Gameology 8 - Game Jams

Show Notes

Mathew interviews Attila about his recent participation in a Game Jam and Attila shares his thoughts and experiences with Jams past. Games discussed in the show:

Robo's World: The Zarnok Fortress (The Digital Environment)

Stardew Valley

HeliChopper (Made in 17 Hours)

When we were Young

Gentlemen Drop Dead

Cat Daemon (Throw Away Games' Jam Game)


Extended Thoughts

I've only been lucky enough to participate in 4 Game Jams; 3 in-person and one online. To give a brief overview, the goal of a Game Jam is to create a game, either as an individual or with a group, within a short time limit. At an in-person Jam attendees meet up in a specific location to be in the same space as other jammers, whereas in the case of an online Jam, participants coordinate the event over the Internet through use of a website or forum. An online Jam does not preclude the possibility of teams, but it is certainly less likely that team members will end up seeing one another. Due to reasons such as the cost associated with renting the space for an in-person Jam, they don't tend to run for more than a few days. Online Jams face no such constraints and may therefore run as long as the event coordinators see fit, up to a month in some cases.

The Jams I participated in are Toronto's own TO Jam (3 years in a row) and once in the online Game Maker Community Jam. If you are considering participating in a game Jam and have the opportunity to participate in an in-person Jam, I highly recommend it. That isn't to slight online Jams, but attending one in-person has a couple added benefits. For one, they are a fantastic way of meeting new people with a common interest in game development in your local area; you might make some new friends! Working side by side with team members can really help you to coordinate your efforts and get the most out of a jam experience. Plus, there's nothing quite like the creative energy of the other teams around you, catching snippets of conversation and insights into other people's workflow can serve as a source of inspiration on your own project.

 If you are a prospective employer, Jams are a fantastic way to see what people are capable of in a limited span of time. I personally met the Artist who I hired for work on Robo's World: The Zarnok Fortress at a Jam! I've also seen some people who've done nothing but play games and / or watch YouTube videos all three days of the Jam, making them people I wouldn't consider working with. By contrast, when you're dealing with an online game jam, it's more difficult to evaluate the work habits of other participants, although some people do take it upon themselves to live-blog or even live-stream their development. When participating in an Online Jam, you are also participating from the comfort of your own home. Some attendees of in-person Jams elect to stay at the location overnight, packing sleeping bags to ensure that they can remain at the event as long as possible. I've always personally chosen to return home overnight to sleep in the comfort of my own bed and have a daily shower, which is a given when participating in an online Jam. That being said, if typically a Jam participant doesn't have a lot of spare time to dedicate to making games, I can completely understand why they are motivated to squeeze every last second out of the in-person event. I will advise however, that first time attendees don't try staying overnight, it would be better to get a feel for what a game jam is like before going for total immersion.

Many game Jams incorporate a Theme of some kind; an over-arching concept which serves as the inspiration for the game you are making. Some Jams take the theme very seriously and only post the theme when the Jam starts, others are more lax and may post it up to a week before the event begins. For my part, I find the Jams that heavily enforce the use of their theme to be less fun. For some people, the Theme is a great starting-off point which inspires the game they are about to work on. I come up with new ideas for games all the time, and therefore find it limiting to have to constrain my ideas to fit a jam's theme.

One of the best things about a Game Jam is the fact that it presents the opportunity for game designers to practice the most fundamental mantra of their craft; "Fail Faster". While you may not completely bring to life your game idea within the time-frame of a jam, you should at least be able to create a minimum viable product, something shows off the heart of the experience you want to create. The Jam build can serve as your test-bed, with other jammers as your audience to see if your idea has merit, or where it needs improvement. If you manage to hook an audience with just your Jam build, if you hear those magic words; "I'd love to see more of this!" You'll know that you're starting off strong. And don't worry if your Jam game isn't showered with adoration, perhaps it just needs some tweaking before it really shines, even the best designers need to iterate on an idea several times before they get it right. You can't get too invested in an idea, if trying to bring it to life reveals some fundamental flaws with an idea, just be glad of the time you've saved yourself, lest you'd continued working on the game in isolation and the flaws hadn't become noticeable until the end of a long development cycle.

Another great benefit of participating in a game Jam of any kind is that it helps you refine your sense of Scope. As a developer, it's incredibly important to see how far you can push your skills, and what you accomplish within a given period of time. After all, when you work on a larger scale project you'll likely be breaking up larger tasks into smaller ones as you build out your project time-line. Accurate estimation is critical to ensuring that your project hits the expected ship date. Poor time estimation can result in your project running late, which can strain a project's budget among other unpleasant side-effects.