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August 17, 2019
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Game Jam Survival Kit

by Nielisson Mendonca on 04/10/19 10:25:00 am   Featured Blogs

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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.

 

Join our first Game Jam Survival Kit Jam!

There are online and on-site game jams, the latter is an event where you have to create a game within a timeframe. You usually have 2-4 days to work on it and it usually happens over a weekend, so most people can join the fun. It’s also a perfect opportunity to be noticed by local studios or to meet people who are already working in the game industry or even meet individuals who are also avidly looking to work in the field. The event is usually sponsored by some companies or even by the government in order to reduce the costs of the food and/or accommodation. You may need to sleep on-site. In some cases, the event provides everything so you can focus completely on the game creation.


Global Game Jam 2019 at Farset Labs

If you live where game jams are rare or non-existent, you can also do it from your home! Online game jams can take many different formats. The timeframe can vary from one hour to one month, one year etc. There’s no rule of thumb, but most of them are shorter than a week. Jammers (those who participate) may find other team members over the internet or they can work by themselves. Some game jams may create a page on CrowdForge to facilitate the teaming up process. It’s highly suggested to avoid a team of more than 4 members; otherwise, it may be difficult to handle the communication and cohesiveness of the game. Be aware and understanding of people’s different personalities and pacing.  Try to take into consideration that people are tired and that they may get stressed out very easily.

Rewards and Prizes

Some game jams offer some prizes for the winner(s). This can greatly increase the sense of competition which can have a good impact. However, if you are starting out, you may not want to do a very competitive game jam. It’s important to have a very relaxed game jam experience at first so you learn some techniques and get ready for a bigger challenge. Let’s avoid burnout, shall we?

How to find game jams

You may find most online game jams on the Indie Game Jams website. They include jams from Itch.io, Game Jolt and other platforms. In order to find local game jams, you may have to get involved with some associations or organizations that are involved with video game creation. Every January, there’s the Global Game Jam which takes place around the world at physical locations. Also, sometimes schools may organize game jams near you. Stay tuned!

Here is a list of the most well-known game jams in the world:

Game Jam Survival Kit Survey

A survey on the game jam experience was created in order to improve the quality and the assertiveness of this article. We’ve obtained over 65 entries which were used to enrich some of the upcoming topics. Some graphs will be inserted in the post to illustrate some collected data.

 

 

The Struggles Game Jammers Face

  1. Accordingly to the survey and my own experience, overestimating the time needed to create a fully fledged game concept seems to be the greatest struggle that jammers face. Jammers tend to plan very big ideas and ultimately need to cut these down as they run out of time. Sometimes, it’s not so easy to simplify these ideas;

  2. Time management takes second place. There may not be enough time to polish or to test out the game enough. Bugs in a game jam game? Really? Well, it's more than normal, so don't beat yourself up. The rush just before the deadline is a real thing;

  3. Just jam it! Motivation has been mentioned as one of the biggest struggles. If you work in a team, there may be some people who are not as inspired as you. Sometimes, that is also due to not being able to come up with an exciting idea;

  4. When one does not have a solid game concept and goes straight to the development stage, the whole team may lose some significant time after discovering that the game has nothing to do with theme or maybe the game designer(s) forgot an essential element of the game that may take a long time to implement;

  5. Team work! If you can’t work alone, it’s necessary to find teammates in advance so you and your team can get ready. Dividing the work may be a tad complicated if you have a big team. That’s why it’s highly recommended that you get to know your members before the game jam starts, so you can learn about one another’s skills and limitations;

  6. Not taking care of oneself is also an issue during game jams. Some people forget to eat or drink and even sleep. It’s definitely not a good practice and that may affect your project;

  7. Real life happens. Sometimes, someone from your team may simply disappear and show up later when the game jam is over. There are all kinds of excuses, but it’s something that can happen to anyone. Just make sure you give your team a heads-up.

 

 

Jammers learn how to...

  1. Keep things simple. When we get used to do game jams, we learn how to prioritize the tasks better and to keep the game scope contained;

  2. Manage the time better;

  3. Work with other people, improve communication skills;

  4. Realize that starting something is what matters the most. Finishing the game is also good, but that may not happen, and that is OK! We need to learn to let go the projects that did not work well;

  5. Try new things, improve some acquired skills;

  6. Organize the team better. It's important to designate the role of each member since from beginning. That way, people will have a better understanding of what they need to do and why they are important to the team. That also helps to plan ahead, especially if you know the abilities and limitations of each member;

  7. Code efficiently and properly (when possible);

  8. Receive feedback and improve the game accordingly.

Forms response chart. Question title: What game engine do you use ?. Number of responses: 62 responses.

Here are some other popular tools that jammers use:

Adobe Photoshop, Trello, Visual Studio, Aseprite, Discord, Blender, Gimp, Audacity, Reaper, FMOD studio, Krita, GraphicsGale, Google Drive, Autodesk Maya, Bosca Ceoil, Fungus.

 

 

Advice From Jammers to Artists

  • Don’t be ashamed of using references, and try to pick good ones, not just a random sprite sheet that you found in Google Images;

  • Stick to a color palette. You will thank me later. You may find some on Adobe Color;

  • Recycle animations or sprites that are made during the game jam. You may duplicate and modify a sprite that you’ve already done to create something else so you don’t lose so much time trying to come up with another idea;

  • Again, keep it simple! If you are working on 3D models, consider to keep them low poly. Start with something simple then, if you have time, add new features. Don’t focus too much on things that may just be overlooked by the player. The main character (or any other asset that is very present) may need more attention than the other art assets of the game.

