I’d argue that Spooktober Game Jam is the second-biggest visual novel game jam, right behind NaNoRenO. When I interviewed Nai back in August about Spooktober, he mentioned to me that there’s something about his jam that attracts developers and players of all kinds to either participate or play the entries respectively. Even those unfamiliar with the visual novel genre take a look at what the jam has to offer.
A surprising level of polish
Perhaps this is in part due to the prize money on the line, but there’s a huge level of polish across all the Spooktober entries, and it just seems to get better every year. Polish can mean a few different things: a fantastic-looking UI, great voice acting, a well-crafted story with few or no typos or grammar mistakes, or amazing art that just sucks you into the game’s world. It’s very clear that all the teams participating put a lot of effort into making their titles be the best they can be.
Its themes allow for a lot of creativity
Some may say that giving a developer the utmost freedom is perhaps the greatest gift you can give them. However, when I’m able to do whatever I want, I personally find that to be the toughest thing, because there are so many ideas I’d want to do. However, Spooktober, like other jams, requires participants to follow a theme: your title must either be spooky or Halloween-themed. Here are the ideas that are listed on the jam page.
– A Horror Genre Visual Novel
– A Visual Novel that takes place on the holiday
– Individualized themes related to Halloween. Examples: Monsters, Ghosts, Costumes, or Candy.
– A Creepypasta version of an existing work you created.
– Offshoots, spin offs, and ‘fan-disc’ style submissions are allowed and encouraged!Spooktober VN Jam 2021 itch.io page
With a set of available themes to choose from, there’s a lot that teams can do. Games can focus on the festivities that come with Halloween, such as telling “campfire stories” like how the cast does in Marbles. Or they can take on the theme of monsters. These monsters can either help fuel a fear-induced story like Hush Little Lily, a point-and-click VN about a little girl exploring a dungeon with monsters in it, or The Housemate, a psychological horror game about living with a toxic person who slowly becomes a monster because of their horrid personality. Alternatively, these monsters can be charming and fun, like they are in Hearts & Hexes.
Not being confined to just horror works allows for more diversity among entries and brings in more developers that aren’t comfortable with creating something scary to bring something unique to the jam. This goes into my next and most important point.
There’s something for everyone
Our marketing director, Courtney, is deathly scared of anything remotely horror. So when we approached her about the idea of contributing to our team article about our favorite Spooktober games, she was a bit apprehensive. However, after she learned that not all the games were actually scary and some instead had cute aesthetics with monsters or played around with the idea of Halloween, she had a good time playing through the entries she did. She even enjoyed The Spider and the Bride, a heartfelt visual novel about a spider that managed to make someone who absolutely detests spiders fall in love with a game where the main character is the very creature she is fearful of.
There’s also other lighthearted games, such as Scary Gourmet, a story about two dads making dinner for their daughter and her new girlfriend. Not every entry has to be scary, which I think is a good thing, despite the jam being titled “Spooktober Game Jam.” As a developer, something I have to remember is that my games aren’t for everyone. If someone doesn’t want to play my horror game with gore and terrifying monsters, that’s okay. If Spooktober only had horror games, I think it wouldn’t have the appeal it has now. It would alienate a group of people looking for a nice Halloween-inspired game to play for the month of October. At the same time, those looking for a good scare will have no problem finding a ton of Spooktober games that meet that criteria.
I love game jams, and I think Spooktober ranks as one of my favorites for the reasons I listed above. When I interviewed Nai, he mentioned the importance of creating a jam for everyone. As he saw the jam grow, he continued to make that his mission, and I think he’s been super successful in doing that. The jam keeps getting bigger and bigger, and as a result, the entries keep getting better and better. So it’s safe to say that I’m excited to see what comes out next year.