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Lyst Summit Write-up (part 2)

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Part 1 of my recap-cum-travelogue was published a short while ago; you can read it here!

There’s an unwritten rule of almost every game jam I’ve taken part in, which states that the first 5 or so hours will be devoted to anything but the final project. I’m pleased to say that with practice, this period has shifted from becoming something terrifying, to actually rather productive for me. When the jam starts, we (as a group) will tend to fixate upon an idea which seems feasible, expressive and daring within the bounds of the jam. We’ll sketch it out, start prototyping.. and then realise the idea has no traction or depth.

I panicked, the first time this happened in a jam – thinking I was a lousy designer, unqualified to play my part in a game jam team. I’ve soon learned, however, that quite often sleep will bring with it an epiphany. This is precisely what happened at the Lyst Summit game jam.

As the conference deck filled up, our team retired below to set about paper prototyping.

As the conference deck filled up, our team retired below to set about paper prototyping.

Our first concept, designed on the Friday night, was a card-based tabletop game on the theme of sexual taboo. Over the course of some frank and therapeutic discussions about our own experiences, we created something which explored sex as a literal chain of prescribed events. Calling upon such fallacies as “the done thing”, the baseball metaphor, and the mythology which surrounds virginity, our game had each player lay down cards on their own or other player’s chains in order to form sexual experiences, which were to be described for the titillation (or arousal) of the other players.

Some of the cards and tokens from our paper prototype of "Sex Chain".

Some of the cards and tokens from our paper prototype of “Sex Chain”.

The players’ ‘sex chains’ (and the game itself) were divided into four main acts, based loosely upon the aforementioned baseball metaphor:

  1. Kissing
  2. Fondling
  3. The First Time
  4. Subsequent sexual encounters (repeated 1-3 times, depending on the intended game length)

Each act was ‘bookended’ with main event cards, which players could place from their hand at any time in order to move on in the game. Between these were smaller event cards, which each player would use to describe the main events in greater detail. These cards could be positive, negative, or really open to interpretation. For example, a player might begin playing footsie while kissing, only to have their partner’s filling fall out. Where we wanted to focus was on the more interpretive cards, such as with one player interrupting another’s gentle fondling session with a confession that they enjoy wearing latex. It would then be up to the whole group to vote on how that experience went down – adding an element of role-play, and distancing from one’s own particular tastes.

Our 'work station' on board the MF William Jørgensen. Ene is in the foreground to the left; Ida is next to her, to the right.

Our ‘work station’ on board the MF William Jørgensen. Ene is in the foreground to the left; Ida is to the right.

We iterated on this concept a few times, generating an assortment of interesting cards as we went. Many of these were marked with an minimum ‘act’, so that for example, a player could not place a “new erogenous zone” card inside act 1, which was reserved simply for kissing. We also toyed with the voting mechanics, and a character profile idea inspired by The Sims, which reformed the mechanics into something more akin to tabletop roleplay.

In the end though, we killed Sex Chain off due to its complexity, and the fact it wasn’t quite challenging us in the way we felt we wanted it to. However, thanks to the input from our new team member, Patrick Jarnfelt (also of Copenhagen Game Collective, and co-organiser of the Lyst Summit), on day two we shifted onto a project which lay further outside of our comfort zones. It also expressed what we all felt was the most interesting thing to come out of our earlier discussions: the duality in sex between hard and soft, rough and tender, formulaic and emotional.

I describe Play-tex as a sex toy (albeit one with an unusable name, thanks to a non-rubber underwear manufacturer). It arose as a product of our limitations, and I think upon it very fondly for that. Built in Unity and rich in audio/visual tactile feedback, the central premise (or goal) is to explore whatever your iPad is currently into.

Play-tex presents you with an abstract environment, filled with sexual paraphernalia such as balls of latex, fur, spike chains and bound flesh. All of these items interact with each other and the background, which is itself a canvas of skin and nipples.

"Play-tex" running on Patrick's iPad.

“Play-tex” running on Patrick’s iPad.

