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It Came From the Molyjam: Secret Dad

When Cody and Kari Clark realized they no longer had any programmers, there were two options: give up or figure it out. They figured it out.

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This is the second of three stories about my time at the Molyjam. Yesterday, you read about the one man army that is Juan Rubio, who created Bowl or Die! solo. Tomorrow, learn what Peter Molyneux thinks about...well, all of this.

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Not everyone is Juan Rubio, a veritable swiss army knife of game development. When husband and wife collaborators Cody and Kari Clark showed up to What Would Molydeux? (aka the Molyjam) just a few weeks ago, Kari’s artistic chops and Cody’s design concepts were not enough to complete a game all on their own.

So, they found programmers. Two programmers, actually. Their names don’t matter, as both left the newly formed ensemble by Saturday morning. The Clarks found themselves without anyone to code their ideas into reality.

By then, just about everyone else at the jam had found a home. Cody hopped into the San Francisco Molyjam livestream chatroom desperately looking for programmers, and I tried to help over Twitter. There were no bites.

“This is what we call our panic moment,” said Cody. “Our first response was to go back to sleep.”

Kari couldn’t sleep. She rolled over, and tried to motivate Cody into action.

“I said, ‘Come on. Get up. We've got work to do!’” she said.

You have Cody to blame for the excessive amount of puns during Molyjam presentations.
You have Cody to blame for the excessive amount of puns during Molyjam presentations.

Getting out of bed is the easy part. Soon, they were faced with the harsh realization that Molyjam’s first night, which many teams spent implementing their design ideas in a very basic form, was gone. Perhaps more importantly, neither of them had actually made a game before--that was the point of participating in Molyjam. Their sum total of time with development software amounted to zero.

Cody's a quality assurance manager for a mobile and web games company in Oakland, California, and had mulled over which tweet made the most sense at work the day before.

He eventually settled on the following piece of total insanity, which he'd codenamed The Mrs. Doubtfire game for a bit:

“Imagine if you had to secretly support your family via complex ventilation passages in your large industrial home?”

The name they settled on is incredible, too: Secret Dad.

Cody and Kari, married just over a year, had no hesitation about partnering up.

“I mean, sure, there was always the chance we could end up bickering about something,” said Cody, “but the whole event promised to be something really laid back and I didn't see that being a possibility.”

The next 36 hours would prove stressful and challenging, and alternatives were considered. The prospect of driving back into San Francisco and finding a team for Kari to work on made sense. While the design boat may have sailed for Cody, at least Kari could get some experience, one of the original reasons for participating in the jam.

Instead, Cody poked around some more, asked others for advice, and eventually settled on GameSalad, a middleware software specifically targeted at game designers without any programming experience. While Cody downloaded and installed GameSalad, Kari had booted up Adobe Illustrator and was drawing away.

Once GameSalad was ready and Cody saw the interface appear, there was not a sense of relief.

“I'm thinking ‘What is this I don't even.’” he said. “I put the deadline out of my head almost immediately. I knew if I didn't have anything playable, I just wouldn't present. But the thing that kept me driven was aiming for something that I could show people. I wanted to be able to say that we overcame the odds.”

Two hours of experimentation, Google searches and YouTube tutorials later, stuff was on-screen. It wasn’t much, and it was pretty crude, but compared to staying bummed out and staying in bed, it was huge.

“Even if we didn't finish anything, I didn't want to throw in the towel and walk away,” said Kari.

This is the basic but playable version of Secret Dad that Cody and Kari showed at the Molyjam.
This is the basic but playable version of Secret Dad that Cody and Kari showed at the Molyjam.

But Secret Dad didn’t have a crucial ingredient: gameplay. There was an overhead map, characters drawn by Kari, collision detection, a bit of animation, and a single object to interact with. Even as it became clear there wouldn’t be much to Secret Dad when the deadline rolled around on Sunday, it didn’t matter.

“There wasn't much fear of failure for us,” said Cody, “because we were just having fun with the struggle.”

Some teams worked offsite for the Molyjam, but that wasn’t the norm. Most worked together while the CBS building was open, then shuffled to a local’s apartment. Cody and Kari had been working from home all of Saturday, but made the decision to come back into San Francisco on Sunday.

Being around everyone, as the whole room crunched towards the deadline, proved very motivating, even if Kari’s contributions to the project were now over, and all the pressure went over to Cody.

While Cody finished work on the game, Kari drummed up this terrific sketch of the game jam.
While Cody finished work on the game, Kari drummed up this terrific sketch of the game jam.

The goal for Sunday was to give Secret Dad a mechanic, the game’s basic stealth gameplay.

Work continued as the day pressed on. The submission deadline was pushed from 7:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m., but even after 7:30 came and went, Cody kept working. At 8:00 p.m., when presentations began, he finally turned off GameSalad. The moment was here.

Near the end, almost three hours in, it’s Cody and Kari’s turn. Unfortunately, the archive of the very end got cut off and I’m still tracking down footage of them. It exists, I’m just waiting to get it.

“I was trying to stay calm and not be nervous,” said Cody, “but I knew at that moment that the most important thing was going to be explaining our situation to everyone.”

Some of the biggest applause of the evening was saved for them, as they recounted their sordid tale. The response was deafening.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘We DID it! We really did it!’” said Kari. “And it didn't suck, and everyone seemed to enjoy our effort, and I am so proud I can't even believe we did this on our own.”

Mission accomplished.

And like yesterday’s Bowl or Die!, the amazing thing is that you can download Secret Dad right now.

Patrick Klepek on Google+