I've just belatedly noticed this thread, so as one of the people who was there, I thought I'd say a few things from my own perspective, particularly about the competition.
Danny is correct that my "Join the Jet-Set!" came second in the competition, after "Maria vs Some Bastards".
As for the competition itself, I had very mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I was pleased to have one of my games picked at all; that in itself was a real honour, considering the sheer number of JSW games developed, and also considering that mine is one of the very oldest, having been completed back in 1985.
But on the other hand, the way the competition was presented and run was simply not fair on any level. What was the criterion on which the games were supposed to be judged? How they played? How they looked? How much they stretched the JSW engine in terms of quirky exploits or new routines etc.? Having a competition for which one is "best" is actually pretty meaningless. The only criterion that the audience was permitted to judge, really, was how the games looked – based on the 30-second visual run-through that each one got.
That's the most superficial way possible of judging the games, and even then it wasn't a fair comparison because we weren't comparing 'like with like'. Of the five games being judged, four were pretty straightforward JSW games that looked much like the original JSW and played in the same way. But the fifth, Maria vs Some Bastards, is much the most recent of the set and has been MASSIVELY hacked about to allow the game engine to do all kinds of things it was never supposed to do. The end result is that it has big, bold, spectacular graphics that none of the other games could achieve, and it totally outclasses the competition in terms of looks. But no-one can actually do what that game does with the game engine without a massive amount of hacking; you can't achieve those graphics just by creating a new JSW game with an editor.
So, the audience was asked to judge which of the new games appeared to be the best, based on a brief, superficial viewing of a few screens, yet what they were shown was four 'normal' JSW clones and one super-enhanced on that featured a massively rewritten engine that permitted all sorts of big, bold, cartoony graphics to be used. So *obviously* Maria vs Some Bastards won; there was really no other possible outcome, under the circumstances. Maria vs Some Bastards was written 18 years after Join the Jet-Set! was released, so it's hardly surprising that there'd been plenty of time in those 18 years to do a lot of hacking and find ways to make it look better! Is it really fair to compare a game that's barely been hacked at all (in terms of its engine) with one written two decades later and hacked massively?
I'm not being a sore loser, honestly! I'm just pointing out that it wasn't a fair competition. None of the other four games stood a chance. It was also unfair that the presenter, as he ran through the five candidates, made sure the audience knew which was his own favourite in the set (it was neither mine nor the actual winner, so at least it didn't influence the audience too much).
I don't begrudge Maria vs Some Bastards winning in terms of the effort that's gone into creating it, because it's actually a pretty remarkable game and a lot of work and talent has gone into its creation. I just didn't think it was fair to put that particular game alongside other 'normal' JSW games that didn't stand a chance because they hadn't been totally rewritten in the same way. Besides, if the games could actually have been judged in terms of how successful they are *as games* (i.e. in terms of being fun to play), then I think my own game might even have won. The point is that I deliberately designed it to ( a ) recapture some of the whimsical humour of the original, ( b ) be fun to play, ( c ) be interesting and fairly easy to explore, and ( d ) above all, to be fair. The latter point means that (i) active steps were taken in the design to avoid death loops, (ii) there are few nasty traps (there are a couple, but it's easy to learn where they are and avoid them), and (iii) the game can be completed without losing even a single life if you're skilful. I've always believed in fairness, and my game is fair and completable. That puts it in stark contrast with most (all?) of the other entries, which range from weird and unpredictable to impossible to complete. Maria vs Some Bastards is impossible to complete without a third party hack (released in the same week as this competition!).
On a positive note, I was given the microphone and was allowed to talk through my own game as it was demonstrated on the screen, which was nice. That permitted me to mention a couple of important points about it, namely ( a ) it was one of the very first new JSW games that demonstrated that it was possible to recapture something of the spirit of the original in a new setting, and thus played a significant part in kickstarting the surge of enthusiasm for creating new JSW games, which arose after my two games and Adam Britton's three had been released in the 1990s; and ( b ) I was the first person to figure out how to reprogram the in-game music and offer new tunes in my games.
Looking back at my own game, and having played it again recently because of this competition, I can see various ways in which I could have made a better job of it, and there are certain things I wish I'd done. E.g. I should have been less half-hearted about redesigning Matthew Smith's guardian graphics and drawn more of my own original creations; and I should have animated some of them better and not made them so 'jumpy'. Maybe I should have redesigned more room graphics too (i.e. walls, floors etc.). And so on. Considering all the other games that have come since, and all the engine enhancements, it's shown me just how ingenious some people can be with this game and made me feel that maybe I cut a few corners that I shouldn't have done. But to be fair to myself, I was only a 15-year-old schoolboy when I wrote it (amazing how some of those memories are still quite fresh, 35 years later…!), and I had lots of other commitments at the time, and very little free time of my own… so actually, I do think I managed to make it a pretty good game under the circumstances. Anyway, it was good enough to inspire others to make many more games of their own, so I'm pleased about that, and if I was indeed partially responsible (through my two games) for helping to kickstart the JSW revival then I'm delighted about that. In the end, whilst I'd have like to have won the competition, under the circumstances, coming second was the best I could hope for, and I was actually pretty happy with that. My game is by fair the earliest of the set in the competition and maybe it looks primitive. I do happen to think that it's the only one of the five that's really genuinely fun to play, but that's not something that can be ascertained from a casual 30-second viewing! So coming second was really pretty good.
I did meet Matthew Smith at the end – all too briefly. He was very pleasant and friendly, and I'd have liked longer to talk to him. He seemed genuinely interested in my game, and gave the impression that he'd actually played it – he tried to ask me about how I'd created it, but unfortunately we got distracted by other people and never really had chance to get into a proper conversation. What he did say was that he thought it was "definitely one of the better remakes", which I found flattering.
So anyway, overall I had a very nice time. I hope I don't seem to be whingeing in what I say above; it doesn't really matter to me that my game didn't win. I was just a little disappointed that the competition wasn't fairer, and that the odds were stacked so unevenly, because I do think that if one is going to have a competition, it should be fair. But that's just me.
Basically I had a great day. It was a genuine honour to have my game picked for the competition (and I found it installed on three of the machines in the main hall where you could play retro-games, which was also flattering) – and of course it was a privilege to meet Matthew Smith (something I never thought would happen). I also enjoyed meeting Martyn Carroll and Paul Drury… and, in particular, Daniel Gromann. Danny was kind enough to take a number of photos of me with Matthew Smith, and then he walked me back to the railway station after the event, so that we could chat further. It was great to meet him.
By the way, a video of the whole presentation was indeed made and was put online somewhere. I no longer know where it is/was, but I downloaded a copy to keep myself.
Edited by Richard Hallas, 24 October 2019 - 08:26 PM.