Imagine planting a seed that grows into a bush you could then use as a form of cover in the midst of battle. Or a world in which guns must be plugged into electrical outlets. What if you could use the pause button as a weapon? These are the things parody tweeter Peter Molydeux has been thinking about the past two years.
His brilliantly funny game concepts always remained in his Twitter account as well-received ideas that were loved by his thousands of followers — and unheeded by the rest of the games industry.
That changed two weeks ago, when Double Fine programmer Anna Kipnis tweeted that she wanted to see an indie game jam that drew on Molydeux's whacky ideas. Some notable developers and journalists jumped at the chance to help organise it. It seemed that the ball had barely begun rolling on the flagship jam in San Francisco, titled "What Would Molydeux?", when other cities began registering their interest. The whirlwind has seen some 25 locations in a dozen countries set up their own jam events, turning Molydeux's tweets into an global phenomenon.
With just a day left till the first Molyjams kick off, Kotaku tracked down the organisers of the jams in San Francisco, Brighton, and Melbourne, as well as Molydeux himself, for their thoughts.
In the Bay Area
The real Peter Molyneux (with an N) who inspired the birth of Molydeux.
"I can't pinpoint when exactly it happened, but over the past few months, the ideas Molydeux tweeted started to seem very reasonable to me," Kipnis tells us, pointing out that even Molydeux's inspiration, legendary ex-Lionhead and 22 Cans developer Peter Molyneux himself, responded positively to his tweets.
"I thought that surely someone had done an indie game jam with Molydeux's tweets as the theme, but when Google turned up nothing, I went and asked on Twitter. Lots of people responded that it should definitely be done if it hadn't been already. There was so much enthusiasm for that that I thought maybe I should try to set something up myself..."
Kipnis sent out a message to friends, and several offered to pitch in. Journalist and Necrosoft developer Brandon Sheffield joined the project; when the San Francisco event grew too large for one venue, he began to plan a second event in the Oakland area. To help the organisers coordinate with one another across different venues, he created and maintained a public Google Document.
"Inside of an hour, we had 70 people from across the US and the UK signed up," he reveals. "It wasn't intended to be a global thing at all — there was just so much worldwide interest that it became one. It's been really amazing to watch this thing emerge."
A website was made. Somebody offered to do t-shirt designs. Organisers worldwide scrambled to secure jam locations. Rounding out the San Francisco team was podcaster and developer Chris Remo, who started seeking sponsorships for the jam.
"I think I can speak safely for everyone involved when I say we absolutely did not expect this," says Remo. "This was originally going to be a fun, low-key creative event in the Bay Area. And that's what it will continue to be - but in well over a dozen other cities as well."
Organising the global event hasn't come without its problems. With the jam date set for just a couple of weeks away, organisers worldwide have had little time to organise their individual cities' events. However, one surprising guest has been helping out where he can: Molydeux himself.
Kipnis says, "Peter Molydeux gave us his blessing to organise the jam pretty early on, but since then has become one of the organisers as well. He's been very supportive and helpful throughout, so I think he's as stoked as we are that it took off as it did."
"He is getting very actively involved," Sheffield agrees. "He says the extra logistical headaches associated with the event becoming so large is a 'good problem to have'."
Excitement for the jam has swelled in the past week, with Kipnis confirming that several Double Fine staff would show up at the San Francisco event, alongside Dance Central creator Matt Boch. "I'm going to try to talk Tim [Schafer] into stopping by, but no guarantees there!" she jokes.
Of course, the star power isn't the big draw. "Jammers really benefit from being around other devs who are excited about working on something," Kipnis continues. "That excitement and energy rubs off on you somehow. Being able to go to a local jam gives people a sense of community that they wouldn't have if they tried to participate entirely on their own. It also gives you the opportunity to meet people with similar interests living near you, so there's a significant draw to trying to bring people together locally for something like this."
We asked if San Francisco's Molyjam would incorporate the competition element of other prominent game jams, and the team agreed that it didn't really line up with the sort of feel they were going for with Molyjam. Sheffield said he wanted people to "have fun making ridiculous games about emotions and tears and the true face of humanity. That's what it's all about!"
Molydeux and Molyneux
The Brighton jam in England was one of the first international chapters to establish itself, with web engineer Edd Parris running operations.
