Game Jam Tips & Survival Guide

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GameJam Tips

On my account, I have already about 10 game jams finished. So far I’ve only jammed with teams from 2 to 6 people. To give you some background about what I’m usually responsible for, I’ll list all of my game jams and describe my roles. 

  1. 2015 – Windows 10 Game Jamfirst place in Games category, 4 team members. I was responsible for the coding, planning, team management, game design and final presentation (pitch). 
  2. 2016 – Imagine Cup national stagegot to TOP 10, 4 team members. I was mentoring the team of students, helping them with design, planning, and team management stuff.
  3. 2016 – 2nd Hackaton Rzeszow First place in Games category, 4 team members. My roles: main game designer, 3D artist, team management and planning, final pitch. 
  4. 2016 – Rzethon by G2A First place, 4 team members. My role the same as before: a game designer (art and gameplay), 3D artist, team management and planning,  final pitch
  5. 2017 – Nerds Game Jamsecond place, 5 team members. My roles were: game design, 3D art, final look, and planning. 
  6. 2017 – Ludum Dare 38nothing special, 4 team members. My job: gameplay design, coding.
  7. 2017 – Rzethon II Edition TOP10, 4 team members. My job: 3D Art, animations, game design,  final pitch.
  8. 2018 – Huuuge Game Jamfirst place online, 2 team members. I was responsible for all aspects of game design, including coding, 2D art, sound, and gameplay design. 
  9. 2018 – Rzethon III EditionTOP 10, 4 team members. VR Game AntiHack. My job: game design, 2D&3D art, team management,  final pitch
  10. 2019 – Game Jam Square 15th place (50 teams total). 6 team members. My job: game design, planning, team management, some coding, sound design. 
So as you can see, I have plenty of experience regarding local and online game jams, and now I’ve decided to share that with you!

Preparations before game jam

Maybe you can’t prepare a game solution before a game jam, at least if you play fair, you still can get rid of tedious tasks.
Here’s a small checklist of most repeatable and tedious stuff I’ve found I was doing usually.

  • Name of your Team
  • Select and install Unity version
  • Divide roles inside of your team
  • Set your team goal (why you want to do that game jam?)
  • Prepare code for controllers​
  • Prepare some mockups for presentation/trailer/banners
  • Select art style your graphic designers feel best in
  • Prepare rules for assets export/import​
  • Prepare universal UI solutions for tests(Main->Game->Game end->Credentials)
  • Have some kind of sound manager code
  • Install all apps you think you’ll need!​

Game Jam Timeline

Since game jams have various time frames, I have prepared a timeline based on percentage and example hours for 24h jam (since that’s where I have the most experience). Feel free to adjust it to fit your workflow, and let me know if you have any ideas for improvement. Together we can create the ultimate Game Jam Plan! 
Remember that you can follow the link at the top, to duplicate my Notion workspace! 

Phase 1 - planning and preparations (5 hours)

I follow the rule of 20/80, where 20% of effort gives you 80% of the final effect. This way I think that first 20% of the time is the most important part, and that part is planning and brainstorming your game idea. So this step should last 20% of the time, and that is about 5 hours.
Assumptions for a good example:

  • Game jam starts at 6 pm
  • Game jam lasts 24 hours
  • Game jam ends at 6 pm the next day

As soon as game jam starts, follow these steps: 

  1. Brainstorming the idea(2 hours). Draw mindmaps, debate, search for inspirations. 
  2. If there’s no idea, give every team member 20 minutes to make their own ideas by themselves, then let them present those ideas (30 minutes- optional) 
  3. Select 2 or 3 best ideas (30 minutes)
  4. Prototype selected ideas, whether in-game engine or using physical objects(1 hour)
  5. Scope! Strip all unnecessary elements of your best idea and make the final plan. Split plan for each team member using paper or some kind of software ( we use Trello)

PHASE 2 - Game design ( 14 Hours)

In the second phase, you have to totally focus on solving team issues quickly. Sometimes not everyone is happy with the game you have selected, and it is important to have a happy team. That’s the only way to have everyone in the “flow” state. Make it clear that it’s important to build and test the game, and make adjustments if needed. Sometimes it’s better to make a new game instead of wasting your time for something you know is shit. 

GameJam Tips other team feedback
Asking other teams for feedback can be very fruitful.

Regarding sleep – if you go for 24 hours, you can have a day off after the jam – then its not totally necessary to sleep during a jam. Yet it’s necessary to take a short nap after the second phase because what defines your success it is the last phase. 

  1. Setup complete design and gameplay guideline, this way both graphic designers and coders have to work from the start
  2. Core mechanics :
    1. Win condition
    2. Loose condition
    3. Base gameplay mechanics 
    4. Player controller
  3. List of graphics assets and inspirations ( we use Pinterest)
  4. Particles and effects
  5. Sound design – make list, record, use your audio controller system to easily deploy recorded audio
  6. Design and setup interface for core game loop
  7. Build every 4/5 hours, ask other teams to test your game! 
  8. Add animations and story
  9. Add additional game mechanics and content ONLY if the core loop is cool and plays well!

Phase 3 - Sleeping, Game trailer & presentation (5 hours)

The last phase is as important as the first one. That’s where you have an opportunity to put nice clothes on your raw design and “not as cool as you thought” game. Unfortunately, usually the whole team is ripped off from their thinking capabilities, and it’s difficult to create anything decent at that time. That is why I advise you to book about 20% of the time you have for a game jam, for 50% of your team. 

Sleeping during game jam
Sleeping before last phase is beneficial, especially for longer jams.

The best scenario is when your design team has finished about 5 hours before the game jam ends, then they go sleep and work on marketing (presentation, trailer, logo, itch.io page, etc.) for the time you have left. In the same time, designers do final bug fixes and put everything into one piece. 
Follow this checklist to be sure you have everything you need to deliver your game to judges:

  1. Graphic designers go sleep 5 hours before the deadline for 1-2 hours
  2. Programmers deliver final build 3 hours before the deadline
  3. Prepare trailer mockup
  4. Prepare logo and record gameplay for trailer
  5. Make screenshots and select 6 best
  6. If you have to make a pitch presentation, a guy who does that sleeps for 3 hours and has 2 hours to get familiar with the presentation
  7. Select music for the trailer
  8. Put the trailer into one piece and if you have time – ask other teams what they think about it
  9. DONT ADD NEW CONTENT AT THIS PHASE! 

As you can see, making a game at the game jam can drag you through whole development levels, and what people usually forget at big scale when being indies, they also miss when doing game jams. That thing is of course MARKETING, black sheep of game design. Unfortunately, it is time-consuming not only when you are indie at a full-time job or after work, but also when you do game jams. I belive if more designers will spend more time for Phase 3 during game jams, they will have bigger chances to win and to have nice media coverage after the party. 
If you have any questions, ideas, or you are planning to take part in a game jam – write to me, and I will do my best to help you! 
Check all posts in my ULTIMATE GAME JAM GUIDE series! 

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