Getting better at jamming in Global Game Jam 2016

So the last weekend of January was the weekend of Global Game Jam and I participated for the second time now. This time was quite different though; since the GGJ site in Kajaani was held mostly for the students in our school, I wasn’t making a game with complete strangers. Me and five of my schoolmates made this. As you can see from the result, we definitely had a fun and non-serious jam, which is what I believe game jams should be. Innovation is also a plus, but the innovativeness of our game is… debatable.

I also tried to learn something from my previous experience in Global Game Jam and try doing things a bit differently. And I might have actually learned something. Here’s some advice that you might or might have not heard before.

Organizing features

There isn’t much time to design the game you are making during a jam, so being short and concise is important. An easy way to map out the game is to list it’s features. But an even better way is to categorize the features into at least two categories: core and extended. Core features contain the minimum of what is required for an enjoyable game. So focusing and perfecting the core features first before extended features improve your chances of making a good game. Like in our game, if we had focused on something trivial like a proper score system, we would devote time from more important things like level pacing, jump mechanics and the juiciness of them.

However, we could’ve done the organizing a bit better. We made a level generator system that was supposed to make it easier to add obstacles in the music’s rhythm. Thinking back, this was a pretty weird decision. First of all, we allocated time to make a tool and not a game. Second of all, we had to allocate time to introduce it to the level designers. Third of all, it didn’t really make level designing that much faster. What we could’ve done instead is forget about making the level generator, let the level designers work with standard Unity scene editor and focus our programming efforts on something more important.

Teamwork

Saying that working in a team requires teamwork is obvious, but it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Some people don’t get along with each other and some people have difficulty working together, whether it’s because of communication issues or personal issues. I don’t think I’ve experienced much of the latter, but the former certainly does happen. I occasionally have difficulties getting my ideas across to other people, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. It’s good to keep this in mind, and ask your team members to clarify if you don’t understand everything. Not fully understanding your team members can lead to mistakes that take too much time to fix later on.

Also, even if your team members are all specialized in some aspect of the game (programming, graphics, level design..), they can still do other things as well. And this might be necessary, given the limited time you have. And it’s especially useful when some of your team members have nothing else to do anymore.

Take breaks

A weekend jam is a pretty intensive weekend, and you’re probably going to be more productive than your entire last month. At least if you’re not employed. So taking regular breaks is important. Take a cup of coffee, dump your mind by drawing stuff on the whiteboard and go bother other teams with questions like “How’s your game coming along?”. Either way, taking a short break at least once an hour can do wonders for both productivity and your mental state.

Sleep

Just do. Sleep deprivation can make jamming more stressing, less productive and most importantly, less fun. And the only way to avoid sleep deprivation is to actually sleep. Coffee just postpones the inevitable.

This is probably one of the most difficult advises to follow, for me at least. But us humans need sleep, so we must sleep.

And have fun

So in a nutshell; organize, work with your team, take breaks, sleep and most importantly, have fun.

Also, if you’re anxious of participating in GGJ, whether you think you are not social enough or that you lack skills, just go and participate. Other people with the same exact worries are also joining. Face your fears. Just do it.

Until next time.