Top Tips for Game Jams

Top Tips for Game Jams

Top Tips for Game Jams

02-May-2014 Game Jam, two words that are synonymous with creativity in the game development community.

Game jams are a short development period, often taking place over 48 hours, where teams create a game from start to finish. Rather than ironing out all the bugs and making a polished game, teams try to focus on a core idea based around a theme. Developers are given the theme at the commencement of a jam which must be integrated into the game in some capacity. Game jams are a great way to experiment and generate new game mechanics and ideas in a condensed time frame.

It is easy to become overwhelmed with the task of creating a game in only 48 hours. We spoke to a number of indie devs to find out their leading advice for game jams.

Where do you begin?

Most Indies would agree that starting is often one of the biggest challenges. You are given the theme then then instantly feel the time slipping through your fingers. While it would be easy to think that you just plonk yourself down on a seat and start creating assets is that really the first thing your should be doing?

Tom Spratt - Wildgrass Games

If you're working with a group, spend a good hour or more at the beginning figuring out what it is you're making with as much discussion, disagreements etc sorted out there and then. This is healthy and gives everyone a much more solid notion of what it is you're making going forward and leads to a stronger game than the many ideas you will toss out before settling on something.

Your game should be doing one thing, and doing that thing well. Do not try for anything more than that. One fun mechanic is better than a couple of unpolished bland ones.

Shane Trewartha - Level Machine

At the Global Game Jam (GGJ) this year, we filled up a whiteboard with ideas and spent about 2-3 hours discussing them before putting a finger to keyboard, and that was definitely one of the best things we could have done.

Should you pull an all-nighter?

The first night of the jam approaches, you have your idea locked down and everyone on the teams is doing their thing. You have made good progress but despite this time appears to already be running out and you feel that you can’t get it all done. Do you would forgo sleep in favour of getting more work done? While the short term benefits of this are oblivious it may not be until later in the jam that fatigue sets in and you are not able to think straight.

Josh Edwards - Daybreak Interactive

Don't push yourself to stay up all night for the first night. You'll actually get LESS done, and you'll be a waste for the rest of the jam. Organise napping times, where you can go sleep for an hour or two. That way, when you wake up, you'll be nice and recharged for the work you need.

Garth Robertson - Organic Humans

Eat healthy, exercise and get good sleep before and throughout the whole process.

How can you best spend your time?

Game jams are not designed to result in a completed game that can then be sold the moment the jam is over. In the short time available, you are experimenting with new game play ideas and rapidly prototyping.

Trevor Clift - Siege Sloth Games

Functionality over prettiness, with everything. Write functional code instead of beautiful code. Make functional art assets instead of spending hours and hours on the little details also, with 3D assets, make the models quickly and get them in the game. You’ll have time to texture them well throughout the 48 hours but get them in game first.

Calum Spring - Cardboard Keep

Use Version Control !

Some project and task management tools like Trello or scrum can be a bit much for such a short term project - you can spend more time setting them up than you get back in gained productivity. But that's not the case with version control. 

Gain a good understanding of the procedures to set up, use and fix problems in your chosen version control system, be it SVN, Git or something else, and it will pay you back in droves of free hours you would otherwise be using to figure out why this art asset works when 'Sarah' imports it but not when 'Bob' does, or scouring over a hundred lines of code to find why it broke on 'Alice's' computer and where to add the functions 'Dave' wrote.

Version control replaces those processes with a simple commit by one person and an update by another. We wouldn't dare go into a game jam or any other project without it.

So Jammers in talking to our indie professionals we found, planning is key, sleep is so important on the first night, version control will minimise your stress levels and do not over scope with your project. By applying these lessons next time you jam you should be able to avoid many of the common mistakes made by developers.

Happy Jamming!