If you’re reading this, chances are you are new to Game Jams or just a fan of scouting the proverbial road ahead to avoid unnecessary danger.
To help you succeed, we have enlisted the services of Game Jam veteran Byron Atkinson-Jones to share his insights. A decades-experienced game developer, he has worked for companies like Introversion, EA, Sega and Lionhead Studios on high-scoring, successful games you’ll probably know and is now making his own games under his Xiotex Studios label.
Take it away Byron…
If you’ve taken part in a game jam before, the two weeks you have for the All Out War Game Jam will seem like a dream come true…
…but the reality is that it can be your worst enemy.
Having a very short space of time to make a game really focuses your creativity into that nugget of a game. So, don’t cruise into this thinking you’ll have all the time in the world. Instead make the game you would scope for a 48-hour jam, only this time make it really polished.
PLAN YOUR TIME
Break up your game making-time using a mini-project plan. Treat it as you would a full time game and have a pre-production, production and testing phase.
Mark them as solid deadlines you have to stick to or you risk burning that two-week time up quicker than you think!
USE EXISTING TECHNOLOGY
You must use Unity; that’s the main technical requirement of this game jam, aside from making sure your submitted game can run in the Unity Web Player no larger than 800 pixels wide and 600 pixels high [the full list of rules is at THIS LINK].
If you have existing tech for making games in Unity then use it. Don’t be fooled into thinking that two weeks means you can come up with some amazing UI system – use that two weeks to make an amazing game, not amazing tech. If you don’t already have amazing tech then make full use of the asset store to get some!
DO NOT BE TOO AMBITIOUS
Often the best games that come out of jams are ones that polish a very simple mechanic. Keep that in mind and instead of trying to build a Skyrim or a GTA, keep it simple and use the time to make it amazing.
Game jams are a great time to experiment with new ideas and interactions with games. More popular games in existence have their roots formed in game jams. Take a look at “Surgeon Simulator” from Bossa Studios as an example of what can come out of a game jam, or “Costume Quest” by Double Fine Studios.
PICK YOUR FIGHTS
Concentrate on the areas of the game that make it fun to play. You might have the best graphics, the best sound, the best UI… but if it isn’t fun to play then all that these things will amount to is a candy-coated bitter experience. Make sure the core of the game – the game-play – is the most polished experience you can make it. The rest will follow.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT TEAM
If you choose to work with a team, make sure that those working with you can sustain two weeks of intensive, focused work on your game. It sucks to get so far and fail because somebody had to go earn money in the real world.
Make sure each of you has a shared vision of what the final game is. There is no point in working on FPS ideas if your coder believes it’s a match-three. Be clear in what you are all trying to achieve and communicate it effectively. Communicating clearly and regularly, *especially* in short projects will be incredibly vital to successfully completing your game.
Keep the momentum going, if you are having fun then this should be easy. The moment one of your team loses motivation, or this endeavour is not fun for you – correct that and find a way to re-capture that fun. If motivation is lost, then the odds of you completing the jam begin to decrease.
SLEEP AND FOOD ARE KEY TO SURVIVAL
It may be tempting to go without sleep and pull a mega-crunch to get the game done… Don’t!
Plan properly and work effectively to hit your goals and get proper rest and relaxation, otherwise your game will suffer for it. Having pulled 48 hour jams with no sleep, I can tell you that hallucinations do happen and the crash once you do sleep is hard to get out of.
PLAY TEST OFTEN
Make sure that you can play the game at all stages of development. There’s no better way to ensure that there is a shared vision of what the game is and it’s a damn good way to make sure what you are creating is fun. It’s also a good way to spot things that just aren’t working and fix/scrap them in good time.
Don’t be afraid to kill off bad ideas straight away if it’s becoming clear that something isn’t working. You don’t have time to polish something bad; concentrate on the good. If it isn’t good, kill it and try something else.
COMMIT TO SUBMIT!
If you’re like me, you could keep going forever and may never be satisfied with anything you do. Accept the deadline and submit whatever you have.
It’s a Jam; no-one expects highly polished complete games – just make sure whatever you do submit is fun to play. How do you tell that? Play it. Is it fun?
DON’T GET STUCK
If you get stuck on a really sticky issue, stop right there and move onto something else. Chances are the solution will come to you when you aren’t trying so hard to conquer it. You can always re-visit later if you have time, if not – it’s a feature.
FINALLY, HAVE FUN!
The last and most important point is to have fun. Game jams can be a great experience and having fun making a game is a strong sign that game itself is probably fun. So above all else – make sure you have fun and enjoy the ride!
Written by Byron Atkinson-Jones
Byron can be reached on twitter as @xiotex and is currently furiously typing away lines of code in order to get Blast-Em! (http://www.blastem-game.com), So Hungry and Cyberstream Fugitive released.