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How the Global Game Jam taught me to get better in planning and making a game.

This year was the fifth anniversary of the Global Game Jam. Time to find out why it is so important to have Game Jams like this.

Marcus Horn, Blogger

February 8, 2013

8 Min Read

 Hi my name is Marcus Horn and I am the developer of “Retro Arcade Adventure Remade” and the guy behind Siactro.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Global Game Jam. It is the biggest Game Jam of them all and is growing each year. For me personally the Global Game Jam 2013 was the fourth one I went to.

I think it is fair enough to say that Game Jams are supposed to be fun and amazing but it is interesting to see that the GGJ manages to put every little feeling you would get during a normal game development period into just 48 hours. This goes from the moment you feel amazing because you had that one special idea up to the point where you just want to get the damn thing finished.

I want to explain this feelings and also the fact that a Game Jam like this can help you get the right motivation to finally finish that game you are trying to make for such a long time while also teaching you some really needed lessons for the whole game development process.

So let me give you a short introduction to the start of my GGJ day. Like always, I wasn't prepared as usual that day. I had to put everything in a huge bag and start running like hell to get my train.

When I finally arrived at the station where me and my friends should meet I felt like it could all start now. Unfortunately only two of seven of them actually came. Two guys were sick, one was still at work and two were completely missing. It went off to a really amazing start.

The three of us then decided to go to our yearly GGJ location, the cologne game lab to see what the rest of the day would bring.

At least we arrived early enough to get one of the good tables. When we had set up everything we need, one of the two missing guys finally appeared. A short while after that the guy appeared that was still at work. During the presentation of the keynote, the last one arrived. So we were six people instead of eight. Our original idea was to build two teams and work on two separate games.

The problem was that one of the two guys that where sick was a programmer. Now we only had one real programmer and well, me. That was the point were the experience of the last three jams kicked in: Having a team of six people is just too big for a game that needs to be finished in 48 hours, also there was the problem that some of the people just couldn't work together all that well since they would be doing the same stuff or just couldn't get along all that well.

I guess you could say that this was the first moment were I had to make a harsh decision based on experience. I build a team with four people and run around the building to find a group in need of the last two guys, with one of them being a friend and classmate of me. He is an experienced 3D artist so it was no problem to find a group that could need his help quite well. However it was still a strange and bad feeling since I did not want to push him away or something, It was really just a decision to have two games finished by the end of 48 hours, not a personal thing.

This is the first lesson the Global Game Jam taught me: Sometimes you have to make rough decision to get the right starting place to finish a game. Nobody should feel offended by this, it is just necessary sometimes in order to get the game done. Also we are still friends and talk about games and stuff all the time.

After the keynote was finished my team was discussing the concept and throwing around with ideas. We had the idea of some sort of hybrid between an action adventure and a strategy game.

One thing became quite clear really soon: Two of us wanted to go in that one direction, one wanted the complete opposite and the last one was eating chips, drinking tea and waited till we were finished in order to draw us some creatures.

Our first obstacle was to create a concept that everyone thought would be good enough to make. This is not possible, it is simply not possible. In a situation like this is not about pushing your own ideas but rather combine all the ideas into something that works and feels like fun.

After about three hours of discussing, we decided to start really simple with just the basic idea and see what we can evolve it into. Everyone agreed so we started with the actual work, while most of the other groups were still discussing.

This is the second lesson the Global Game Jam taught me: Getting there in little steps is far more useful for the overall concept than rather having that planed out game that nobody really likes in the end because it is just a clash of too many ideas that just won't work together.

So we worked on the first prototype and in an interval of three to four hours we would all check and play our current build together to see what was fun and what was just boring.

This worked surprisingly well and we had something to show really early in the process. We could also use the opportunity to let other people play our game in order to get even more input and ideas.

After the first twelve hours or so, we finally had a complete game concept and wrote it down so there would be no misunderstanding during the rest of the development. “Save The Mob” was born.

The next morning we encountered a new problem: One of our artist left the GGJ and went home. All of the sudden we were only three people in our team. She did quite some art for us before she left but it also meant that our last artist had to do even more art on his own.

This however became quite a problem since it seemed like his motivation would leave him over time. He was doing less and less art and started playing some FPS games on his laptop. It is completely understandable that a 48 hours challenge like this is just too much for some people and I won't judge them at all but the matter of the fact was that we had to deal with this new problem, that we would not get as much art as we were hoping for in the beginning.

 I guess you could say this is the third lesson the Global Game Jam taught me: Expect the unexpected and freaking deal with it the best possible way!

The last challenge on the other hand sounded fairly simple: Just get everything done in time.

Yes, it sounded simple, I mean let us be honest, we had a good time management and still 20 hours left.

Needless to say that we were rushing to get everything done and fixed in the last five hours. That one thing a lot of people underestimate is the time. We had so many unfinished projects there simply because of the fact that time management is a sneaky little bastard. You completely forget about it until it is to late.

 Even if you thing you have a good plan to get it all done in time, there will be something that screws everything over, may it be a two hour bug hunt or may it be the simple fact that adding a dragon takes more than one try to get it right.

 Our game was finished non the less and I think we did a good job for a 48 hours challenge.

The interesting fact is really that the Global Game Jam is the best training I have ever had in preparation for bigger projects.

 You see the problems you encounter at a Game Jam like this are the same you would encounter with any kind of game development only in a much shorter time. We had it all, frustration, useless ideas, co-worker that refused to work on stuff, coworker that disappeared. Still it was a lot of fun and the feeling that you actually finished your game in 48 hours was absolutely worth it.

 Taking part in the Global Game Jam is more than just having fun and making some games. I personally see it as an opportunity to meet other people, see other game ideas and most importantly experience other opinions.

 The Global Game Jam could be the most important thing I have ever encountered on my way to fulfill my dream of becoming a game developer.

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