Our prototype has the player controlling a ball of latex, which they can pet and drag slowly around the environment using their finger. As they do so, small snippets of texts appear on-screen, reflecting the complex array of thoughts and emotions which we thought represented the harsh/vulnerable duality of sex. The game is also rich in sound effects, offering a variety of squeaks, moans and metallic clinks in order to inform the player’s experience of what is positive, negative and (in the case of some sado-masochistic combinations) good-negative.

Our game may only have won a few hearts out of Lyst Summit’s rather wonderful voting system, but in the course of making it, myself, Ida and Ene each had chance to try something we’d always wanted to. Ida was able to code the game (a lofty task which included plugging in a rather diverse range of media and inputs), while Ene was given free reign over the art. I was able to design something which barely qualifies as a game, and to practice more sound editing – a task I’d adopted in previous game jams and which I now take some enjoyment in. I also seized the opportunity to practice my presentation skills. Granted, this was a pretty strange first project to try presenting – to a room filled with creative individuals, many of whom were industry veterans and recently-acquired friends – but I was proud to play my part.

In truth, Play-tex is a strange little toy but it’s definitely a child of Lyst Summit. It’s borne of passion, and I believe we hit our unspoken goal: of making something which has playful, adult fun with the taboo concept of sex. I hope this came across to those who played at the summit, and who may have had the chance to play at Nordic Forum in Malmö, a week later.

The Lyst Summit jam wrapped up with worthy praise heaped upon crowd favourites Custody (a fascinating implementation of multi-platform, social gaming), Sushi Hands (a delightfully inventive physical game game, which I was proud to lend my burgeoning hand modelling skills to) and Fever (a beautiful game which required two or more players to manipulate nearly every input on an Xbox 360 controller).

"Custody" - a game played on two PCs (representing parents) and a mobile, which represents a child being passed between the parents.

“Custody” – a game played on two PCs (representing parents) and a mobile, which represents a child being passed between the parents.

The summit ended with a Lyst-ful arcade, and a gorgeous dinner, but sadly I had to leave before dessert could even be served. It really was a terrible event to try and leave, and in fact were it not for some fluke train delays, this part of Scandinavia may not even have let me go.

My return journey was also subject to delays by strike action. Couple that with the fact I couldn’t simply meander back to Københavns Høvedbanegård by boat and on foot – I had a schedule to keep – and I had to turn to public transport. Fortunately a bus runs from Holmen Nord directly to Christianshavn Metro station, and so it was there I got my first taste of København’s rather tasty ‘Tube’ network.

Christianshavn Metro

.. except here’s where I need to make a frank confession. Whether it be because of fatigue, the hasty glow of post-Lyst accomplishment and love, or being distracted by the fact these Metro lines are like somebody combined London’s DLR with the Jubilee line, I neglected to check that what was signposted on the departure boards corresponded to the destination on the train itself. What I expected to be the M2 mod Lufthavnen actually turned out to be an M1, headed towards Vestamager. I didn’t realise this until I’d passed a few stops and wound up at Sundby, on the wrong branch for the airport, which is where the rail replacement bus service would take me across the Øresund.

I immediately caught the next train back to Christianshavn, waited on the next genuine M2, and proceeded to panic my way around Kastrup Lufthavn until I found a togbus (train-bus). Rather than appreciating the scenery again, my trip back across the bridge was spent counting each minute, and after I near-sprinted with my heavy suitcase across the plaza at Malmö Hyllie, I was almost praying for a train to turn up. I flung myself at what I hoped was the right platform just as a train arrived. It was busy, and some folk were left behind on the platform, but as I caught my breath I also grabbed my ‘phone and checked the Skånetrafiken website, to see if I would make it to my night train.

To my utter amazement, the pågatåg (purple train) I was stood on had arrived at Hyllie two minutes late. If it had been on time I would have missed it, and – given that I ended up arriving at Malmö Centralstation with only two minutes to spare – that would have left me stranded at the southern tip of Sweden. As it was, I made it to my train-cum-hotel by the skin of my teeth, and was thus in an excellent state to collapse and actually get a good night’s rest atop my flat, rocking bunk.

Never have I been more glad to see a bunk.

Never have I been more glad to see a bunk.

So it is that I was brought home from Lyst Summit – sweating, exhausted and deeply relieved. Fitting, no?