So, you’re thinking of joining a game jam over the weekend? Did you know there’s more than one type of game jam? The most common type is the kind that takes place solo, at home, over the course of a weekend. But there are group jams available too—competitive ones where participants work individually and those where everyone works in teams. Some game jams even offer prizes, but for the most part, the prize is a completed game.
Well, most of the time. It is common for game developers to not finish during the 48 hours given. It makes sense too: the time limits are intentionally constraining. Having to create a game from start to finish during the course of just two days? Now that’s how you get the creative juices flowing.
But what if we told you there are a few tips that you can utilize to get the most out of your next game jam? Tips that might help you actually finish!
#1 Make Yourself a Priority
Forty-eight hours to make an entire game from scratch. Oh, boy but what about your shower, sleep, and food? Who has time for that, right?
Turns out one of the best ways to succeed in a game jam is to make yourself a priority. Get up and go to the bathroom when you need to—to prevent any avoidable health concerns. Drink plenty of water for hydration, as sugary drinks will make you crash, grinding work to a halt. Eat three meals a day, and don’t forget to energize with some nutritious snacks, like oatmeal, granola bars, yogurt, and fruit. Making sure you stay on top of meals will help your body push through the day.
Remember, a tired, hungry, and unshowered developer may skip essentials to “get ahead,” but they will never amount to the progress a happy developer can accomplish.
#2 Know Your Tools
Not knowing your toolchain and time management are the most common challenges. Everyone should be familiar with their tools and frameworks prior to the jam. In other words, the most common reason why some developers don’t finish on time is because they don’t know how to use certain tools. Perhaps they specialize in certain areas of game design, but not others. And once they get to those parts of the process, things get a little . . . well, rough.
Before deciding to either join a game jam, or host your own, remember to brush up on some knowledge. Educate yourself, ask other developers about things you don’t understand, and set aside extra time for any challenges that might come up.
#3 Keep Track of Time
Remember how we said the other common problem is poor time management? Well, this is when one of those overly organized daily planners would come in handy. Or at least reminders on your phone. You should be up and ready to go by a certain hour in the morning. Done with prototyping by X, characters by Y and levels by Z. By following a strict schedule, you can ensure you get all your content created right when you need to.
It might seem a little obsessive, but remember you only have 48 hours. Less than that if you factor in sleep, breaks to eat, and mini breaks to rest your eyes. Make sure to schedule these too! Studies show you should get up and walk around once every hour to keep your body healthy.
#4 Set Aside Time for the Big Stuff
Realistically speaking, art and level design take the longest in the development process. It’s the feel of the game, the layout, the style. It’s the backbone of your game! It makes sense for it to take longer than anything else. As such, designate more time for these things in your schedule. Believe it or not, this mistake are a common one and lead to many unfinished game jam projects.
Also, keeping in line with knowing your tools, you should be mindful of your skill level when it comes to art and level design. Are you so good at it that you require less time than some of your counterparts? And if so, how much time? Be honest about your abilities, and designate time accordingly.
#5 Keep It Simple, Remember the Basics
Again, 48 hours. Game jam projects aren’t meant to be the next Elder Scrolls installment. They’re meant to be completed games. There is no way to add all the lore, narrative, and combat system elements that you ideally would want in your game. Not in a single weekend, anyway.
Remembering the basics is what makes you successful. No fancy gimmicks, just a start point, a linear plot with objectives, a basic combat system, and an ending. There should be a protagonist and an antagonist. If antagonists seem too mundane, or complicated, remember that obstacles work just the same. They just need to be compelling ones. Amounting to something memorable.
But above all, have fun! Game jams are the exhibition matches of the indie dev world, where people in the community can gather to show off their skills, make friends, and make connections, all while doing something they love.