The making of “Farewell San Vicente”

In “Farewell San Vicente”, our entry for Global Game Jam 2023, a family flees their home in the countryside displaced by “La Violencia”, the political-motivated civil war in 1950’s Colombia.

You can play it online, or download it for Windows, for free, from its page.

At long last, after many years, I managed to “participate” in a Global Game Jam

…or did I? I went with the virtual, days-stretched version of it, with a mostly known team, which I know is a pretty different experience than staying two days on-site with a bunch of unknowns trying to make something…

But, as far as the official rules of 2023 go… I participated! 🙂 I just needed to check that off the list of mandatory game jams to do before you die.

Of course, I was hesitant to. It’s always the worst possible timing, but you gotta push through if you want to be a gamejam legend someday.

January 27

The theme for GGJ was ROOTS, which instantly landed on me much better than the one from the last time I attempted (TRANSMISSION, from 2018). The first thing that sprung to mind was creating something of an “intergenerational” adventure, spanning several lives from the early 1900s to the 2000s. I’ve always wanted to do something like this (maybe because of faint memories of “La Saga“, a Colombian telenovela from 2004) but that’s just an overall idea without any development. Maybe something like Rogue Legacy, but simpler? I dunno.

January 28

In any case, it was stupid to consider participating in the GGJ right now, and I would be away from the city during that weekend so I had the perfect excuse to skip it again this year. 🙂

January 30

After reading the rules I decided to join the virtual site organized by “Tan Grande y Jugando“, home of the nutrias and a great gamedev community mainly from Bogotá but with members all around Colombia. I planned to participate from Tuesday to Friday. In theory, I had 48 hours to spread thru these 4 days (12 per day). I still had no clear idea but I started looking for an artist to make a team.

January 31

I got an idea: to make a game similar to “The Oregon Trail“, but themed around the forced displacement that many families had to go through in the times of La Violencia in Colombia, around 1950 (The Violence). This is a story that lies at the roots of many families, and for some reason, a topic I’m very sensitive about.

Arguably, this is pictured in Encanto (the Disney movie) with Familia Madrigal fleeing from a town because of it being torched down, although I’ve read it’s more likely for it to be a portrayal of the Thousand Days’ War which predated La Violencia by about 50 years.

In any case, I made a prototype in order to validate the idea, and to pitch it to an artist, which seemingly worked as Oscar Creart (new dev-friend) decided to join the team.

I also did the foundations of a design doc and shared it with Stoltvred, narrative designer for Slashware and previous co-jammer for Muyscamuy, who also joined as a researcher and writer.

And so, we had our first team meeting, and the project was a reality.

February 1st

The plan for the day was to add support for random events to the engine, while Stoltverd researched the historical period and create a first batch of events, and Oscar conceptualized the visual style and created an initial set of assets.

I also reached out to my maternal family’s WhatsApp group, asking the aunts and uncles if they remembered anything their parents or grandparents used to talk about regarding this time period, especially since my grandfather migrated from Uramita/Dabeiba to Cañasgordas and then the entire family moved to Medellín. There was a lot of interesting discussion about the time period, and although it seems there were many reasons for the migration, there were at least some political-related.

They also pointed me to a book my grandmother used to have: “Lo que el cielo no perdona“, (an analysis, in Spanish, here) a “historical novel” relating the experiences of a priest and some of his friends, while living in western of Antioquia during the period. According to my family and some other sources, the book was “forbidden” from being printed and circulated in Colombia, so any surviving copies are highly treasured (I haven’t been able to find any detailed information about it, although it seems book piracy helped preserve it). However, its author changed names in order to avoid persecution from the conservative party (unsuccessfully). My mother went as far as to scan it completely (320 pages!), just for this little project (she decided it was better not to handle it to me as I might misplace it and cause the anger of the uncles).

Uno de los tantos cadáveres rescatados por el cura Jimenez, qué no pudo ser reconocido a causa de los numerosos machetazos en el rostro

They also suggested a similar book, “El Cristo de Espaldas”, which is seemingly a similar intent from a different political perspective. It seems there was an amount of literature of this kind back in those times.

On the coding/art side, some good progress was made, with a well-defined art direction (still no colors for the assets), but I decided to integrate them ASAP to detect what was missing and make corrections as needed (for instance, we changed the style of the militia found along the way so that it was less modern (no automatic rifles, more rural)

February 2

I managed to convince old pal QuietGecko to join the team as master of audio affairs. He told me he also wanted to bring a buddy, a guitar musician, to create fitting music for the game.

