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30 Jan 2015

What Can You Do About A Poor Game Jam Theme?

All this week, we have been talking about game jams and why you need to be participating in them. They are great for honing your skills and meeting new indie developers simultaneously; and really, they are just a lot of fun. Most game jams have a particular theme that participants have to abide by. It’s a great way to showcase how creative indie developers can be by restricting what type of game they can develop.

But what happens if you are given a poor theme? What if the theme you are given is so far in left field that you have no idea how in the heck you are going to create an indie game based around the theme? Thanks to the awesome game development section at Tuts+, we are going to take a closer look at exactly how the great minds at Tuts+ suggest you should go about dealing with a bad game jam theme.

Look through the dictionary

Most words have multiple meanings. For example, the word ‘nostalgia’ is commonly used when describing a longing for the past. It is usually used to describe the warm, fuzzy feeling we get whenever we think about our childhood. We think of nostalgia as a good thing, but the word actually has more than one meaning. For instance, the origin of the word stems from the combination of two Greek words ‘nostos’ (meaning ‘return home’) and ‘algos’ (meaning ‘pain’). Combine the two words together, and the word takes on a very different meaning: a longing to return to the good old days that is painful because it’s impossible.

Even as recently as the late 18th century, nostalgia was the term used to describe severe homesickness.

As you can see, a theme may seem bad at face value. If you do enough digging, you can usually discover completely different meaning to the word(s) in a theme; which can aid you in coming up with an idea for your game.

Don’t take the theme so literally

It is easy to get hung up on a theme – but don’t let this happen to you! For example, if the game jam’s theme is ‘only in the dark,’ that does not mean that your game must take place primarily in the dark. Play around with theme! All you have to do is incorporate the theme in some manner into your game. As another example, you could create a platformer that takes place primarily in the day; allowing you to take advantage of beautiful colors and the like. A gameplay mechanic could be that ‘the darkness’ consumes each level randomly for a few moments- thus causing your character to be severely limited in what it can do (e.g. unable to run, jump high, use/collect powerups, etc.) and turning this part of the game into more about survival than platforming. It’s all about thinking outside the box; and ultimately, that is what game jams are all about.

Get inspiration via the Internet

If you cannot get any inspiration at all, Tuts+ suggests plugging the theme into Google and getting inspiration that way. Look through the image section of Google to see which pictures appear in the results. Take a few minutes to browse around, and you will get the inspiration that you need.

While it may seem like it is impossible to create a game around certain themes that is never the case. That’s the beauty of game jams: they restrict you and force you to think differently. Nobody ever said game jams are not challenging; but they would not be game jams if they weren’t.

Source: Game Development – Tuts+

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