Hey all! I know I missed posting last Wednesday but this past week I was doing a Game Jam with Luke and our friend Owen. It was a lot of fun! And I’m going to go through all the experiences we had. I’m also going to leave links to the game created for it and some created for past game jams that you can all try out!
I always get this fun quizzical look from people when I say “Oh I’m doing a game jam this week.” because it’s probably the best kept secret in the gaming world. Basically, you get a theme, you get a certain amount of time, and you make a game. It can be rough, it can have free asset packs that you use, or it can be simple building blocks you find in Unreal. It’s just about having fun, quick thinking, and innovative ideas. It’s also a great team building exercise but many people do these game jams as “solo devs” which just means one person makes everything.
A lot of studios take part in game jams for a few reasons; 1. It’s a great team building exercise 2. It’s something different from normal working hours so it allows you to be creative, talk to new people, and relax, and 3. It brings new ideas into the companies for future game releases. Game jams happen every single day. If you go to itch.io and look at the game jam schedule, you can find jams that last a week, 2 days, 24 hours, or even 2 weeks. The shortest game jam I’ve ever taken part in was 3 days. We got the theme on a Friday and we had to submit it on Sunday evening (It may have been Monday morning). The longest game jam I have done was 2 weeks long and was part of my Master’s degree. We actually did 6 game jams, the normal length was 2 weeks and the shortest was 1 week. They were fun but very challenging which I might write about in another blog.
This game jam we took part in was for the Epic Mega Jam that Unreal puts on every year. The whole week is fun because you can collaborate with people you’ve never met before, watch streams of other groups making their games, playing the games, and some jams have a live stream at the very end with judges and Twitch streamers playing all the games. There are prizes at the end but I just enjoy making a quick game and seeing what others have created. I’ve already gone through the 524 submissions and played a few that caught my interest. (If you see Camel Rider, play it, it’s difficult but very fun) The theme this year was “As Above, So Below”. Of course the first thing I thought of was the ocean but I didn’t want to go with the first idea. Luke and I discussed ideas for about 2 days and then on Monday (the 29th of August) we started making the game. We went through 3 different ideas before landing on the one we turned in. So on Monday we were going to make a horror game and play with mirrors in VR. I won’t say too much because I don’t want anyone to steal this idea, it sounds really fun to make. We couldn’t figure out how to tie this idea into the theme so we changed our game.
By Tuesday evening we decided to do a puzzle game. Much like the game Moss, the player would be in VR, controlling a character around an environment and solving puzzles. And to get the theme in, we were going to make a scene you could flip upside down. So a room you couldn’t get into in one room, you could flip the board and find a key to open the door or find a way to land in the closed room when you flipped the board back. Sounds fun right! Well, it would have been fun, if we continued, but making the environment and puzzles was just too much for the time left. So we changed our idea one last time.
By Wednesday evening we had a new game idea but kept the idea of flipping the game board. Basically you push crates around a level. You have to put them in the correct spot and a button will appear that you use to open the door. Very simple game. Very simple environment. We had 10 level ideas to make up which only took me a few hours to mock up, and very simple mechanics for Luke to make. We also had our friend Owen making the UI for the game.
By Thursday morning Owen had made the entire UI system and by the afternoon I had all the levels made up while Luke was working on the mechanics for the game. The game was super fun to play and we were having fun chatting and working together. But you know when things are going really well, something has to go wrong? Oh boy did it. We were using GitHub, which is a file sharing program. All 3 of us can work on the same game file and we send changes to the game to each other. Well it decided that Luke’s work he had been doing for 3 hours should be deleted. It didn’t even ask him if he wanted to store his changes for later! We had about 8 hours left of the jam and we weren’t even sure if we would finish it. But Luke put his headphones on and just redid everything.
While Luke was working, I was updating the textures on the models. For game jams, you can use asset packs from anywhere to make the game quickly, but you don’t get many points for originality. If you redo the textures and make your own, you get a few more points than just using straight packs someone else has made. The more points you get, the better chance you have of winning. Luckily the art style of the asset pack was similar to Scientific Shutdown so I knew how to change the textures easily. (It wasn’t easy, I had to make it more complicated than I should have, but I was having fun.)
Luke had the game finished and working by 2 am and we were implementing changes and testing the game. Ok, Luke and Owen were fixing their work, I was on Facebook and entertaining everyone with my hysterical laughter (for some reason they didn’t let me have Pepsi after that).
Near the end, Owen had gone to bed, I had written up as much of the formal submission page as I could and had gone to bed, and Luke was fixing the project right up until the deadline. He uploaded and hit submit with 1:48 (that's minutes) until the deadline! A miracle considering many people were uploading at the last minute. This is by far one of my favorite game jams I have taken part in and I learned so much during it; 1. stylized art styles are hard! I tried to replicate the asset packs style when I re-did the textures but I don’t know how the original artist did it. But that’s something I’m going to look into. 2. I really enjoy making levels. I love piecing everything together and filling the world! (That background you see… yea that was all me)
3. Sometimes you need a little push to get back into a habit. I haven’t been painting or making any art for myself recently because I’ve been working on the company and doing a lot of paperwork. But this game jam has been so much fun and has reminded me why I love being creative. Art is my job but it’s also a great stress release for me.
4. It’s ok to not finish stuff, life gets in the way and we can’t do anything about it. I have many art projects tucked away into drawers and boxes, covered up by dust covered paint bottles. Don’t be ashamed of the unfinished knitting project you have in a cupboard, or the piles of books you haven’t read yet. If you start a project and it doesn’t make you excited to do more, don’t do it, put it aside and find something that makes you want to work on it even after it’s finished (yes, I want to finish this game, it was so much fun to make!)
I think game jams are great for team building and should be brought up more often. I want to implement game jams into my company to bring freelancers together to test their skills, meet new people, and help them understand the importance of team building. This project wouldn’t have been finished if Owen and I hadn’t taken on some of the work from Luke and subsequently, it wouldn’t have been finished without Luke’s determination and drive to finish after all his work had been deleted. We all needed each other to finish this game and we had a lot of fun just chatting on Discord while we worked. If you ever want to do a game jam but you’re afraid of doing one alone, I urge you to reach out to Discord groups and join someone else. You meet the greatest of people through this and although it is hard to put yourself out there, I promise you won’t be disappointed. No one wants to see you fail and finding a group will teach you a lot (seriously, strangers give the best advice and feedback for improvement). And if you do want to do a game jam and are shy, just ask me and I’ll either join you or find you a group to be a part of.
As promised, here is the link to the game we submitted and below are links to other game jams done by myself and friends and Luke. (They're all hyperlinks, just click the names)
Previous Game Jams
Unbound - Luke's Game
The Last Antique Store - One I worked on with friends for Jamfuser