What is it with all these Game Jams?

     Hoo boy. A little bit more than a month without a post. Well, having an internship has caught up with us, but never fear. We keep the gamedev gears churning during the downtime, and we feel that this topic needed covering since there has been a burst in the number and popularity of game jams. Note that I, Joraaver, speak from my experiences, but if you feel otherwise or have more to add, go ahead and comment.

Without further ado, let's dive right in.

What is a game jam?

     Well, I see three distinguishing characteristics in a game jam.

  1. It is a contest concerning the development of a game, often with prizes for winners.
  2. The time span is relatively short: most game jamsare a weekend up to a week long. However, there are some that last for a month (One Game a Month is a great example, which you should start following at @OneGameAMonth) or even a year. The main idea, though, is that game jams are short.
  3. It is often theme based, either arbitrarily chosen or based on the time the jam starts.

     Put these three together, and you've got yourself a game jam.

Why should you particpate in a game jam?

     Well, before I answer this, let's take a quick look at how many game jams occured this past weekend.

compohub screenshot

Each differently colored rectangle reprsents a game jam, and as you can tell, theirtimespans vary greatly!

     A cursory glance at CompoHub tells me that there were 11 game jams occuring. And thanks to a comment by bunnyhero, looking at the below picture from IndieGameJams, we can see there were actually 17 game jams!


Game Jam listings at IndieGameJams, courtesy of bunnyhero in the comments!

That my friend, should tell you one thing: that game jams are popular, are going strong, and that you are missing out.

Here is a list detailing why you should get in on some of the game jam action.

You want to try your hand at a new ... something

     That something could be anything: HTML5, WebGL, OpenGL, 3D, 2D, Flash, 8-bit, isometric, real-time strategy, RPG, FPS, etc. Here are two quick examples. The game my friends and I made at UCLA during LA Hacks, which I discussed in an earlier post, was made using Phaser. I had never used Phaser before, by I really wanted to test the capabilities of it as as well as see what the HTML5/JS gaming hype was all about. And on a smaller scale, in the JMonkeyEngine game jam, I used the cinematic mode to show what my level looked like before hadning over control to the player. Had I used it before? Nope. Which is why I made sure I used it now. Really, the idea is, if you are giving 110% of your weekend to producing a game, why not learn something while you are at it? And for many of you aspiring game developers like me, I'm sure there are certain technologies you are dying to try out. Besides, what do you have to lose?

You have a lot of game ideas

Ideas like this

Have sketches like these, but no time to implement it? Sounds like you need to atend a game jam! Credit goes to Pedro Medeiros (deadinsane on deviantart) for the art.

     This header may as well be followed by the words "but no time to implement them." Well, once again, the game jam has made it possible. Pick one of those ideas, and commit to it. Develop it, and by the end of the game jam, you'll know either one of two things. Either you've made a basic prototype (or more) of your idea and found out that people love it, or that your game didn't attract too much attention. Regardless of the outcome, you've progressed as a game developer. You've proven that your idea has merit, or that it isn't worth spending time on, and can move on to other ideas. And if you've been tweeting about your game during the jam and magically managed to gain some traction for a plausible idea, then pat yourself on the back--you just gained a little bit of marketing experience too.

You are looking to dive in to game development

     This is a big one. A lot of people do a game jam for one reason--to make their first game. In fact, Heroin Hero v2 was the first game my two friends developed. Now they can claim they have made a game. Soon, you can too, and the circumstances couldn't be better! You are already dedicating the weekend to it, and the motivation that you aren't alone in your quest to producing your first game (if you just follow the tweets or ask around during the game jam, you'll find many just like you) is a surefire boost to get you going. The challenge and prizes at the end of the game jam are the cherries on top when you finish your game. You'll definitely feel more accomplished and confident once you pass this hurdle, and a game jam is the perfect place to do it.

What to watch out for

     I've done 2 game jams--a 48 hour one, and a week-long one. Both produced a game, the 48 hour one more playable than the week long one (the circumstances were slightly different). In my experience, here is what to watch out for.

Take care of your health

     During the 48 hour one, I ate unhealthily, never showered, and slept for a grand total of 20 minutes. During the full week one, I ate well, showered regularly, and slept well. Sure, my team produced a better game during the 48 hour one, but after it, I didn't feel too hot. And it was a physical hackathon, during which I could have been networking and such. During the week long one, I was tweeting, making connections, and learning about new features in the JMonkeyEngine. The takeaway from this is to keep your body and mental health in check, because often, there is more to a game jam than just the game. Try and stay away from the never-sleep, high-on-caffeine hype that people tend to get sucked into. I know I did, and I probably won't do the same again. And if I need to deter you more, Suchaaver fell ill by not resting during the Stanford-Berkely hackthon, and couldn't continue. Make sure that isn't you!

Using 3rd party software

     What's cool about game jams and hackathons is that often, there are prizes for using certain companies' API's or software, and that can get you hyped to learn their tools. The downside, however, is that you may struggle with their software. I know I struggled for a long time before asking for help, mainly because I felt stupid not knowing how to use the API's. Never let your ego stop you from asking questions. Ask away. Everyone who is there is almost always willing to help, and sometimes, what you are struggling with may not be your fault (which was the case with my issue). Don't be afraid to dig through 3rd party software, but if you do, don't be afraid to ask when you need help as well.

Start networking immediately

     You may say it's just your first game, and no one is going to pay attention to you, but that's plain wrong. Do you know when you start marketing your game? When the idea pops into your head, and your first sketches are made. So do you know when you begin networking? When you declare that you want to be a game developer. Being a game jam only shows that you are a spirited individual with the drive to make it on your own. Whether it's to land a job next summer or to help publish your game, networking at game jams will only propel you forward in your journey as a game developer


     Another mighty post, with mighty words. But at the end of the day, it's a game jam. Have some fun. Meet and greet. Get inspired. You are among your kind, so live in the moment. And hopefully, you'll remember these tips as to why you should get into game jams, and what to do when you are there.

P.S .Do check out CompoHub and IndieGameJams if you want to get into some game jams! Get in on the twitter scene as well if you want to listen to game devs day in and day out (#gamedev and #indiegamedev)!


Suchaaver Chahal

I'm a game developer, web developer, and (currently) a student studying Electrical Engineering and Computer Science as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley.

comments powered by Disqus