A Newbie’s Take on Game Jam

At the end of January 2020, I wasn’t in the best mood. For a number of reasons mostly tied to work, I felt useless and I was quite closed off. But a friend of mine was kind enough to invite me to their Global Game Jam team! So courageously, I accepted and travelled to the Netherlands for a special weekend! Quick thanks to our host Reaktor who graciously opened their office and provided us with everything we needed and some more.

I say courage because I thought I didn’t have any useful skills. I can’t code, I can’t do game graphics, I don’t have an eye for graphic design and despite having a “gut feeling” of game design; first, never had a title of it and second, I tend to (over)complicate things but jams require more concise methods. See where I’m going with this? I felt I would be useless there, just like I felt at work. In fact, when I introduced myself in the HQ, I called myself the “Secret Weapon” to hide my embarrassment because I couldn’t call myself a graphic designer, coder etc. Regarding my prior skillset, I wasn’t wrong, but sentimentally I was SO wrong.

Final sprite sheet

I ended up writing the content, preparing most of the graphics, taking care of some organizational stuff (which can actually matter since time is scarce — every bit helps) and preparing a good amount of the trailer. I even provided my voice for our neighbour team’s game!

Were the graphics good? Hell no! Was I proud? Hell yes! I even created the story to be about someone who felt caught in this endless loop at work (just like me at the time). In fact, the game itself is supposed to be a meta-representation of that: Every time you play is another day in the guy’s life. You, as a player, playing more, attempts at higher scores and trying to get some meaningful result of the game is also the protagonist, trying to get the same out of work. Kinda depressing and a bit convoluted but I was also on the verge of burning out.

I was genuinely sad when the weekend ended. Meeting new people, creating something, trying myself at new things… It was incredibly refreshing! My experience with this lovely band of people not only left me with awesome memories but also showed me that I was far from useless and kind of proved to be a secret weapon and ended up starting a chain of positive changes in my life.

Proof. Well, this was because I brought bagels but I’ll take it.

Now obviously I don’t claim that a game jam will change everyone’s life in the same way… but you won’t know until you try it, right? Believe me, you’ll find something to do. The time is so scarce that every bit helps. And if you already can code, do art etc then don’t ever worry about your level, you will do great!

Finally, I’d like to provide some resources. Obviously, there are many compilations on the internet such as this one on GGJ site but this tiny one’s mine. Before you go on, please make sure to read the rules [For Ludum Dare 2021]. Some of the following tools might not be directly used for your game, but they may still be useful for prototyping etc.

  • Unreal Engine: It’s free and very powerful. It also comes with the blueprint system, which allows you to program without code. So many systems are directly built in the engine but that also means that it can be overwhelming to start without prior knowledge but there are many resources on the internet. I hear UE isn’t the best for 2D projects, haven’t really tried myself. Their market has a lot of free and purchasable assets, plugins etc.
  • Construct: A great 2D engine that has a limited free version, but the premium version is going to be unlocked for everyone during LD! Construct is fully visually programmed but it allows you to write your own code too. It is quite easy to get into! They also have assets in their shop.
  • Unity: I haven’t used it myself (yet) but if I can’t not include Unity. It’s free, works well with 2D, 3D, mobile etc alike, many resources on the internet. I believe it also has a visual programming system.
  • Notepad++: Best simple text editor. I mean, you should have this on your PC regardless.
  • Inkarnate: Inkarnate is a map editing tool that has a decent free version. I’m not sure if using Inkarnate maps directly is allowed or in the spirit of jam, but it’s a good tool to be aware of.
Testing tiles on discord
  • Spriters Resource: SR has sprites/sheets from countless games. You shouldn’t use these directly but they can be good references to help you build your own stuff and also references for any derivations you want to make.
  • Discord: Discord is a great communication tool for any team or community. I suggest creating a server and a few channels such as graphics, code etc so everyone can easily keep track of different aspects of the game. I found a very different use for Discord in GGJ20: I tested my tileset by adding them as emojis.
  • GoogleDocs & Drive: I know, google and evil and stuff but google docs are incredibly convenient and are free to use. Everything from checking numbers on a spreadsheet to writing content in a structured manner to preparing a presentation for any reason can be done on google docs and more importantly, collaboratively in real-time.
  • Paint.Net: Since Adobe products are costly, everyone has a favourite alternative. Mine is Paint.net. It has basic functions that paint lacks, such as layering, working with transparency and can be customized a lot through plugins.
  • Netlify: Netlify uses a specific technology that is “serverless” which allows a drag-and-drop deployment of web apps (supports git deployments too, of course) but is also limited in certain ways. I’m not an expert on the matter but I believe due to lack of traditional server talk, PHP etc can’t be used directly. They do have their own ways of implementing certain functionality but it might get too complicated. Still, if you are making something like a single-player game on Construct, Netlify might make it extremely easy to test things out.

If you are still reading and still trying to decide, let me help you. DO IT. If you are dreading it, STOP. Do the thing. The stakes are low, time is yours to enjoy. Go ahead, find people (unless you want to solo) and enjoy the jam! You won’t regret it.

Gamer, gaming industry wanderer, development and design enthusiast. Current WIP: TBD

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