Every year in a weekend at the end of January there is a game jam happening at many places around the world. That is why this is called “The Global Game Jam”. I have participated in four game jams. Three of those jams were “official jams” the other one was a test run to see if I was capable to create a game in 48 hours with fellow students. 48 Hours sounds really short. Well they are short for a complete and nice polished game. The thought of creating something ‘complete’ is a ‘myth’ and you should discard that idea directly. In this article I will explain some experiences when creating a game in such a short time and what I have learned from it.
When you don’t already know your team, just do a quick introduction and figure out each others qualities, define roles and have dinner. Getting to know them will come automatically through these 48 hours. Usually the ‘theme’ of the game jam is revealed before dinner, so you can start the creative brainstorm process together while having dinner.
When everybody is soaked with ideas, get back to your ‘jam room’ and start writing down everything you and your team can think of about this ‘theme’. I would like to argue someone of the team has to take a leading role. The best thing is to have a ‘producer’ with you. He is able to streamline this process into a great concept. Everyone will be shouting ideas and still need to cooperate and agree on the final concept. That is why there is someone needed to make a final decision. Keep in mind, everyone participates to have fun, so no need to be strict, just be constructive. Try to figure out the simplest core for your concept that results in quick prototyping. Trust me, even the most simple concepts take more time to develop than calculated beforehand. Do not rush your concept because it will suck up a lot of time adjusting it when development has started. Creating a solid concept is saving you a lot of trouble allong the way.
The greener garden of your neighbours.
When the final concept is there, and development has started. Take time to look around, visit other teams, maybe even help others. Although it is a secret competition, it’s all about having fun and create a lot of games in 48 hours. I have to warn you, do not compare your concept to other teams. It’s not worth it. Every team has its own creative process. Some think outside the box and some take it very literally. Stick with your plan and only change things in the concept if they interfere on technical grounds and scope.
Complex stuff first
I would greatly advise to create the most complex assets in the first 24 hours of the jam. You and your team are still fit enough to crack your brain around some difficult features. The earlier this is done, the faster annoying bugs will come around the corner. When they do, fix these bugs right away. Do not move them down the priority list, they are priority number 1. Fixing complex bugs when you are 30 hours in the jam is a painfull chore and could take hours to complete. I remember 'staring' at a computer screen together with my programmer while having halucinations. It's fun, but it won't do any good to your game ;).
There are a number of playtests arranged. Try to have a build ready for each one of them. Especially at the first playtest. It doesn't matter if your game is still crap, or if you can only move around the main character. You can already experience how players will approach your game or what they imagine it to be. Write down all feedback and see if there are any changes to the main concept, compare them to the major tasks. Do they involve a major turn-around? That would be strange, because that would mean the game concept was way to complex in the first place. If this involves not foreseen technical impossibility, I suggest you start turning around immediately, otherwise keep going where you left off.
There are probably a lot of new features that could make the game nicer, better and more awesome. Do not introduce them until the core gameplay is implemented. Try to finish the greater concept. When people slowly finish their work, you can easily implement new features, but only one at a time. Keep in mind, problems will occur and there need to be time to solve them.
Do not disappoint yourself
When 43 hours have passed, chances are you are sitting in a large auditory or something like this. You have either failed to finish your game, or have delivered the best possible build. Whatever the scenario, be proud on what you and your team achieved. Even if the game failed, there was a point in time the game did not break yet. If you can not channel this feeling of disappointment, why bother participating? Without being an official winner/loser contest, it still is a race against the clock.
Game Jams are great for a couple of reasons: Sleeping for max 5 hours in two or three days, will create some amazing conversations. Everybody has a major lack of sleep. If they don't they didn't try hard enough in my opinion. It is a great way to find your own limits and meet a lot of new creative people.
What do you think is the most important thing when developing a game in 48 hours?
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