Jamming in Diversity – The Trials and Tribulations of the Jam

Jamming isn’t the easiest of things. However you do it, undertaking a 48 hour journey to produce a game from conception to birth, isn’t easy and there are likely to be stumbling blocks along the way.

Scottish Game Jam 2013
Scottish Game Jam 2013

The first of these is the brick wall that exhaustion causes. It’s just physically draining to work for long periods of time with people you do know, let alone the ones you don’t. It takes place outside your comfort zone, usually in a hall, building or room that doesn’t really suit the requirements of the jam, too hot, dry or noisy – simply out of the comfort zone you’re used to. Rest, hydrate and take a break.

Second are the shortcuts. The game jam does not simulate what actually happens in a  game development studio, because you sometimes use short-cuts to make up time. These would fundamentally break a larger published product and are unstable at best. They show ingenuity but are also the things that can crash and fail, the straw that broke the camels back, leaving you with problems late in the “game jam” day. Keeping accurate records usually helps you identify them but there are other ways to keep this practice limited.

Keep it simple. Forty eight hours is not much time. Divide it by how long it takes you to complete your favourite activity, and then add sleep, – or more sleep if you favourite activity is sleeping – and you’ll start to realise how short it is. A jam isn’t about making the next AAA title, its about learning to manage your time effectively, work through diversity and understand your limits. So simple concepts are great, they work, they can be completed and they can be iterated upon. They also allow you to spot problems more easily, resolve them and polish your game. Simple can still be very, very addictive.

Top down at the jamDon’t get caught up in the theme but try and think outside the box. Your peers are working away next to you, they are probably from the same cultural place and so they’re likely to have the same ideas. Just a little thought can set your game apart and make it stand out. This year we saw a lot of games related to saving the heart and approaching peril. One game that caught my eye involved identifying the enemy in a room full of people through the heartbeat. Not massively different, but applying the principle in an alternative way.

Finally there are the diversifiers in the Global Game Jam, and often optional extra tasks to consider in other game jams. The diversifiers act in two ways, they create challenges for the more experienced jammers but, if you study them carefully, they also give some guidance to new teams. Some gentle nudges towards some more common solutions.

With this year we had diversifiers considering using the basic 16 colours, being a maximum 4kb in size and being all on one screen. All harking back to a previous age of gaming and, for me, directing jammers to a more rhythm action 8 bit generated experience. Of course some diversifiers are there to challenge the more experienced, “industry”, jammer and we’d love to know if anyone achieved the diversifier asking that, “the game involves something location-based, such as a geocache, or requires the player to go to one or more specific geographic locations.”

As I’ve said before, in previous articles for previous jams, although jamming is not the easiest thing in the world it is also one of those most satisfying things. If you go in with the attitude to learn more about how you take disappointment and success, work with others and solve problems then you’ll be a winner, whether the final game works or not.

Take what you’ve learned to another jam and suddenly you’ll find that you’re the experienced one; running a team, leading the programming or deciding the art direction and then you can start thinking about taking these personal skills into the outside world.

Go jam!   

Sleep Time - Scottish Game Jam 2013

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