Published on August 22nd, 2013 | by farez1
My First Game Jam Experience
Are you interested in video game development? If you see yourself writing code, drawing concept art, making 3D models, producing music, or voice acting for a game, I highly recommend going to a game jam (or contributing to one remotely). All you need is a laptop and a bit of experience in one of the above skills. Gone are the days of “getting your foot in the door”–if you want to work in the gaming industry, make a game and ship it. The best way to convince a potential employer to hire you is to show them something you’ve made.
You don’t have to write your own game engine either; there are several you can use for free. Same goes for music and art, where there are many royalty free assets available out there. I’m not discouraging you from making your own stuff; you can obviously take the time to learn and make an entire game yourself (and that’s part of the goal here), it’ll just take you longer.
I went to a game jam recently, organized by iamagamer.ca. My team and I made Ganbaru, a simple 2D samurai game focused on getting high scores. Game jams typically tend to have a theme and a time limit, and the theme for this jam was strong female protagonists and the time limit was 48 hours. Here’s how it went:
The official starting time was 6:00pm, and it was about 6:15 by the time I got there. Long rows of tables and chairs were placed in the “hangar” space of the Center for Digital Media in Vancouver. Some people came with pre-made groups, while others came alone. The organizers of the jam, Kimberly Voll and Andy Moore, said a few words and thanked the official sponsors, followed by an “ice breaker” activity where people still looking for teams were asked to organize themselves according to their skills. Programmers stood to the left, and everyone else stood to the right. People were encouraged to mingle, and eventually I formed a team with three handsome gentlemen: Joe, Stephen, and Chris.
Joe had made games in Unity before, so he would be the “designer, programmer, and engine guy.” Chris worked on the art assets. Stephen worked as a UI designer for his full time job, so he contributed to art assets and interface design. I was the second programmer on the team. Having done a bunch of Java/C/C++ programming for school projects, I picked up C# very easily, and Joe helped me with any Unity-related issues that I had trouble with. My only experience with Unity was this tutorial by Alec Holowka, co-creator of Aquaria, whom I also met at the jam. So part of my goal over the weekend was to get comfortable enough with Unity to be able to make a game by myself in the future.
We spent a few minutes coming up with seven different ideas with different mechanics and eventually settled with a female samurai getting attacked by shogun-looking dudes from the left and right. The concept was simple, and it felt achievable within a 48-hour period. The goal was to have a “working prototype” (i.e. get the game’s basic mechanics working with squares and rectangles, but no art) in 24 hours. Once that was done, we spent the rest of the time importing art and tying animations (i.e. sequences of images) to the code we had written. Approaching it this way was important because it reduced the risk of wasting art assets on the first iteration of our idea. Art can always be polished on top of a solid code base, but not really the other way around.
Finally, at around 4:30pm on Sunday evening, people started presenting demos of their games. Some of them were incredibly polished. One group even had a 3D voxel-based puzzle game with a few levels done. It was incredible to see how different these games were, and talking to the creators of these games was one of the most rewarding aspects of the event. We were one of the last groups to present, followed by a bunch of hand shakes and clean-up.
To sum it up, there were a few things I took away from this jam, technical and otherwise:
- Finished my first game with a demo to show for it
- Gained some valuable experience in a new programming language and Unity
- Met some very cool people
If you’re interested in game jams, keep an eye on Global Game Jam or simply Google “game jam” followed by your city name to find out about these events near you. Feel free to post any questions here in the comments or on the forums.