About a month ago I participated in my first Game Jam. We were given the theme of ‘Transmission’ and 48-hours to try to scrounge together a working piece. If you get a chance, I highly recommend trying out a few of the games that were made because a lot of them were very clever and well done (Might: Pen and Sword, LINEMAN, and Rhythm Action News were a few of my favorites). Even though we were all given the same theme, everyone came up with vastly different ideas that were all effective. I was really impressed with how everyone was able to work together and try out different jobs they might not have expected to do when they first signed up.
While the Game Jam was an amazing experience, there were a few things I wish I had known before joining. That said, I would (and will) definitely do it again. I had an amazing team who were all incredible at their jobs. They were also very patient with me.
I joined the Game Jam as a writer which might have been my first mistake. While larger games do need narrative components, for a Game Jam this part isn’t going to take up the full 48-hour time slot and it didn’t take me long to complete my tasks as the game’s writer. Since we decided at the start that we wanted to plot out the story together, the job of Narrative Designer fell onto the shoulders of the team as a whole rather than just on the writer, which meant my job was essentially doing the dialogue, descriptions/game summary, and instructions. Those didn’t take long for me to complete and once I finished them, I was left wondering what to do. I didn’t know how to code in Unity, so I decided to assist with the art aspects. I didn’t have Maya though, which was what we were using to make most of the 3D aspects in the game, which meant that I had to find another way to help with the art that wouldn’t disrupt our designated artist’s work. There was another writer/artist on the team who’d taken up the task of working on 2D aspects, so I joined with them. In the end, while I did enjoy my time working on the game and I loved the finished product, I felt like I had been more of a hindrance than a help. I was good at making the 2D aspects and I did help with implementing some of the dialogue through the Yarn plugin in Unity, but even so, there were a lot of points where I messed up or didn’t do something out of fear of ruining the project as a whole. I refused to touch the project folder at times because I was convinced I would be the one to put something in the wrong place and cause the game to self-destruct.
This leads me to my reason for writing this post. There are a lot of things that I wish I would have known before doing the Game Jam but not all of them are obvious things that I would have known that I needed to know if I hadn’t actually gone (yes, this sentence got away from me but I’m leaving it).
So here is my list of things that I wish I had known before doing Game Jam:
(this is geared towards game writers more so than artists or programmers)
- Forget what you’re good at and just jump in. You’re going to wear a lot of new hats when you do a Game Jam.
- A lot of people will tell you that you don’t need to know how to code to do the Game Jam. If you’re an artist this might be true but if you’re coming in as a writer try to know at least the basics of one program (other than Twine). We worked with Unity and at the start of the Game Jam I didn’t know anything about the program and sure, by the end I still couldn’t actively do anything with it, but I had seen it in action enough to know that if I sat down and worked at it, I could probably learn it pretty easily. I wish I had known some of the basics when I’d first started the Jam so I could help our programmer.
- Be confident even when you are trying something new. My lack of confidence held me back from coding and doing more art which slowed down our production. It’s hard to feel confident when you’re new to coding and your designated programmer is a Master Wizard, but if they’re patient and willing to show you how to do something, take advantage and learn so you can, in turn, help them.
- Your game is never going to look like your original goal. That’s ok.
- Speaking of, this is a bit of advice from another Jammer: Keep your scope small and focus on making one mechanic. Make that mechanic the best it can be. If you do, you’ll have an effective game.
- Don’t be afraid to assert your opinions. You’re part of the team too.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. This is a learning experience and not a job. This one was very difficult for me since I am a perfectionist and a professional game writer. I’m used to staying in my lane and making sure I do my job well. I’m not used to jumping out and wearing different hats. The Game Jam helped me in this aspect a lot. I had to lighten up and branch out, which earned me the nickname “Jack-of-Most-Trades” at the end.
- Lastly: be prepared to spend a lot of money on coffee. So much coffee.
All of this said, I highly recommend doing Game Jams if you want to go into the industry or if you just want to try something new. I met some amazing people during the Jam and I definitely learned a lot by doing it.