I gave Stoltverd the scanned version of the book, and we found it to be interesting, but extremely dense for the short time allowed for a jam game; it was still very useful to get an idea about the savage aspects of the war (the book is pretty graphical). We would definitively go back to it if we were to revisit and extend this project. He still devoted some time this day to writing and polishing the events.

This time period was so cruel that we had to ask Stoltverd to tone down the descriptions of the events he was coming up with, which were crossing to the stuff of nightmares. This would have been definitively accurate and direct but also probably a bit inadequate for a Global Game Jam entry (or at least so thought the majority of the team)

The development on this day is focused on integrating all the art that Oscar is producing, to create a visually rich experience. Sadly that leaves the content/events part a little bit abandoned, but I can only do a bit with very limited after-work time.

February 3

The final stretch – I had less than half a day to work in the game since I had to do adulting stuff preparing for a family trip, and the game still lacked content and substance. The idea was to push hard to complete a simple game loop and then adorn it with some of the cool random events that Stoltverd had designed.

It was SUPER hectic, but I managed to make something playable and even submitted an initial version to the platforms. The game was mostly about managing your food and surviving, although the lack of random events made the runs very lacking in variety. But it was playable and managed to transmit the message. I was sad that most of the content we designed just couldn’t be added (including the event of the militia encounter)

Of course, there was madness, as I tried to export the Windows build, it just failed. It worked perfectly in the Editor, but it didn’t populate the world in the executable. Panic ensued as time was running out, so I decided to try my luck with the WebGL build. Luckily, it worked.

By the way, did I mention that the food we included in the game is Yuca (also known as Casava, not to be confused with Yucca), a plant that is extensively cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchy tuberous root? It is specially related to life in the countryside of Colombia (especially in the Altiplano Cundiboyacense), so it seemed fit to give it a starring role.

In theory, the game could see further development thru the weekend by the remaining team members, but since I wouldn’t have control over that, I thought it’d be best to have a backup plan.

Oscar sent some fixes for the graphics, and additional in-game locations, which we hoped could be integrated during the weekend.

February 4

In spite of not being at 100% capacity, Gecko managed to integrate the guitar track sent by Camilo and also to add a LOT of life to the game with environmental sounds, animations, and sound effects for the family members, as well as some sound effects for the UI.

February 5

It’s the final day of the jam, and we have a proper title screen sent by Oscar and some work in the events done by Stoltverd; sadly this is not integrated in time for the deadline and I cannot help much as I’m totally AFK.

So we decided to stick with Friday’s (February 3) version as our official GGJ submission… which is still a great result! but I decided all the additional work cannot go to waste, so I should put up some more additional work (of course!)

February 6

I came back from my family trip exhausted and late, but I managed to integrate the work that was done during the weekend by the team and implement some gameplay variety.

I did some UX improvements as well with a better start-of-game flow, as well as events giving some context to fetching the stuff from your home estate, and arriving to the towns to trade. The pivotal encounter with the paramilitary group was also improved.

February 7

I decided this would be the final push for the post-jam version, and the focus would be content and gameplay. So I improved the EventsManager to be able to more easily create complex branching events, and select the random events from a weighted list. This allowed me to create four new types of events and improve the paramilitary encounter to select a random political faction.

I also took some time to integrate the updated assets sent by Oscar for the backgrounds and the characters and changed the buttons a little bit so they didn’t look like Unity’s defaults.

Some rounds of gameplay testing led to tweaks in the balancing, but more importantly, I felt something was missing so that the players could generate a stronger connection with the characters and have more involvement with the gameplay; so I decided to do a last-minute gameplay addition: having the player “feed” the family members manually, selecting which one to feed, instead of it being an automatic daily resource consumption. This way they can now prioritize who should eat from the meager resources. The addition also created some UI challenges in order to be presented adequately to the player, so I used the in-game events system and some visual tricks to make it easier for the player to understand what they should do.

And that’s the story so far! there may be some additional updates, especially since Gecko has some immediate improvements planned for the sound systems. I should also mention that we, of course, didn’t manage to make a full in-depth research process for such a very complex time period of Colombian history, but my hope was at least to be able to make it known to more people (especially abroad), and, as always, create curiosity for them to dive deeper. A Spanish version should also be produced, as long as there’s interest for it.