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Game Jams

At this time you may have experimented and selected a tool to make games, maybe even made small games and shared them with friends and family. So far you feel good about your games, but it seems like you need an extra push to make something awesome.

My personal advice is to start with Game Jams. These are events in which people gather together to make games. It is not necessarily a physical gathering, but more like a time frame to make a game. They have variations, but these are the general aspects:

1. All games and all assets(Graphics, code, music, story, etc…) are to be made during the active timeframe.

2. They usually have a theme and the games must be built around that. The themes are usually open to interpretations. For example the theme “You only have one” can have several meanings. In my case, I interpreted it as “You only have one chance to save human kind” and made a game about having only one opportunity to successfully save humanity.

3. Can be in teams or even individual.

4. The resulting games are free to play for everyone.

5. Usually there is no prize for the winners.

6. World-wide event, sometimes restricted (school events).

Game Jams have become very common, about 2 or 3 per month are always available. My personal game jam is “Ludum Dare”(http://www.ludumdare.com/). I first knew about it in 2011 and prepared to participate in April 2012. As a game jam it follows the same general rules with some modifications:

1. You have 48 hours to make a game. (Individual)

2. Teams have 72 hours to make a game.

At this moment, you may be amazed there is crazy people that can make a full game in just 48 hours for free... Not only it happens, but the last Ludum Dare had about 2000 game submissions and there are many really good ones.

Entering Game Jams has a lot of benefits. Many hobby developers don’t have a lot of time to work on games, but they can free their agendas for a weekend. Others gather with friends and form a game making team which splits the work in order to make a better game. And the last and main reason that I continue to make games for jams, is that you get other people to play your games and give you feedback. In my last participation about 1000 people played my game, and left comments. It even got a mention on Indie Statik as one of the highlights of the game jam. I later used all the received feedback to make an improved version of the game, now without the time constraints.

Surviving Ludum Dare

I have entered 3 different Ludum Dares and survived them. As a result I have learned a lot about game making, tools, workflows and even talked to other game makers.

The kick off is marked with the theme release. The first step will be to think about making the theme into gameplay, brainstorm and get as much ideas as you can. Remember to keep it simple, you only have 48 hours and it is always easier to add features than to tape them together. Your goal should be to have a fully playable game, not pieces that do very cool things which are not playable. The decided gameplay is not final, just a guide to give you a path to follow.

Don’t forget that entering a jam is supposed to be an entertaining experience and having fun making games. If it seems like a burden it is better to take a break and don’t forget to sleep. It is tempting to continue working for hours but you are more prone to make mistakes.

After you decide the gameplay is time to get your hands dirty. From my experience, you have two approaches to follow: make graphics or make code. Having cool graphics motivates you to keep going and on the other side, having all the code ready allows you to later focus only on making your game “pretty”.

gamejamsimage

This is how the game looked having almost all the code ready

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Making it “pretty”

The part I always add last is music and sound effects. I am somewhat able to code and make graphics, but making music is just not for me. I always leave it last as a plus in case I have enough time.

You have put together the gameplay with a story, added graphics and hopefully music. Now it’s time to tweak all the small details to make the experience better. Play your game, discover if it’s too easy or too hard: tweak it. Your main character is not moving as responsive as you would like: tweak it. Polish the game as much as you can before time is up.

Leave about 1-2 hours before the deadline for packing your game to deliver. You never know when Murphy is stalking you, waiting for something to go wrong.

As soon as you submit it, you will feel tired and happy, but mostly tired. Take a break, go outside, chat with friends. Now we wait for people to play your game and give you feedback!

Twitter

Making games is a lot of work. They have so many moving parts interacting together it is hard to keep them together. Sometimes you just don’t have inspiration and that’s where twitter comes in. It is not just a social network is an incredible source of inspiration.

The hashtags I track are:

●        #gamedev - General game development

●        #indiedev - More game development, but indie

●        #pixelArt - Drawings made in pixel art

●        #sketch_dailies - Sketches and drawings

Feel free to follow me @ehtd.


Ernesto T.

Ernesto is a mobile developer whose entries provide lots of tips regarding this field.


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