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Category Archive: Game Development
I’ll be live streaming on Twitch.tv at
Hey, everyone. Global Game Jam is less than a day away, and I figured it’ll be a good time to provide some practical advice from a seasoned jammer who’ve went through 3 Global Game Jams, and at least 5 local, 8-hour Game Jams.
How it works
Before we get to the advice section, though, here’s a brief description of how Global Game Jam is conducted. It’ll help frame my suggestions later.
Global Game Jam is a global event where teams attempt to create a video game, board game, or card game related to a common theme in under 48 hours. At most locations, the Jam starts at 5:00 pm (local time) where an introductory video is shown to get everyone comfortable. The theme will be presented at the end of this video, and members are given about an hour to brainstorm on their own game idea. Each participates will present their idea to everyone at the end of this brainstorm session, and teams are created based around popular concepts.
Preparation before the event
If you intend to make a video game, I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend that you learn how to use a game engine (NOT a framework). Such skills will prove to be useful regardless of whether you’re a programmer, artist, composer, or a writer. For starts, I recommend playing around with GameMaker for 2D games, or Unity for 3D.
I also recommend bringing a laptop if you have one, even if you’re making a board game or a card game. There’s going to be a lot of typing and re-writing going to be done in your game, so the faster the tool, the better. Plus, you’ll need the internet to submit your game, too! Even if you don’t have one, most site provides computers, so I wouldn’t be too worried about it.
Lastly, if the site you’re going to is open for the whole 48 hours, bring a sleeping bag and an extra set of clothes. I will guarantee you you will stay up for a long, long time.
Coming up with an idea
Anyone with a bit of knowledge on the gaming industry will know that most console games are made by teams larger than 30, for 3 or more years. For an event with only 48 hours, and team size of less than 10, attempting to make a game a size of a console game is, to put it lightly, impractical.
On top of that, the idea must be related to a theme. Unfortunately, the Global Game Jam theme is kept secret until the very day of the event. It’s highly unlikely that any ideas before the event would mesh well with the presented theme.
Thus, you will have to come up with a simple, Angry Birds-style idea on-the-spot. Additionally, the idea should at least provide a game mechanic to build on, such as how the game will be played. I personally have several sheets of paper ready before the theme is presented, and write down every notes and game mechanics I can think of that vaguely reminds me of the theme. The rules doesn’t specify how much the idea has to be related to the theme, after all!
Also see: Coming Up With a Game in Global Game Jam.
What you need for a team, and how many people will be entirely dependent on what game you’re trying to make. The criteria I provide below are what have personally worked best for me.
For team size, with a game like Angry Birds, I found 3 or 4 members were optimal. If a game idea is art-heavy or philosophical, I would go for 5 or 6.
If you intend to make a video game, I strongly recommend having at least one person devoted to making artworks, and one person devoted to programming. If you plan on making a board or card game, devote one person as a writer for all the rules.
First thing first: do not get attached to your team’s game idea. Be prepared to scrap everything the moment you notice the game won’t be fun. Even I personally scrapped my game ideas twice before.
Since it’s entirely possible that this will happen, your team should make something playable as soon as possible. Forget about the artworks, sound effects, even the menus and the end-game results: the sooner you know whether the basic gameplay of your game is fun or not, the better. If it’s not fun, scrap it, and make another game again as rapidly as possible. Polish can always come later.
Time is of essence, here, so you should mainly stick with the tools you know. If a feature is taking more than an hour, forget about it, and move on. If a bug is going to or already is taking more than an hour to fix, hide it instead.
Lastly, have your game playtested by people outside of your team as soon as possible. Keep note of where they seem to “not understand” about your game, where they enjoyed the game, and where they didn’t. Playtesting help prioritize which tasks are more important, and may even reveal that some bugs may not have to be fixed!
Above all else, have fun, be persistent, and make sure you get a lot of food and rest through this exhilarating event. Good luck!
In Global Game Jam 2012, I came up with…12, no 13 different game ideas.
Yeah, I had a lot of ideas. But how? Coming up with a game idea in a short time might seem difficult at first. But believe it or not, it isn’t: understanding the context of the situation, and letting your gut reaction go wild generates a whole slew of creative game ideas.
In Global Game Jam, you have to recognize the scope and effort your team can put in in 48 hours. That’s a very short time with very little people. Even worse, you’re dealing with a lot of competitors, so to get the attention of the crowd, you want your game to be easy and immediately accessible.
Therefore, your game must be simple, small, and short. It shouldn’t take more than a minute to explain how to play the game. If you can finish the game within five minutes, you can present everything in a timely manner. And if it’s small, that means less time necessary to play-test and squash bugs. Despite the general urgency budding game designers have to create an epic, a Wii Sports angle for Global Game Jam will garner more attention and more points.
Now that we have the context out of the way, which ideas tend to succeed more at generating an actual game?
