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24 Jan 2014

Tips For Getting the Most Out of Game Jams

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The Global Game Jam is this weekend, thus starting 2014 with a string of awesome game jams that are certain to bring out the best ideas for participants future games. For those that are attending this weekend’s jam, get excited. From the things I have heard from other indie devs, game jams are chock full of incredible creative moments that are bound to get you excited and invigorate you if you have been experiencing a creative downslope. Yet whether you are attending this weekend’s event or you plan to attend an event sometime in 2014, you need to keep some tips in mind regarding how to get the most out of game jams. First up…

 

The moment you have a solid idea, determine solid mechanics

A lot of game jams have a central theme you must design your game around within 48 hours. For example, one game jam could use the phrase, “the dark is powerful,” as its theme, challenging participants to incorporate this theme into their game. One participant may come up with a stealth adventure title that forces players to only stay in dark places while another could be a platformer involving a tiny robot that can only regain its energy to continue through the level when hidden in the shadows. It’s open-ended themes like this that allow participants to be so creative when creating a game in 48 hours or less.

When you have a good idea for a game, you must quickly determine what gameplay mechanic the game will use. How many different directions will it move in? Do you have a control layout in mind? Do you have the tools and the knowledge to design this type of game? What is the goal of the game?

You need to think about all of these mechanics and get a good idea how you will use them immediately. It doesn’t matter if they are perfect as you can polish them later in development. Yet, with a solid idea for a game, solid ideas for mechanics must follow right away.

 

Art style = creating quick assets

I don’t have to tell you that you’re not going to be able to make your game look as gorgeous as a next-gen console title within 48 hours, yet with that being said, choose an art style that is going to allow your team to create assets as quickly as possible. Because you will not be able to create a ton of art (especially since you are probably using a single artist) within the small span of time, you will probably want to spend a few hours creating as many assets as possible.

This doesn’t mean the assets are going to be low quality, either. Stylize it. Restrain yourself and use as few colors as possible in an effort to make as many assets as possible to use in your game. Truly, this is what a game jam is all about: forcing creativity through restraint. Try it out, and you’ll be surprised as to what types of assets you will create in a small amount of time.

 

Team management is key

Every person should have a task at all times. If you finish a task early and have a skill you can lend to another team member, provide a helping hand. If you notice there is a part of the game that has been ignored and you have nothing to do currently, ask your team for a brief second if it’s cool to go ahead and focus on some of these aspects.

Does someone not have anything to do at the moment and they would be a perfect fit for attributing to a part of the game that hasn’t been touched yet? Throw it over to them. Communication and team management is vital to your success, and during the entire course of the event, no hand should be idle.

 

 

Players should be able to look at your game and know how to play within five second

In other words, the barrier should be so low for people to play that anyone knows what to do the moment they start playing. Let’s use Super Mario Bros. as an example. Think about the  game without any preconceived notions. By just looking at Mario standing at the start of the level, you automatically know what you are supposed to be doing, right?

Take Pac­-Man as another example. When you start the game and ghosts are chasing you, what do you do? You run away, then you notice he starts eating pellets. Immediately, you know that you are supposed to dodge the ghosts and eat the pellets, which is basically the goal of the game.

In addition, the moment a player walks up to play your game, ensure they are able to start playing within a few seconds. Thus, you have two goals to ensure the most players will play your game during the game jam:

 

1. Ensure they know how to play within seconds.

2. Ensure they start playing within seconds.

 

Design your game with these two goals in mind (along with the other tips mentioned above) and you will be off to a great start.

I’m just getting started on game jam tips, and I’ll be back very soon with some more (possibly Monday). If you have any game jam tips you would like to share, do so in the comments below!

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