How to Be Successful at a Game Jam

The content of this article is guaranteed quality ™: I’ve participated in 4 game jams (all with a 48-hour time span), judged two, and ran one myself! I’ve also been working in the game industry for several years now, and I’m currently an Associate Tech Artist at Blizzard. You can see a couple of the games I’ve created during jams here.

I’m writing this the night before the 2019 Global Game jam, so I’m gonna cut to the chase.

1) Your scope is too big. Cut it.

YOUR. SCOPE. IS. TOO. BIG. I promise you. This is THE biggest lesson I’ve learned from participating in and guiding students during jams.

In order to deliver a prototype of your game idea, you almost certainly don’t need every single feature you though up of during your brainstorm. You only need the core elements. The core elements are any features that the game requires to prove that your idea works- often, just the single most important gameplay mechanic and enough art (and sound) to communicate the tone. With that in mind, you can cut things that aren’t necessary to the core game experience.

Let’s do an exercise. Pick a game like Super Mario Bros. What are all of the important elements of the game that make it Mario?

You might list:

  • Koopas
  • Jumping
  • Jumping on enemy heads
  • Platforms
  • Clouds
  • Pipes that lead to special areas
  • “yahOO”
  • The flag at the end
  • Mushroom power-ups
  • Coin collection
  • Level themes
  • Mushrooms
  • Moving platforms
  • Lava
  • Bowser
  • Peach
  • etc…

But let’s focus just on delivering the core gameplay of Mario- the Mario prototype. What all do we really need? What can we cut?

Your new list might look more like:

  • Jumping
  • Platforms
  • One type of enemy
  • Jumping on enemies to kill them
  • A beginning and end to the level

Try doing this a few more times with other games you love. How much can you cut out so that you can focus on the core game experience? How much else is flavor that’s better suited for polishing, after you’ve proven the main mechanic works?

Teams that cut scope perform better. They’re more focused, have an easier time coordinating, and are far more likely to be satisfied with their creation.

2) Come prepared.

The less time you spend setting up or taking care of non-game-related-stuff, the better. Make sure you’re ready with all of the following:

  • Game engine installed and up-to-date
  • Other tools installed and up-to-date
  • Healthy snacks and a water bottle
  • An idea of nearby restaurants you can order food from
  • Extension cords for power
  • All of your equipment (laptop, mouse, etc)
  • An idea of the tools you want to use for task tracking and source control

Notice that this list doesn’t include a team. Often, at on-location events like the Global Game Jam, you can meet and form a team the day of the jam! If you want to meet people, I advise you arrive early to have extra time to meet people.

3) Game jams are not training for crunch.

Get enough sleep! It is absolutely possible to create a game in 48 hours and still sleep enough both nights. I’ve done it.

If you skip out on sleep to work, you end up trading quality for time. If your quality of work dips and you stay up late anyway, then the next day you’ll be sleep deprived, so you’ve really just spent a bunch of extra hours doing mediocre work.

I understand the temptation to stay up late. I used to get 4 hours or less of sleep a night doing game jams. Last jam, I actually slept enough, and it’s the best game jam work I’ve ever done.

In addition to sleeping enough, eating healthy will do much more for your energy levels than drinking a bunch of energy drinks and coffee. At the game jam I ran, we didn’t provide any caffeinated drinks, but we did provide lots of healthy snacks like protein bars and fruits. Although I’ll admit to eating pizza for dinner at least once every Global Game Jam, at least make sure you eat 3 meals a day (no skipping meals because you’re in the zone!) and refuel with healthy snacks (instead of chugging cans of Monster).

I hope something in this article was helpful advice for you. I wish you the best, and good luck!

Linden @so_good_lin

Published by

Linden Reid

Game developer and tutorial writer :D

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s