. What if an event like this, where people are getting a crash course in development and actually producing a game, was part of formal education? Parris said that in future it would be great to get the universities involved, and also possibly use their facilities.

This seems particularly timely as the government seeks to improve computer skills training and back the UK games industry. So, the burning question, will there be a MolyJam in 2013? The @petermolydeux Twitter account thinks so.

After the event, it tweeted: "Molyjam2013? It will exist forever until we get an official apology from the oppressors for forcing old game design on us. That's a promise."

The games produced at MolyJam 2012 are available to play from whatwouldmolydeux.com.
MolyJam Feature Gallery

This is where the magic happens...and lots of snacks are eaten.