A lot of you guys have asked me about how to get involved in game jams. You heard about it and are thinking about doing it, but don’t know where to start.
First, what is a game jam? Game Jam is a short, fun group development that takes place over a few days. You will get 1 theme to work with, and you form a quick team and get a game created.
I recently got to participate in the GMTK game jam, and it was a TON of fun! It was featured on Rock Paper Shotgun which was crazy! https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2019/08/10/priceless-play-10-august/
Here’s why you should do game jams:
1. Communication & Skills - Working with complete strangers lets you be ready for anything in an actual studio environment. Plus you’ll learn the different styles of workflows that people tend to have.
2. Sense of achievement & Completion - Sometimes, we’re working on long term projects with several months of progress. It’s good to be able to finish something and put it down proudly once in a while.
3. Prep for Jobs - For students and people looking for work, this is as close as it can get to what you can show to companies to prove how good at something you are, and how you’re passionate for games. Don’t just be content with what you made for a school project. Professional developers constantly work on game jams to sharpen their skills. Show that you’re passionate about game development by working on game jams.
In the past 2 years, I’ve worked on around 15 game jams. It’s helped me grow in many skills as well as making tons of great friends who I cherish our relationship with today. I’ll share some of my tips, Do’s and Don’t do’s with you, so that you can have a wonderful jammin’ experience on your first game jam.
1. Find a Jam
There are several ways to participate in a Game Jam. 75% of my game jams have been online, through websites like itch.io and indiegamejams.com. This is great if you live somewhere far away where there’s not much game dev scene going around.
Be on the look out for Xavier’s game jams: (Game Jammers Discord).
There are quality people in there always looking to do game jams. You’ll be guaranteed to be working with a game jam that has many people participating in, and there’s even prizes for winning (game keys). Here’s the link to the discord. https://discord.gg/zXkzWFt
Another fantastic online game jam to join is the Ludum Dare! It’s also massive, and pretty competitive. Check out their website: https://ldjam.com/
My other 25% game jams have been in person, and these are even more memorable. Global Game Jam is the biggest one that everyone participates in every year, and if you happen to live in a bustling city, chances are, there is a global game jam being hosted somewhere near you. You can search your area by visiting GGJ’s website: https://globalgamejam.org/ People around the world gather to make games together for 48 hours together. If you want to read about MY very first GGJ experience, you can read it here: https://danielkimaudio.com/blog/2019/1/13/ggj-2018-how-to-have-a-funtastic-time
2. Assemble a Team
Now that you know which Jam to join, now you’ll want to look for a team. If you’re joining in by yourself, go to the jam’s discord and look for a “Looking for a team” tab, or places like that where you can let others know that you’re looking for a team. Usually for sound designers and composers, there are always teams that they can join.
How do you join a quality team? I’ve heard stories of people joining teams where teammates would not commit all the way. The saddest thing about game jam is that if not everyone pulls through, sometimes you don’t end up shipping the game. We don’t want this to happen! You want to make sure that the team you are joining has great people in it, who are just as passionate as you about game development. If you’re completely going in blind, try to scout people’s previous works or their twitter, and decide to join them. I personally like to jam with people that I’ve worked with before, or know are committed, which guarantees that my next few days with them is going to be a smooth sail.
My favorite team comp for 48 hour game jams is 1 ~ 2 programmers, 1 ~ 2 artists, and 1 audio person. Maximum I would go for is around 8, and fewest I can go for is 3. Anything bigger, the harder it is for everyone to stay connected to each others’ work.
3. The First Hour
The first hour of the game jam is the most important. This is the time to mingle with your teammates, identify what they want to get out of this jam, and also talk about the overall plan of your game. Great planning at start guarantees that you won’t change important gameplay mechanics or themes half way through. Here are several key things I like to ask during the first hour:
• Ask Identify everyone’s goals. What do you hope to get out of from working on this game jam?
• What is the core gameplay mechanic that you can drive from the theme? Try to steer away from a 'story focused’ game. This is a great opportunity to explore creating a great gameplay mechanic in a short time. Most of the times, games with gameplay mechanic that directly derives from the theme are appreciated, especially if there’s rating involved.
• What is everyone’s availability for the next few days? Make it clear from the start - This is important.
• “Is this doable in the next 36 hours?” Think ahead. You want to have plenty of time to playtest your game. You can’t make World of Warcraft in 36 hours.
4. During the Game Jam
The more you can communicate and be available, the better. This is why in-person jams are the best, because you can just walk over to your buddy’s desk and ask when his task will be done. But for online game jams, it’s on YOU to make sure that you’re communicating to your team and pushing out assets as soon as you can - especially if others’ work depend on yours.
Whatever your role is, you have to be inside the circle and know what is happening at all times. Just because you’re a graphics designer, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be involved in contributing to the ideation of the gameplay mechanic. If you’re a sound designer, you should still look to give feedback on the art style of the game, and such.
As an audio person, I usually stay involved in the design side of the game early on, and try to create music for the game early, and sound design later. Since sounds rely on animation, gameplay & art assets, it can be challenging to try to create it right from the start. Writing a great music early on can hype your team and motivate them during the slumps.
You want to be someone who is a catalyst - not just someone who delivers assets and call it a day. Make it a point to update your progress with your team constantly. Share images and GIF of your work on your chat, and provide valuable feedback for others’ work when they share theirs.
5. End of Day 1 (Out of 2 days)
You want to have a playable prototype of your game’s main mechanic by the end of day 1, if this was a 2 day game jam. Day 2 is for polishing, extra art assets, additional features, and sound effects.
If by chance you don’t have a working gameplay mechanic, ask your team about possibly scaling down the size of the game. You don’t want to rush the last day or pull an all nighter during game jams - some people do it, but it really just tires you out and doesn’t make for a great experience.
6. The Last Few Hours
You want to have a fully playable build about 4-6 hours before the submission. This is when you and your teammates should put everyone’s work together and start playtesting the game. You’ll find lots of bugs, design choices that need to be tweaked, and sound effects that may not fit the game.
Try submitting your game 1 hour BEFORE the submission deadline. Your websites WILL lag once a lot of people try to submit their games, and you don’t want to risk not being able to submit your game. Be early and be on time.
7. High-Five Everyone
Once you’ve submitted your game, celebrate with your teammates about this awesome accomplishment you’ve achieved! Make sure to compliment everyone on their work, and give feedback only if they ask you for one! Make sure to keep in contact after the game jam, and be on the lookout for any future game jams you guys can work on together!
While working on game jams are fun, it is important that you don’t burn yourself out working on multiple jams together. Try your best to stick to one game jam at a time - if you’re expending yourself to multiple teams, you are not going to be able to put your 100% passion into all of those games.
Lastly, be sure to log it on your portfolio! Professionals and studios want to see what you’ve made outside of school. Write a blog post about what you learned and share it with the world. Be sure to play other people’s games and rate their games, as there’s many things we can learn from each other.
And that’s it for today! Game Jams are incredibly rewarding and make for amazing, unforgettable experiences. It’s your turn to go out there and join a game jam. Let me know how it goes - I’d love to play your games! GLHF! :)