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From Couch to Game Jam

So you want to get into Game Development? What do you do? Where do you start? There are always different answers to these questions depending on who you ask but here, I will show you my own answer.

To boil it down to two words, the answer is: Game Jams

James Taylor

April 25, 2014

17 Min Read

So you want to get into Game DevelopmentWhat do you do? Where do you start? There are always different answers to these questions depending on who you ask but here, I will show you my own answer.

To boil it down to two words, the answer is: Game Jams.

I know there are many other routes but I want to show you how to get from sitting on your ass to completing a game in record time!

Now, I want to have no pretenses here so before I start anything I want to tell you that: YOUR FIRST GAME WILL BE TERRIBLE. And possibly your second and third game too.

Game design is still a nebulous field with no perfect way to do it yet so my main philosophy with this is to fail fast, fail often. You will learn so much faster by participating in Game Jams than taking a course or reading books or watching youtube videos .

On an additional note, in this guide I will focus on making a digital game for a Game Jam where you will be a core element in the creation of the game. Many game jams now allow board games or card games to be made too.

And now to start...

Step 1: Find your talent/strongest skill

"What are you good at?" is usually the question you'll be first posed with and "Is this useful for Game Development?". This is where most usually stop and give up on Game Development, before its even started.

There are so many skills that are useful to Game Development that I could fill half the page with a list but I will focus on a few specifics that most are capable of learning the basics of (the minimum to get a game made).

  • Basic Logical processes (basic Mathematics or Management skills)

  • Basic Drawing (in MS Paint)

  • Ability to use various types of Software (therefore able to learn new ones pretty fast)

These are all you need to make a game. Thanks to some powerful software, it's no longer necessary to be a programmer.

One more thing that you need to have in order to make games; you need the passion and drive to do it and finish it. No point in continuing if you don't really want to do it. Like everything, it will have its ups and downs so be ready to commit!

Note: If you are joining a team be sure to outline your skills, regardless of what they are, to the rest of the team. This way, your team can organize how best to use your talents.

Step 2: Install some game making software

This is where it all begins. Grab one of the following:

Game Maker: Studio

Construct 2

Game Salad



Now you should already be handy enough with using software so these should be quite easy to pick up. They all have fairly simple UI's. Which one you pick is up to you but each have their own benefits and draw backs. In general, the first 4 are for graphical games and the last one is for text based games. Test them all out if you can make the time.

Mess around with them now if you like, otherwise, lets get stuck into the next step.

Step 3: Make a Game

Before you start thinking that this is too much of a task, I'm talking about using a tutorial or references. All the software listed above have plenty of tutorials on their websites or youtube for making a basic game (video tutorials are usually the easiest to follow). Do the simplest one you can find, follow it step by step and then come back here.

Step 4: Tweak your game

This is where things will get interesting. Here you will take your tutorial game and start tweaking numbers, changing sprites and modifying other attributes.

This is all about playing with the game to see if you can do something interesting with it. This is a great way of learning some game design also as it teaches you what works and what doesn't.

For example; say you make Pong. What can we tweak here? Well lets see. How about the ball velocity? or the paddle velocity? We could allow the paddle to be moved closer to the center or even shrink or enlarge the paddles. Even better, how about we add multiple paddles we can control separately? and instead of the paddles moving up and down, maybe they curve or move in a circle. You can see the possibilities here I'm sure.

Step 5: Repeat Step 3 and 4

Repeat these steps until either a Game Jam starts up or until your confident to start creating something yourself.

Important: Ensure you get very familiar with your chosen piece of software. If you have started doing small games yourself, get used to how the art and music need to be done as well using previous examples.

Step 6: The Game Jam

The home stretch. You should now have all you need to make something for a game jam. They happen all the time online and there may even be something locally you could join so investigate this. I will have some links at the end to sites that track game jams.

  • Preparing for the jam - Solo

From your tutorials you should have a good idea what type of assets you need to make a game. Images, text, sound, etc... You will need to know where to get these without breaking copyright (that is if your not making them yourself). Use sites like freesound.org and opengameart.org to find Creative Commons copyrighted assets, and don't forget to credit the creators of the assets you download in your finished game!

