Monday, 29 December 2014

Game Jammin'

When I arrived back in Australia, after 10 years abroad, It came as no surprise to me that I had no social life anymore. My friends had moved on.

So I had to start again, find out groups, people, places that did things I (and my wife) liked to do.

As I was studying IT, Games and Entertainment, I of course gravitated towards Game Design, and I saw a poster for Global Game Jam 2014.. what was it? Game Jam?

For my former English Students: to Jam, to put as much as possible into one thing. quickly, messily, but done.

So Over 48 hours, you create a Game, based on the theme.. be it board game, card game, computer game, roleplay game, you make a game. The Theme is revealed on the day, Friday Night typically, and by Sunday night, you present your game to the world.

Doesn't sound too hard right? If you look online at what people have done, I've seen some amazing works, and when you say.. "wow, that was all in 48 hours" you think.. I could do that.. and you can

If you Prepare

So thats what this blog is going to be about.. not a Proper Game Dev write-up.. just a home brew blog on MY personal opinion on how to do a game jam.

Why do I feel qualified to speak on this topic, other than "the internet"

So a few months earlier, I'd been asked to head up the Game Development Club at UniSA, and it turned out, there was no official club.. So I had to create it.. and in the process, I found out that we needed to run events.. and After participating in my first Game Jam, I understood one thing..

I Need Practice!

So I asked the club, how about we run game jams, monthly, and get some practice in..

So we did.. and now, a year on, I've run 12 Game Jams, and Participated in 3.

The first Question you ask yourself is

Why would you do it? 

Well, for starters, Its a sense of accomplishment, you may not make a polished game in the time allocated, but you get something done, if you're close to finished, you might add a few hours, if the theme suits you.

In anything in life, getting started is hard, making something is hard, and actually deciding that you've finished is very hard. Having a concrete end date to work against, forces your hand. and takes the psychological issues away (for many people)

Then there is the feedback. Once you complete a game, and publish it, there are thousands of people, like yourself, Game Jammin, who'll play your game, and if they like it, they'll want more.. that creates motivation to finish it, and publish it..

The Experience itself. In a room of 20 people, all working to a similar goal, having the same troubles as you, creating friendships through hardships, it creates a vibe like none other. I cannot explain it.

So, finally.. my hints and tips

* There are many things you can do before the Jam, such as installing the latest engines/builds/browsers etc before the start date..   I saw 2 teams lose several hours on day one, because they didn't have everything set up, and encountered problems,

* If you're running a team, then get your team organised. If you have already got your team together before the Jam, great, but that's not all Jammers do, some come along on the day and hope to join an existing team. If that's you, then make sure you covered the 1st point.. again, I saw a guy arrive to join up on the day, didn't bring anything, had to go home to get a laptop, then had to install git, chrome and unity.. didn't get started til Saturday afternoon, felt like he hadn't been able to contribute, and quit.

* Get an idea of what you can do within 48 hours. If you are making a board game, would you have time to print a board, carve miniatures, print cards AND design the rules.. probably not, So figure out what can be done and do that.. I had a proffessor sit down with our team and draw up a list of what games could be made, from scratch, within 48 hours. Platformers were out, as were 3D, too much engine creation needed. 

* Pre build what you can. If you're doing a card game, bring 250 blank cards, or cut them out from card-stock, bring note pads, coloured texters, Pens, Pencils. For a board game, bring pieces from other games to use until you design what you'd use, you won't know the theme, so it matters not what you use in testing. If you are making a computer game, its not a bad idea to pre-build an engine, or have one ready to use.. if you want a platformer, make the entire platformer engine weeks before you decide on whats going on IN the platformer. For myself, I had an idea for a map control game, Hex grid, Isometric and I was going fantasy themed, regardless of the Jam Theme, I'd make it work.. so I already had a mini-civ style game engine built, and downloaded hundreds of iso tiles and icons..

* On the Day, Form your ideas fast, throw around hundreds, brainstorm it sideways. If you want to stand out from the crowd, thing of what the obvious answers are, and don't do that. If you're here for the first time, just think of something doable, which matches the theme.  

But don't spend too much time.. every minute you think of something, is a minute of your game creation lost. My rule of thumb is 1 hour for a 48 hour jam. 

* Write down a document of what you have time to add. If you have 20 graphics and your graphics guy has 20 hours left, then you need a minimum of 1 an hour each, Do you have levels? how long will a level take? can you make more than one level? 

Remember, you're not making a complete game, you're making the components and just Jamming them together..

* When you have a big list of all the things you want to add.. cull it, put it to one side as reference and ask yourself the first big question.. What is the core of the game.. minus all the fluff, the pretty pictures, the design of the minis or characters, what is the basic core of the game.. THIS needs to be done first, and it needs to be done within the first 24 hours..

I'm very serious on this point, If your core cannot be completed in the first day.. you will struggle to get a game done by the 2nd. I saw game after game after game, which could not be played, could not be tested, was so horribly broken, 4 hours to go to deadline, and only then do they begin to cull the project, 

My First Game Jam

The Theme was "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are" which probably sounds nuts.. So for about 20 minutes I wandered around asking about people, who had teams, who needed an someone like me.. newb to the experience, and found 4 others who had no teams either.. 2 artists, 1 GameMaker programmer and myself.. So we got a whiteboard and wrote up the theme, we talked about what it meant.

Firstly, we wrote it on our whiteboard wrong, instead we had  "We don't see them as they are, we see them as we are" so we assumed the whole thing was about camouflage.. which turned out ok.. but this took us 2-3 hours. we designed levels, we designed 12 major characters, we had map structures, game flow, logic puzzles, storylines, so much, and then it was like almost midnight, so I went home to sleep!

Day Two, I got there at 9am, the team has already started. GameMaker can do some nice things quickly, but its hard to collaborate. So our programmer had to do everything, I drew up levels, maps, and pixel painted tiles. We needed around 200 tiles or so.. and I thought I could do that, they only took 5-10 minutes each.

Our Artists drew up characters, simple, easy, 8 frames per animation cycle, 8 directions for each of the characters...for 12 major characters, and some others for minor NPCs.. they seemed to be ok with 1 per 15 minutes

By the end of the day, we had our basic mechanic, when you move, you appear as a soldier, and when you stand still, you appear as an alien.. and we had trees on a grassy field, and a path, and 1 alien and 1 soldier and they fired bullets.. so that worked.. sorta.. again, I left before midnight.. last bus..

Day Two, Sunday, Arrived earlier.. one artist was burnt out, we only had the graphics for 1 alien, 1 soldier half of a map, and some broken machanics.. so we had a breakfast meeting about how to scale the game down to just 5 maps, with 3 characters, no NPCs and only 3 terrain types, field, forest and village... 

with 4 hours or so to go, we scrapped this, and went for 2 characters, 3 maps, scrapped the village and got some splash screens, and Menus together instead.. Oh and sounds.. always forgot sounds..

How insane... 

As you can see, I learnt a lot since then, You can pretty much see where we went wrong, but how better to learn than by doing.

Hopefully, this little blog helps you to make some better choices in your Jam future, so you'll get a game done in time!

Play it Cool.

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