A game jam is a video game development marathon where you have a fixed amount of time to create a game that matches a theme. After the development period a rating period follows where people will play your game, rate it and offer feedback. It’s a great opportunity to experiment, show off your skill, get good feedback on a game, and all around have a fun time!
- Have fun! Don’t force yourself to do a competition or suck all of the enjoyment out of it by grinding for 48 hours straight on something. Take your time, enjoy it!
- People will most likely play your game for between 3 and 10 minutes, you have that amount of time to introduce your mechanic and make the game stand out from others
- Don’t go around begging for ratings on your game, people tend not to like that and may give your game a lower rating if they do play it
- Some people will offer ‘rate for rate’, this can be a double edged sword as these people will often speed through games and not give them much time
- Graphics aren’t everything in a jam, what matters is consistency.
- Lots of free art exists online from places like Kenny and OpenGameArt
- If you do use art from online, check the license for it!
- If you do decide to create your own art, finding a good color palette can add a consistent look to a project. A good website I use is lospec
- Don’t completely neglect graphics in a project, it is usually part of the judging criteria.
- Music is very effective at setting a mood for a game
- Try to balance the audio between sound effects so things aren’t too loud / quiet
- If a sound effect is used a lot (like foot steps) keeping it on the quieter side is alright
- If a sound effect is used a lot, adding a random amount of gain or speed can help it from feeling repetitive
- If you are using sound effects from online, check the license!
- Incompetech is a good royalty free music website
- Stray away from the common interpretations of a theme, a little creativity can go a long way in making a project stand out
- When brainstorming, make sure to write down your ideas incase you need to revisit the list later
- If you are struggling to brain storm, look up the words in a thesaurus and try to envision ideas around those words
- It is okay to go with your first idea or a common take on the theme. What matters most is that you have fun, if you quickly think of a fun idea then go for it. Don’t get so caught up with the idea of winning that you take the fun out of it
- If the game jam is popular and has a lot of participants, making a quirky or unusual game can really help it to stand out from the flood of generic platformers and top down shooters
- Be flexible, if you start a project and it’s not working, you can restart and search for a different theme, just keep in mind that for a short game jam restarting will eat up a lot of time
- Adding more features doesn’t always make a concept more fun!
- Make sure concepts are well explained and logical. I once made a game where coins powered up a weapon. Many players were super confused on what to do and it hurt their enjoyment of the game.
- Some sort of tutorial, even if you just use text labels in the background of a level, can help a player to understand a mechanic
- Providing a safe area for a player to learn and experiment with a mechanic can help them to quickly learn
- Showing is more powerful then telling. Example, having the player call onto a checkpoint both saves the game and teaches the player what a checkpoint does
- Players tend not to like backtracking or tedious tasks
- If a game is hard for the developer, it will be impossible for a casual player
- If you go with a level based game, unlocking all levels from the start can let players skip a stage if they are stuck
- I recommend doing an early build (like half way through) to make sure you don’t have any build errors and so something can be submitted in the worst case scenario
- Build a prototype first, test your mechanics in a temporary level to make sure they work (and are fun)
- Don’t over scope yourself. It’s easy to envision something beyond what is possible for the duration of the jam, especially for short game jams
- Some game jams allow for use of pre-existing code as long as it isn’t written specifically for the competition. I personally have developed a ‘universal jam template’ with some libraries, level loading handler, settings menu, top down/ platformer character controller, and a blank collection I use for most jams now. It’s usually okay (and within the rules) to have this stuff ready to spin up a project quicker
- It is better to have one or two really well polished and fun levels then a dozen broken and unfun levels
- After the submission period is done, you can always continue to add to the game. You just cannot upload changes until after the voting period ends. Some creators love their jam entries so much they turn them into full games
- It is okay to take breaks, make sure to still eat, go outside, sleep, etc. Sometimes taking a break can clear your head and give you a clearer solution to a problem
- It is okay to have a deep story / lore for a jam. Just know most players aren’t going to sit and read walls of text
- If you have cutscenes, provide a way to skip them
- Don’t bury a tutorial in exposition, some players will miss it and be confused
- If you are using a new library or tool, do a test HTML 5 build and bundle to make sure it works correctly
- Make sure you are on the latest version of Defold to prevent bundling issues
- Use some sort of version control when working. If your computer crashes or you break the entire project, it can be useful to revert to a slightly older build. I personally recommend GitHub or GitLab
- Make sure to have fun with it! The ultimate goal of doing something like this is to have fun. Don’t force yourself into doing something like this, or get super stressed thinking about it. This is an opportunity to have fun and create something to be proud of.
Best of luck!
If you have any other good tips then feel free to share them on the Defold forum!