The events of Molyjam 2012 can easily be abbreviated to WTF. The game ideas of @petermolydeux are so comically unorthodox, that not one seemed to have the slightest possibility of ever being made. Then, WTF, there were 200 of them made during a 48-hour jam. And, WTF, I helped program one of them, a complete game which we actually got to demo alongside all the other WTF games on April Fool's, appropriately. What a rush. It was a weekend of hacking, nearly non-stop, until everything was in place at the last minutes of the jam. Then, the lights dimmed, the projector warmed up, and we all got to see what we had been up to this whole time. The results were more than I expected and entirely WTF.
I've never participated in a game jam before. In fact, I didn't know what a game jam was two weeks ago. But even with my loose grasp of the situation, as I experienced the Molyjam, I knew it was an event that would not easily be imitated.
Now that I've thoroughly rehashed just about every post-Molyjam article, I'll get to the real potatoes. So, here are some things we did that I recognize as contributing factors to the timely completion of our shitty game, Recidivism. Hopefully other game jam newbies will find it useful.
1. Choose your control style
If you're not quite sure what you want to work on, find someone who wants to be a designer (no shortage of those), and get a plan together with them. The planning phase is likely to be the only time you and your team will feel in control of anything. After you have your concept and fingers hit keyboards, it's probably going to get turbulent fast. In our case, it meant no development on Friday. We were comfortably building confidence in our plan and weighing what is fun versus what we would be able to implement by Sunday night. Determine what you are capable of producing and make a list of everything else you'll need.
2. Tap the artist to recruit him
Get all the help you can as soon as possible. The beginning of the jam is meant for this. Don't code a line, draw a pixel, or write a note of music before you have a capable pool of talent. Me and my friend Jon, who introduced me to Molyjam (and game jams in general), both make our livings as programmers. As soon as we got to the CBS Interactive building, he started scouting and within an hour, we had volunteers to help us out with sound design, music production, and graphics. If you're someone who can do all this alone, big ups, but most of us can use whatever help we can get.
This is an unbelievably cool thing I discovered about game jams: There are talented people who will work on your project if you simply ask them. What a concept! You might not find people who are willing or able to dedicate themselves to one project, but, if you can, get them to sit in on your planning phase. It will give them a better idea of where you are going with this, and extra input can be pivotally good for your project.
3. Smash the crate...
Groundbreaking time. You've got a team, a plan, and you're starting to work together. At this point, the probability of breaking all good practices in your craft increase exponentially with time. Do some shitty hack to get it presentable or forget about it and don't do it. So sue me. But if we hadn't done that at least once (we did that many, many times), we wouldn't have finished this shitty little game. And that's OK, even if the the source code may be the ugliest thing you will ever see. Even if you don't have something you would consider presentable, work on it to the last second and present it anyway. You will receive nothing but love in return.
4. ...using the crowbar
Use the right tools for the job. Or if there are no tools for the job, you'll have to hack one yourself. The chances that game engine X does Y feature the way you want it to are usually low. My extreme example would be that we went HTML5, which meant basically no tools. But we did have crafty.js, which takes all the heavy lifting out of Canvas drawing. We ended up writing our own tile engine that parsed strings of characters representing the various entities in the game (e.g. "T" would draw a tree at that position, "h" was a park bench). The source file containing the array of levels along with a legend of what character represented which entity, we ironically called "the level editor". Once I had that coded, it allowed Jon to crank out our desperately needed levels. As far as the audio goes, Jon's rant is the goto (Hint: shitty).
I won't harp on what you should use or why. Hopefully you have some experience and have a workflow you feel productive with. But, I would like to stress the importance of making your game easily scalable to any resolution for the simple reason that, when it comes time to present, you will most likely not be demoing to a crowd at your usual resolution, maybe not even your usual machine. It all depends on your venue's set up, so plan on being adaptable.
5. You have to cut the rope
Jams are a frenzied race against the clock and not everything is going to get close to the finish line. Our awesome sound maker, Mauricio Balvanera made so many awesome sounds to compliment our now famous gib. Unfortunately, with the deadline looming as we hacked towards presentation time, we were more concerned with getting a title sequence crediting everyone, and implementing a last level that gave the impression of completion. I'm pretty sure what we ended up with doesn't even qualify. I still want to put in those awesome flesh slicing sounds he made for us. Jon only narrowly hacked in the awesome music given to us by the awesome rock violinist Damian Sol. We wanted our hero's immaculate white shirt and pants to become reddened with each kill, but we didn't even get close to that. In the end we were just lucky that what we ended up with could be considered a game by a room full of drunk nerds.
Let's say you actually ended up with something that a room full of drunk nerds could recognize as a game. Holy shit! Do you realize how hard that is to do in 48 hours? Now you've earned a place in history and a place in line to wait for the projector. It might be a long line, so don't forget to grab a slice of cake. When you get to the front of the room and hook up your demo machine, you'll probably have a ritualized way of launching your game so that it doesn't crash. It's OK, everyone has one. Introduce yourselves and deliver shout-outs. Entertain the crowd with your game. Inspire them to create without boundaries and imagine a game where...