All posts by Rae Knowler

A game jam at Liip: Ludum Dare 39

Recently we hosted a game jam called Ludum Dare in the Arena of our Zürich office. It’s important to us to be a part of the tech community, and there’s a growing scene of indie game developers in Zürich.

What is a game jam? It’s a challenge to create a video game from scratch in a short amount of time. There are a lot of different ones being run; for Ludum Dare you and your team have 72 hours to make and submit your game. Although that may sound impossible, game jams are popular exactly because they force you to be creative instead of dithering about the details of what you want to make.

Ludum Dare

Ludum Dare has been running for fifteen years now, and this was the 39th edition. Thousands of people across the world participated, all creating games on the same theme—which was not announced until the start of the jam. You can always participate at home, but getting together with other jammers is much more fun. It also lets you meet new people and form new teams. That’s very necessary, because making a game requires so many different skills.

In Zürich, the local game developers’ group Gamespace organises meetups for Ludum Dare, and this was the second time Liip has hosted them. It’s much easier to jam if you have a big space where you’re not disturbing anyone by spreading out electronics and making weird sounds.

The Jam

We started on Saturday morning with croissants and orange juice and discussed the theme: Running out of power. A good jam theme should have lots of different possible interpretations, and our group discussed running out of computing or graphics power, the Spoon Theory, losing political power, losing magical powers, or having to constantly charge your mobile phone in the game. In the end we split into two groups. One decided to make a story game about coping with depression, and the other started on a platformer about a magical creature giving up their powers to become more human.

The groups got down to business and began writing code and using graphics tablets to make the artwork. Both games were programmed using the Unity engine, a popular choice because of its broad feature set and visual editor.

For the game Dryad, which I worked on with David Stark, we wanted to come up with all our sound effects from scratch. This meant repurposing whatever office supplies we could find in unexpected ways! The sound of sticky tape being pulled off the roll became the sound of a magical spell. Riffling a block of post-its, we got the sound of a crossbow firing a bolt. The noise of triumph when you reach the end of a level comes from a table football trophy being struck!

The Results

By the end of Sunday night, our games were mostly complete and only needed the finishing touches to be submitted on Monday. Both of them are available to play online: Dryad and 03:00 AM. We’ll discuss the creation process at a future Gamespace meetup. In the meantime, the games from the Ludum Dare 38 jam (also held at Liip Zürich) are available here:

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A recap of PyCon UK 2016

PyCon UK has traditionally taken place in Coventry, but this September it was held in Cardiff, in the beautiful City Hall. We shared the space with several weddings — including one between a ladybird and a fireman, part of the City of the Unexpected celebrations of Roald Dahl!

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Berlin Buzzwords 2014

Last week was the fifth Berlin Buzzwords conference, held in the lively Prenzlauer Berg area of the city, and fellow liiper Lukas Kahwe Smith and I were there. Berlin Buzzwords has three tracks on data analytics and processing at scale: search, store and scale. As well as finding out about the big data topics of the day, I went there hoping to find out some tips and tricks for Solr and Neo4j, which I’ve been interested in since Philipp Küng recently gave a techtalk on it at Liip.

Sunday: Barcamp

I travelled to Berlin during the day on Sunday, to be there on time for the Barcamp at the start of Buzzwords. It was a good opportunity to get my wristband and name badge before the crowds appeared on Monday! My favourite talks were Anders Hoff‘s presentation of his generative algorithms in Python (his code is here) and a discussion on how to make Wikipedia’s search more useful for power users.


The catering throughout Buzzwords was impressive, but it was when I got there for breakfast and saw the never-ending Club Mate bottles on the bar that I really knew I was in Berlin.

Felipe Hoffa and Ewa Gasperowicz’s talk on Exploring the Notability Gender Gap was maybe my favourite of the whole conference. They combined Google’s BigQuery and Maps to look into the question of gender representation in Freebase, and I left excited to try out BigQuery myself.

After lunch I enjoyed Michael Hunger’s workshop on Neo4j GraphGists and Michael Kaisser’s talk on Geospatial Analysis of Social Media Posts with Elasticsearch.


Tuesday had two very useful presentations for my quest of learning about Solr: Side by side with Elasticsearch and Solr by Rafał Kuć and Radu Gheorghe, and Chris Hofstetter’s Hidden Gems: Getting More Out Of Apache Solr (slides here). Otherwise, the most interesting talk I went to was Breno Faria’s on content tagging at ZEIT Online, where tags needed to be relevant for current material and as full as possible for the archives, and neither robots nor humans alone could do a good job. There’s now an API for the tagged content, too!

Wednesday: Neo4j meetup

The Berlin Neo4j group had organised a Learn Hack-Day for the day after Buzzwords, with about 50 people attending. I think everyone was happy to learn that Neo4j 2.1 now allows bulk import of data from CSVs, and, fuelled by pizza and more mate soda, we worked on projects ranging from cocktail recipes to political donations (see #graphhackday for examples).


I had a great time at Berlin Buzzwords: discovering cool new tools, talking about big data, and exploring the city too. I’m looking forward to July, when Liip will return there for OKFest!

Some additional notes from Lukas

I have attended several previous Berlin Buzzwords editions. This time I especially focused on learning more on Cassandra. The fact that they now seem to prefer an SQL-ish interface makes it much more approachable and is just another pointer at how ridiculous the NoSQL acronym is. While PHP seems to be a tabu topic at the conference, I learned via twitter that there is infact even a PDO driver for Cassandra. Other than that I tried to hear about as many different technologies as possible, be it YARN, Redis, ElasticSearch, Solr etc. In general however I felt this edition was a bit too focused on ElasticSearch, Hadoop and Cassandra. That being said, my favorite talk was Britta’s talk “Scoring for Human Beings”. Just liked her style and the fact that she both provided some theoretical background combined with useful information that one can quickly apply in the real world.