How a Game Jam Can Bring Your Gaming Ideas to Life

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Starting a project and seeing it through to completion is more than half the battle for any creative undertaking. Without a deadline, it’s easy to get sidetracked and lose motivation. It’s for this reason game jams haven proven so popular among amateur developers.

One developer that strongly advocates for game jams is Bruce Slater. Co-founder of Ruce, a micro-studio that assists indie game developers such as Boneloaf (Gang Beast), Bruce says that anyone interested in becoming a developer should seriously consider going to a game jam as they’re “one of the most important things you can do”.

So what exactly is a game jam? In short, a game jam is when a group of amateur developers gather, either online or in person, to design and build a simple game over a short period of time. They can work in teams or individually, sometimes working with a theme, and often have to complete their work within a 24, 48 or 72-hour period. The rules vary for each game jam, but the objective is the same for all – stop procrastinating and finish a game!

candleman xbox
Candleman on Xbox One (original concept created at Ludum Dare 27 game jam)

Bruce also had five simple rules that those new to game jams should stick to:

  • Make sure you get enough sleep; being tired will destroy your creativity
  • It sounds stupid but don’t forget to eat
  • Keep your games within scope
  • Know the strengths of your team
  • Don’t be afraid to ever ask for help, communicate if you’re having problems

Below are three jams you should consider if you want to test yourself, or at the very least see what others are producing. There are a ton out there, including ones like 7 Day First-Person Shooter and the Doom Mod Jam, but each of the ones listed here are designed to be friendly to newbies, and each of them is open to everyone around the world.

 

1. LUDUM DARE (THE CLASSIC GAME JAM)

Since 2002 the Ludum Dare game jam has been a staple of the indie game scene. Originally a game development forum, the site transformed into a game jam and has quickly become the source of many great games. Some of the more successful ones include Robot Loves Kitty, McPixel, and the upcoming Xbox One game Candleman.

mcpixel game jamMcPixel by Mikolaj Kamiński (originally created at Ludum Dare 21)

Though game jams often produce experimental games with little commercial potential, the Ludum Dare has proven to be a great source of inspiration for developers. Even Minecraft creator Markus ‘Notch’ Presson is said to have gained the desire to create games after participating in Ludum Dare.

There are three types of game jams held by Ludum Dare every year – the Jam, the Compo, and the Mini – each has their own rules which are as follows:

Jam

  1. Work alone or in a team.
  2. Create a game in 72 hours.
  3. Use any tools or libraries to create your game.
  4. You’re free to start with any base-code you may have.

Compo (Also known as the Classic Ludum Dare)

  1. You must work alone.
  2. Your game and all your content (i.e. art, music, sound, etc) must be created in 48 hours.
  3. Source code must be included.

MiniLD

  1. You must create a game based on a set theme
  2. Generally, the timeframe is much longer (days or even weeks)

The schedule for each Ludum Dare game jam varies every year, but the official website and Twitter account will let you know when the next one is happening.

 

2. GLOBAL GAME JAM (THE ORGANIZED ALTERNATIVE)

Considered the ‘big’ game jam on the game development calendar, the Global Game Jam has over 93 different countries involved in their 2016 event. Held in late January every year, the game jam has attracted big name sponsors like Facebook, Intel, and Unity to name just a few. A theme is announced during the competition so that nobody can get a head start.

seashell scuttle game jam copySeaShell Scuttle (from Global Game Jam 2017, based off the theme of ‘Waves’)

Unlike many other game jams, the Global Game Jam is highly organized and requires your location to be registered before you can take part. Fortunately, you can head to the official website and search for registered locations near you. The whole event takes place over the course of 48 hours, and even those that can’t get to an official location can offer their services by doing things like play testing games or providing artwork.

Though it’s a big worldwide event, the Global Game Jam is designed to be very inclusive, so don’t worry if you don’t feel like you have the required skills. Check out their official FAQ for more details.

 

3. ONE GAME A MONTH (PLAY BY YOUR OWN RULES)

This is as casual as game jams get. The idea of the One Game A Month jam is to start and finish a game in a month, then share it with your fellow developers. The casual nature means you’ll have to set your own deadline and stick to it, but the upside is it’s a good way to test yourself and see how you perform.

Created by indie developer Christer Kaitila, the aim of this game jam is purely to get people making games. Game are shared on the official website, which in turn gives everyone a chance to give each other constructive feedback in an environment free of competition. As Christer says on the official One Game A Month website “If just one person ends up becoming a professional indie [game developer] because of One Game A Month then I’ll consider this whole crazy thing a huge success.”

Christer also wrote a lengthy post entitled How to Succeed at Making One Game a Month, which is a must read for anyone nervous about entering a game jam for the first time.

One last thing to remember

Game Jams are about more than winning – they’re about starting a project and feeling the pressure to finish, which is something creative people often need. A looming deadline is a powerful motivator. And truthfully, the aim of most game jams is to simply create a minimum viable product, which is just something that works, is playable, and has at least one core mechanic.

superhot 7dfpsSuperhot (original concept from 7DFPS game jam)

Even if participating seems a bit daunting you should at least follow the development of one game from start to finish. The compressed time and limited resources these developers have to work with can show you how people manage their time and craft something worthwhile in such a short space of time.

Resources:

Ludum Dare website: http://ludumdare.com/
Global Game Jam: http://globalgamejam.org/
One Game A Month: http://www.onegameamonth.com/

How to Succeed at Making One Game a Month: https://gamedevelopment.tutsplus.com/articles/1gam-how-to-succeed-at-making-one-game-a-month–gamedev-3695

Indie Game James calendar: http://www.indiegamejams.com/
Itch.io game jam list: https://itch.io/jams

Cover photo: Goat Simulator, Gods Will Be Watching, Snake Pass, Surgeon Simulator – all games that started life at game jams

Andrew Whitehead

Andrew Whitehead

Andrew Whitehead is a journalist and writer with over thirteen years of experience in the media. He has written for Game Informer, Hyper Magazine, PC & Tech Authority, PC PowerPlay and worked for over a decade at APN News & Media, one of Australia’s largest media outlets. He moved from Australia to Los Angeles in 2015 and is currently the Content & Community Manager at SeaNanners Gaming Channel.

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