  • Preparing for the jam - Team

The main difference with teams in game jams is that assets are generally going to be made by individual team members (mostly). I think it is vital that all team members have their own tasks or individual contributions. This means, if the team happens to be 4 programmers, ensure only 1 is programming the game while the others do art/music/writing etc... Things just get too messy otherwise. Decide this beforehand if possible or at least have a good idea what everyone is capable of.

  • How to participate

There is a basic structure to the Game Development process everyone should know when doing a Game Jam. It is essentially a cut and paste version of the Game Development process in large scale games.

  • Brainstorming

  • Prototyping

  • Building

  • Playtesting*

  • Polish

  • Deployment and Publishing

* = Playtesting should be done throughout but more heavily as the game nears completion

So the theme is announced and its time start. Brainstorming will be the shortest thing you do but should be done for at least 30 minutes. Come up with several ideas/concepts and write down how they will work. Don't linger on one idea for too long!

Next start prototyping your ideas. Now this does not necessarily mean "build the game", it just means test out the idea in some practical way, quickly. The more minimalistic the better. This can be drawings, paper cut outs, bullet points or primitive game building in your software. With this, you can eliminate the ideas that don't work or are too big for the jam.

Important: Possibly the most important decision you and/or your team make in the jam is the scope of the project. What I mean here is how complex or minimal it will be based on your current skills and the time frame you have allotted. This can be very tricky to get right, especially at first and is probably the number 1 reason why so many Game Jam virgins fail the first few times.

Once you've picked an idea that works and is within the scope of the jam, its time to start building! Always start out by getting something playable on screen asap, if you haven't already done that that is. If solo, it would probably be best to get the core mechanic of the game working perfectly first before worrying about other mechanics or assets. Playtest constantly or if you have a team member not making assets, make them do it, it's even better with feedback from someone else.

Keep an eye on the clock while doing this as you want to make sure you have enough time towards the end of the jam for the polish section.

Once everything is working and all the assets are in, time to polish. This can mean adding UI elements (scores/healthbars) or sound effects or additional animations or title and credit screens. It's all about making it look presentable and understandable. Sometimes it might even be a good idea to get someone not on your team to playtest it and find out if it makes sense to them.

Finally there is deployment and publishing. Whatever platform you making this on, make sure that once you deploy that exe or flash file or whatever it is, ensure its working on another computer. No point in distributing it when it only works on your pc! The publishing arrangements will usually be provided by the Game Jam organizers and have instructions on what to do. But remember there are always sites like kongregate and itch.io which can host your game.

Step 7: Post-mortem

This is the term for dissecting the development of past games and it is good practice to perform one on a game jam game you have just made. You can do this privately or publicly, which can always benefit others. You will need to analyze the game thoroughly and ask yourself some questions about what you've done.

  • What went wrong/right?

  • Did the game stay true to the initial idea?

  • Did others find it too hard/easy?

  • Was it balanced correctly?

  • Can you envision the gameplay being improved upon?

  • Were there any decisions you made early on which made development more difficult later?

There are many ways to look at a game jam game in retrospect but it always a good idea to keep in mind the reactions/feedback of others that played the game. This will help you make better design decisions in future.

And that's it. Congratulations! You have completed your first Game Jam! I'm sure you are so much wiser now because of it.

Whats next? Well this is up to you. There are game jams happening all the time nowadays so you can increase your skills further by doing more. Or maybe the team you worked with want to work on something together, perhaps a long term project? Or maybe you like your game jam game so much you want to see where you can go with it by developing further.

I feel Game Jams provide the perfect kick starter method for any aspiring game developer to get into the industry, whether its triple A or Indie. Game Jams can fill your portfolio and demonstrate to others what your capable of. The advantages out way the difficulties you may come across when starting out in my opinion.

Be happy and make games.

~James Taylor

Erratic Vector Studios

p.s. If I have missed anything or made any errors don't hesitate to contact me for a correction.

Game Jam Links:

Global Game Jam

Ludum Dare

One Game a Month

Compo Hub

Indie Game Jams

Game Jam Central

The Game Jam Survival Guide

Repost from: http://www.erraticvectorstudios.com/realtime/from-couch-to-game-jam/  (Sit currently down)

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