11 Game Jam Tips

Game Jam Tips

Need some tips for  your next game jam?  Not sure if you’d like to try one?

What in the heck is a game jam, anyway?

A game jam is a competition, taking place over a very short but varying timeframe (usually a few days) in which the participants attempt to put together a coherent game. Sometimes, a theme is involved. To get enough done to qualify, entrants must be willing to work long hours…and work together. It’s an excellent learning experience and if you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it! It’s a great way for testing the waters of working with new people to see if you have good synergy.

Recently I participated in a game jam for just this purpose. We originally scheduled the jam to last 12 hours (it took closer to 10, I think) and I focused on art assets while my teammate focused on programming. It went really well, and while we didn’t have any plans whatsoever for the game itself or the theme, we did discuss some other points beforehand that I feel contributed to the success of the project.

So, here’s what I learned – 11 Game Jam Tips to help you out if ya need it.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

It’s tempting to jump in and think you can make something really epic in a few hours.

You can’t.

If you’re lucky enough to have an artist on your team, you still have to load their assets into the game and make them functional. If you’re using pre-made assets, you still have to find them and prepare them for use. Unless you’re very skillful, chances are, you won’t accomplish what you set out to accomplish in the timeframe allotted. For that reason…

Start simple, work up

We found it helpful to work out a single core mechanic and go from there. In our case, we decided that we were going to make the gameplay operate from a slider, and once we knew that, we could expand into the graphical presentation of that gameplay. If we’d decided a bunch of details and tried to make it all work at once, it probably wouldn’t have gone very well.

Make sure the people you work with aren’t hard-headed or pushy.

There won’t be time to argue about random things. If your team isn’t totally on-board with being flexible with ideas and the concept that their input may not be used for the final outcome, you’ll need another team. You can’t spend 50% of your working time arguing over tiny things that won’t ultimately have a huge impact on gameplay…or finishing.

Be sure you know who does what.

Work out in advance who does what. Do you know who will be picking sound effects? Creating/finding music? Who will be responsible for keeping track of credits for the creative commons assets you might use?

Work out software details and file sharing ahead of time.

Do you know what game engine you’ll be using? How will you communicate with other team members? How will you share assets? Where will you post the WIP for other team members to review? (We used Github/Sourcetree/Bitbucket, but…don’t ask me how any of it works. 🙂 )

Keep careful track of details so nothing goes forgotten.

Who will be responsible for keeping track of the little things that will need doing? Do you have some way of creating and maintaining a public to-do list? (We used Trello.)

Don’t be shy.

During our initial brainstorming (via Discord) we had a pretty quick, intense conversation. It involved a lot of interrupting and just dumping ideas as they occurred to us. It looked like a very broken conversation, but it was full of pieces of ideas that were helpful, even if they didn’t make it into the final game. You won’t have that abundance of ideas to work from if you don’t speak up, so be prepared to set aside any reserved personality you might have.

Minimize distractions.

The moment you start a project like this, the phone rings, internet timesinks appear alluring, pretty much everything tries to throw you off-track. Tell people you’re working that day and not to disturb you, ignore the phone calls and take a break from social media. Facebook, Instagram and that site with all the funny cat pictures aren’t going anywhere.

Good communication

We seemed to do fairly well in the communication department. We were very willing to listen to each other’s ideas and corrections. Corrections in our case were necessary, compounded by the fact that I was using some software with which I had no familiarity whatsoever. If that happens to be the case with you or your team, be ready to be patient and prepared to work out inevitable snarls along the way. If you have a problem with something, speak up. Respect other people’s opinions, too.

Be willing to let go of the little stuff.

At the end of the day, you’ll have a lot of ideas that could contribute a lot to the value of the game…but only if you have time to implement them. If you finish early and have time to add more, go for it, but if time is getting tight, and the details don’t add any real value, let them go. You can always make a second version of the game later with added features if it pleases you.

Have fun!

This sounds stupid and obvious, but don’t let the project get so overwhelming that you forget to have a good time making it. You’re supposed to have fun, not torture yourself. If you get hung up in details or timeframes or arguments, there’s no way you’ll have a good time and your teammates won’t, either. Commit yourself to staying relaxed and easygoing with everyone else to make sure you make the most of your time working together. And, you’ll have a shiny new game to show for it.

Have you ever participated in a game jam? What was your experience with it? Comment below!

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