One word: gameplay. Yes, the sooner you establish how to play the game, the better. It’s important to stress how much easier it is to come up with a gameplay first, then create a story and artworks for the game later, than it is the other way around.
As an example, here at the George Mason University this year, we were given an hour to come up and present a game idea. There were many people who admitted that their ideas were merely gameplay looking for a game. You guys were doing it right. On the other hand, there was a team in Universities at Shady Grove last year who tried to come up with the story of the game first. They struggled to write anything on paper for nearly 3 hours. Clearly, they were doing it wrong.
Frequently, a team will change its mind about the artwork, the story, and even the end goal halfway through development. This is fine, and in fact, encouraged. You should keep an open mind about how you want to present your game. But you still want to retain the backbone of your game: the gameplay.
When the theme is presented, I see many people attempt to analyze and evaluate what the heck the theme means.
Stop right there. You only have 48 hours. Don’t waste the first hour determining what the heck the theme is, especially when your event coordinator is nice enough to reserve this brainstorming session for you.
Instead, let your guts handle this. Whatever your first impression was when you saw that theme, write it down. Or if you’re talented enough, draw a picture. The latter is much more favorable.
Now look up. What’s your second impression? Does it remind you of another game? Write it down.
Look again. Does it remind you of a song, a book, or a movie? Write it down.
Keep at this. It doesn’t matter how much you dislike the idea; it matters that you have any. After all, you want to keep your games simple, small, and short. Your impulse reactions are good at that. Your logical mind, on the other hand, isn’t. Don’t worry about the details. Gameplay first; presentation later.
Putting it Into Practice
So what were the ideas that I came up with? What were my impulses?
This year’s theme was an image of an Ouroboros. Thanks to Harry Potter, I knew the image meant the cyclical nature of things, and my immediate reaction was, “Awesome! I can use that idea that was nagging in my mind during the hour-long drive to this college campus!” This eventually became our game, Susie’s Summer Home.
OK, I admit, that was cheating. But I did have more.
Second, I notice the circular shape the snake was making. My mind went immediately to gears, and I wrote down, “something to do with gears.”
Looked back up again. I noticed the head was at the bottom. It made the picture feel heavier at the bottom than at the top. I wrote down, “gears with gravity: the bottom of the gear is heavier than the top.”
Up again. I see three colors in this photo. I wrote down, “graphics: white, gray, and black.”
Rinse and repeat. Snake eating tail. I wrote, “make the snake eat its tail. P.S. yes, everyone else must have thought of this!” I can’t emphasize enough to write down ideas, even if it isn’t original or unique. Maybe everybody else thought it was so obvious, they dismissed the idea. Just as likely, maybe nobody thought of it. It doesn’t hurt to take the risk
I’m on a roll here! Lets see…that circular negative space is interesting! I wrote, “level where the character navigates the white space. See: Echochrome.”
And so on and so forth.
That’s how to do it, boys and girls! It doesn’t matter too much whether the game idea applies strongly to the theme or not. After all, the people will be judging by the end product, not by how much it relates to the theme. Instead, it’s most important to keep in mind that the game must be simple, small, and short. Also remember, that it’s easier to build game off of gameplay than the story, artwork, music, or even presentation.
In both cases, your impulses are insanely good at those. Use it wisely!
Games-I-made-in-Global-Game-Jam ramble, part 2. In 2011, I just moved into Maryland. To get used to things, I decided to take a supporting role in a team, rather than work by myself. Our creation was Boomshakalaka, a bomb-dropping game controlled by dropping objects on the keyboard.
The game is downloadable here.
The theme this time was “extinction.” A seemingly deep topic. In fact, the five of us literally wrote out every dictionary definition of it, and attempted to outline every possible game idea on the whiteboard. This process was…excruciating. We sat there for 3 hours, just thinking. Since I’m a gameplay-over-graphics kind of guy, I finally proposed that they make a game that uses an entire keyboard. Each key can be hit only once within the game, thus acting as the primary resource of the game. We’ve finally decided on a tower-defense game where you detonated a grid of mines as the monsters approached your base.
But like last time, this entire idea was thrown away. It was Ruben Brown, this time, that came up with the final game idea: drop whatever on the keyboard. This eventually evolved into a bomb-dropping game under his direction. I remember vehemently rejecting the idea, not because of it ruining my original game design; but rather, the physical harm the control scheme could do to the precious keyboard. Yeah, I’m a stickler for my computer. Regardless, Ruben assured that only his laptop would take the abuse.
In the final runs, we started having merging errors working with Unity and Subversion. Sadly, the explosion effects all disappeared; none of the courses and assets got added in, and the only thing that compiled was the one level displayed in the web link above. It’s a bit sad, really, as we had tanks, jeeps, and mannequins models to completely destroy. Regardless, the game turned out to be a simple casual game that many not into intense gaming could enjoy. It’s simply the lack of content and special effects that really hindered us badly.