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Some advice on Global Game Jam 2013
by Taro Omiya on 01/24/13 08:53:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Cross-posted from my blog.

Hey, everyone.  Global Game Jam is less than a day away, and I figured it’ll be a good time to provide some practical advice from a seasoned jammer who’ve went through 3 Global Game Jams, and at least 5 local, 8-hour Game Jams.

How it works
Before we get to the advice section, though, here’s a brief description of how Global Game Jam is conducted.  It’ll help frame my suggestions later.

Global Game Jam is a global event where teams attempt to create a video game, board game, or card game related to a common theme in under 48 hours.  At most locations, the Jam starts at 5:00 pm (local time) where an introductory video is shown to get everyone comfortable.  The theme will be presented at the end of this video, and members are given about an hour to brainstorm on their own game idea.  Each participates will present their idea to everyone at the end of this brainstorm session, and teams are created based around popular concepts.

Preparation before the event
If you intend to make a video game, I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend that you learn how to use a game engine (NOT a framework).  Such skills will prove to be useful regardless of whether you’re a programmer, artist, composer, or a writer.  For starts, I recommend playing around with GameMaker for 2D games, or Unity for 3D.

I also recommend bringing a laptop if you have one, even if you’re making a board game or a card game.  There’s going to be a lot of typing and re-writing going to be done in your game, so the faster the tool, the better.  Plus, you’ll need the internet to submit your game, too!  Even if you don’t have one, most site provides computers, so I wouldn’t be too worried about it.

Lastly, if the site you’re going to is open for the whole 48 hours, bring a sleeping bag and an extra set of clothes.  I will guarantee you you will stay up for a long, long time.

Coming up with an idea
Anyone with a bit of knowledge on the gaming industry will know that most console games are made by teams larger than 30, for 3 or more years.  For an event with only 48 hours, and team size of less than 10, attempting to make a game a size of a console game is, to put it lightly, impractical.

On top of that, the idea must be related to a theme.  Unfortunately, the Global Game Jam theme is kept secret until the very day of the event.  It’s highly unlikely that any ideas before the event would mesh well with the presented theme.

Thus, you will have to come up with a simple, Angry Birds-style idea on-the-spot.  Additionally, the idea should at least provide a game mechanic to build on, such as how the game will be played.  I personally have several sheets of paper ready before the theme is presented, and write down every notes and game mechanics I can think of that vaguely reminds me of the theme.  The rules doesn’t specify how much the idea has to be related to the theme, after all!

Also see: Coming Up With a Game in Global Game Jam. 

Team building
What you need for a team, and how many people will be entirely dependent on what game you’re trying to make.  The criteria I provide below are what have personally worked best for me.

For team size, with a game like Angry Birds, I found 3 or 4 members were optimal.  If a game idea is art-heavy or philosophical, I would go for 5 or 6.

If you intend to make a video game, I strongly recommend having at least one person devoted to making artworks, and one person devoted to programming.  If you plan on making a board or card game, devote one person as a writer for all the rules.

First thing first: do not get attached to your team’s game idea.  Be prepared to scrap everything the moment you notice the game won’t be fun.    Even I personally scrapped my game ideas twice before.

Since it’s entirely possible that this will happen, your team should make something playable as soon as possible.  Forget about the artworks, sound effects, even the menus and the end-game results: the sooner you know whether the basic gameplay of your game is fun or not, the better.  If it’s not fun, scrap it, and make another game again as rapidly as possible.  Polish can always come later.

Time is of essence, here, so you should mainly stick with the tools you know.  If a feature is taking more than an hour, forget about it, and move on.  If a bug is going to or already is taking more than an hour to fix, hide it instead.

Lastly, have your game playtested by people outside of your team as soon as possible.  Keep note of where they seem to “not understand” about your game, where they enjoyed the game, and where they didn’t.  Playtesting help prioritize which tasks are more important, and may even reveal that some bugs may not have to be fixed!

Closing note
Above all else, have fun, be persistent, and make sure you get a lot of food and rest through this exhilarating event.  Good luck!

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Justin LeGrande
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Congratulations on getting published on Gamasutra, from IGDA DC!

I'm curious if there are any viable alternatives, as a beginner, to Game Maker or Unity. I've read about programs such as Ruby and LUA, which have been used as the basis for programs such as the RPG Maker series and LUA-integrated games, respectively. A repertoire of choices, and the reasons for choosing one or another, would be helpful.

Dave Young
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Check out Shiva by StoneTrip. It's a pretty game engine with extensive multi-platform support and the code is based on Lua (but is not true Lua)

Alexander Jhin
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Flash. =)

Taro Omiya
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My main reason for suggesting game engines are, of course, to help you get your game done faster. Really, any tool that you think will get the job done fast and well are perfect for Global Game Jam.

But since you've asked, here are just a few free game engines I can come up with at the top of my head that are free.

For 3D:
Unreal Engine 3 (uses its own UnrealScript)
Shiva (uses Lua scripting)
Torque 3D (uses C++)
Blender (yes, it has a game engine! Uses Python)

Of those, only Unity and Blender supports Macs, and Blender supports Linux.

For 2D:
Construct 2 (technically allows Javascript, but highly discouraged)
Game Editor (uses its own C-like scripting language)
Ren'Py (technically, a visual novel framework, but you barely need any Python knowledge to use it)

Of those, only Construct 2 is Windows-only. The other 2D engines works with Macs, and both Game Editor and Ren'py works on Linux, too!

Alexander Jhin
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The two strategies that helped my team most: 1) Keep the game very simple and very content light. 2) Sleep. Without sleep, you'll end up wasting a lot of time writing incoherent code that must be re-written.

Matthew Downey
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I always go into GGJ with a sleep-never mentality. Maybe that's why I am still an amateur.

Funny enough, I wanted to 1) sleep, 2) exercise, and 3) meditate throughout the jam, but still failed.

For some reason staying up is too much fun (or too competitive?) to pass up on the yearly event. Even though I was sick, I'm pretty confident I slept only 3 sleep cycles (~5 hrs) throughout the jam.

Sleep strategies aside, the best tips I can give are find a nice quiet room to work with your team and roam around whenever you start getting bored.

Garret Bright
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I've never done a GGJ before, and I'm considering this one. Are teams typically formed before the jam, and they enter the jam as a team, or do individuals usually find a team once they're there?