"The idea of the jam is just brilliant, meta on so many levels," he says. "We have a bunch of game studios here in Brighton, along with other talented designers and coders that I thought might like to get involved. I figured that if I could pull a space together, there might be at least a small team of five or six of us. I did not expect the whole thing to take off as it has!" At last count, 44 people had confirmed their attendance at the Brighton jam.
As the ideas for this jam already come pre-formed, Parris feels that participants will have more time to build on their interpretations. "I'm really looking forward to seeing the same ideas, built by various teams around the globe," he says. "If we're really lucky, we'll see the birth of some new game genres!"
With organisation of the global event mainly taking place online over Facebook and Twitter, organisers are fairly free to make their own amendments to their own jams. The Brighton jam's special twist will come in the form of small prizes: "I'm planning on giving out awards for things like 'most emotionally evocative experience'," Parris reveals, "very much in the Molyneux/Molydeux vein."
We are observing the Brighton Molyjam closely, not least of all because of rumours that Molydeux's namesake, Peter Molyneux himself, has expressed interest in jamming.
Parris says, "At the moment it is a possibility. I've spoken to Peter over email and he is really enthusiastic. When we last spoke he was really excited and said he would try his hardest to get down. He is, of course, a very busy man, so we shall see!"
As for Molydeux-with-a-D, he is "blown away" by the attention this event has received, though we have to wonder if the surge in prominence led him to worry about whether his true identity might be revealed.
"The curtain is already falling," he admits. "Ideally I would like to remain hidden, but it's going to be impossible as the Molydeux character grows. More than ever I'm worried about being exposed, but I'm ready for that, that's fine. But I won't start throwing myself into the limelight yet."
He's currently considering attending one of the Molyjams himself, with the San Francisco jam being a major goal.
"Right not I'm weighing up the options, but it would be an incredible privilege to attend the original Molyjam location where it all started; I could meet some of the people who played such a key part in all of this."
He adds jokingly, "I'm also worried Molyneux himself will kidnap and interrogate me for game ideas if I go to the Brighton jam." We wanted to know: what would the real Peter Molyneux ever say to him, if the two ever did end up meeting?
"Well, I have been speaking to Peter recently and he has personally given me praise for the work I've done, which is something I'd been really craving," he says. "I was worried that he would be asking me to make some creative adjustments, but in fact, he encouraged me to continue just as I am. He has told me of his intention to go to Brighton, so that should hopefully go ahead."
Meanwhile, preparations have been kicking into high gear for our own event here in Australia. The jam is being run by indie dev superstar Andrew Brophy, alongside Harry Lee, who is no stranger to jamming, having won the worldwide Ludum Dare content in December last year.
"You feel a real sense of community," says Lee of his fellow jam organisers. "Like, 'Oh, that's fantastic, New York just confirmed their location! San Francisco just got their sponsorship, phenomenal!' It really encourages you and spurs you on to be part of this global village of game devs."
Given their jamming experience, the pair have some interesting ideas on what games they're expecting to come out of Melbourne's Molyjam.
"With other jams, we're given a theme," Brophy explains. "With this one, we're given full-on game ideas we have to take from. During Molyjam, people can spend a lot of time planning, thinking about what game they want to make before they actually do it. Everything will come out with some quality to it."
Lee is really hoping to help his participants seek out the more emotional side of Molydeux's ideas, pointing to Good Bye, My Love!, a previously existing game based on a Molydeux concept, as an example of a game with a brilliant idea and bland gameplay. "The idea was not about kissing your family goodbye, but the emotion behind it," he says. "It's a ludicrous idea because we never see that in games, but it's also very touching, which is why it grabbed our imaginations. The game didn't address that at all — just the physical concept was addressed, and the mechanical ideation and attraction was not."
"If participants keep in mind that it's about the spirit of Molydeux and what he's trying to achieve, as opposed to the actual ideas themselves, I think it'll work out well."
Brophy and Lee are very keen to see what games come out of Melbourne, which has recently ballooned as a hotspot for independent game development.
Says Lee, "At the seed of this is something really important about the future of games - as an industry, as a medium, as a creative mode of expression. It's vitally important, even paramount, to how humans engage with each other, express themselves, and choose to spend their time. To me, that's incredible. We are at this renaissance moment; we can change meaning. And we're going for it in one weekend with Peter Molydeux."
Are you interested in contributing to a Molydeux-inspired game? Check out http://www.whatwouldmolydeux.com/ to learn more about your nearest Molyjam. In the meantime, keep watching Kotaku for our coverage of the Melbourne event.