Game Jams are incredibly fun. They’re more fun if you do them with a large group of people in the same spot. They’re even MORE fun if you come prepared.
This weekend is both http://www.gamesplusplus.org/, and also the start of http://www.punkcyb.org/. I’m very excited to try to make something cyberpunk next week (runs from March 1st to March 10th), but I’m even more excited to gather in the same building with a big group of local game makers, and work our asses off for 12 hours straight for GamesPlusPlus.
I’m listing a few tips and tricks for developers who haven’t done a game jam before, or for someone who hasn’t previously tried doing a 12 hour game jam. Most of these tips are in the interest of streamlining your game making process, since 12 hours isn’t a lot of time and you need every scrap of time you can get your productive little hands on. Last year at GamesPlusPlus most of the games I played were only about 50% finished (including my own). Follow these few guidelines for a more favorable experience and for a more finished product.
- 1. KNOW YOUR TECH AHEAD OF TIME – This is probably the most important rule. Don’t come in to a jam expecting to “learn as you go”. Spare time is for learning. Game jams are for making games. If you DO want to use new tech, at least spend a few days earlier in the week learning the basics.
- 2. If you want to be in a group, try to make the groups ahead of time. Know what you can bring to the table, and know what roles you’ll need others to fill. Developer/Musician who can’t do art? Find an artist. Artist/Developer who doesn’t do music? Find a musician. etc…
- 3. If you’re joining a group, try to talk with everyone else ahead of time to get an idea what “types” of games everyone is interested in. It saves everyone time and prevents you from trying to pitch your idea for a rhythm platformer for 10 minutes when half your group quietly hates platformers. That’s 10 minutes you could have spent doing something else.
- 4. Know your tech’s limitations. Yes that multiplayer feature sounds awesome, but if you’re not sure if your framework can do multiplayer then you should probably just not. (The best solution would be to know if you can do multiplayer ahead of time)
- 5. Show up with an empty game “template(s)”. Most games share a lot of similar elements that can be templated ahead of time. Particles, State Management, Animations, collision, physics, polish…etc… These are all things that you will probably have in your game no matter what the game is. Come with a pre-existing framework, or build these ahead of time. DON’T spend limited game jam time making a particle system from scratch when you could’ve done this last week. (I could easily spend 12+ hours on a particle system alone).
- 6. Can your game idea be accomplished in the given jam time divided by 3? If no then you should probably scope the project down a bit. (ie if you have 12 hours try to shoot for a game you think you can finish in 4 hours). We all know developers are shit at estimating development time.
- 7. DESTROY SCOPE CREEP. Yes that’s a very cool feature you just thought of with 3 hours left. Unfortunately you should probably just throw it out unless it’s simple enough to execute in 10 minutes or less.
- 8. Be realistic with your teammates. If someone has a cool idea but you think it would take too long to do, make sure you speak up and let them know. Don’t stay quiet in the interest of being friendly.
- 9. This is related to #5, but preload your polish elements ahead of time. Polish things I’m going to bring ahead of time are: Screen Shake, Screen Flash, and tweening. Sure screen shake and flashes can be coded in like 10 minutes easily, but why not spend 30 seconds plugging the premade code in instead of spending those 20 minutes writing from scratch? 20 minutes is a lot of time if you only have 12 hours total.
- 10. Shower before showing up. Brush your teeth too. I shouldn’t have to say this, but, well…
There are probably a lot more things you “could do” to make your jam experience better, but these are the ones I like to follow as a developer.
For tons more information if you’re interested Christer Kaitila (https://twitter.com/McFunkypants) has written a book titled “The Game Jam Survival Guide”. It’s not specific to just developers, and you can pick up off amazon here http://www.amazon.com/The-Game-Jam-Survival-Guide/dp/1849692505.