  • Programmers can reduce the amount of work by adding effects like particles, shaders, trails etc. A good programmer knows how to make a game from A to Z by using only placeholders. That means that the lack of art assets shouldn’t block the game’s development.

  • Some people say “If you don’t know how to draw, try pixel art”. While this can be true in some ways, it does not mean that you can create a masterpiece without getting to know the medium well. There may be some failures in the beginning, you just need to keep trying! In fact, that’s true for any skill you want to develop.

 

Advice from Jammers to Programmers

  • Build a code library or a "DevKit" that you can reference to. Most participants of this survey have mentioned reusing some scripts from previous projects. As long as you adapt it to current game jam game, you are not breaking any rules, right?

  • If two scripts are doing the same thing, they can be merged. Modular coding can avoid cluster in the Scripts folder;

  • Write down a list of tasks and their priorities. Focus on the MVP (Minimum Viable Product), and if you have the time and you think it may clarify the game concept, create a Technical Design Document;

  • Learn how to use prefabs;

  • If you are not used to work in large teams and there isn’t someone to coordinate the programmers, it may get hectic very quickly. Either way, communication is key for good team work. Make sure the work is fairly divided;

  • On that note, you may want to choose a source code control system as soon as possible. GitHub or Unity Collab seem to be the most used source control system at the moment. Learn about their benefits and disadvantages. When you are working with Unity, Unity Collab is definitely easier or more practical for the team members that are not used to GitHub. However, the free version of Unity Collab only allows three people for each project, and there’s a 1Gb storage limit;

  • Assets’ integration takes a lot of time, thus if other team members know the game engine you are working with, let them integrate or just import the assets directly into the game engine. Give them instructions to avoid possible bugs;

  • Clean code is always better, but hard-code whatever you need in order to keep the boat afloat. Google anything you want, watch tutorials, ask for help online. Some people may even write phrases to explain what the game should do, then convert it to the language they are coding with (e.g., when the player pass by the sign, a monster will show up behind him).

 

General Advice

  • The brainstorming process is very important. List everybody’s ideas, then filter them down to just three ideas, then write down the pros and cons of each one of them. Do a vote for the best one and go for it! Define what kind of experience you want to propose to the player, you may want to define the genre of the game so everybody has a clear understanding of what they are making. A simple and small GDD (Game Design Document) may be necessary and highly recommended. We understand it better when we write. You may want to avoid complex mechanics or games which are demanding to make such as those with procedurally generated levels, multiplayer systems or some genres of games that requires a lot of content, like a RPG...unless that is your specialty;

  • Whether you are an artist, a level/game designer, a programmer or a sound designer, do not be afraid of using references. If you just wait around hoping that the ideas will come, you may just waste valuable time;

  • Communication. We may not stress this enough, but make sure that the communication actually works in the team. Take in consideration everybody’s ideas and maybe find a way to improve the decision making process in case you have a big team. Treat people well and be honest with your intentions. If you do not want to finish the game or you are having an issue with whatever it is, let them know. Discord seems to be the favorite way to communicate with other game designers. It provides lots of resources, make sure to check it out;

  • You may use a Trello board to divide the work and organize the tasks;

  • Keep in mind everybody’s time zones. You may or may not want to work at the same time as your other teammates are working. That is ideal but not a deal breaker;

  • Regarding music, some sound designers recommend one music track for the main gameplay, and a variation for the main menu. You may want to take a look at FMOD or WWISE in case you want to learn how to integrate sounds directly into a game engine like Unity. You may also be interested in using Bfxr to make your own sound effects online;

  • When it comes to level design, there is no secret: it is vital that you have your game playtested by other people, moreover it is important that you note down their difficulties (any impossible levels or buggy builds.). Make sure that you teach the basic actions first, then introduce challenges to the player;

  • Polishing the game is luxury in a game jam. Having that said, you may improve the feel and the sensory feedback of your game by adding small details like screen shake, freeze-frame, flashing, scaling-pitch, particles etc. Use it with moderation, though;

  • Finishing what you've started may be perceived as dedication and determination. When you are recruiting or being recruited, people may check your portfolio to see if they are able to finish your previous games. Some jammers are really serious about the project and they have not time to waste;

  • And if you haven't finished, it's also OK. It happens! You can also finish it after the deadline if the team is motivated.

  • We learn from every jam. We ask each other what we could have done better and find improvements that may be useful in the next jams, we also learn to work under stress with people that we may have never met before. Keep in mind that it's not a commercial game which gives you the opportunity to be as creative as you want and, more importantly, have fun!

Forms response chart. Question title: Rate your game jam experience. Number of responses: 63 responses.Rate 1 as very high and 5 as very low.

 

How to Survive in a Game Jam

Water: it does body good. When you are “jamming”, please do not forget to keep hydrated. Eat and sleep well. Take care of yourselves. You don’t want to ruin it because of something like that. There will be other game jams and, most importantly, have fun!

 

Forms response chart. Question title: Do you think that doing game jams can help you get a job in the game industry?. Number of responses: 21 responses.

What are you waiting for, then?

 

Start here

Check out the Game Jam Survival Kit, a Google Drive folder where you can find anything you need to make games, such as tutorials, visual references, tools and software. This is a community resource folder, so feel free to add anything you would like. Join us on our Discord channel to learn more about game jams. We will be soon having our first "game jam" for tool creation. Come and join us!

 

 

 

 

[Some images from this articles are from Pixeles or from Unsplash.]   

 

 


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