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The Global Game Jam 2010: Lessons learned

This post is well overdue, in part because I've been very busy with work recently, but also because I'm actually having a real struggle writing down my thoughts about it!

So, this is what I learned at the 2010 Global Game Jam in Auckland.


The point of a Game Jam is to try something completely different

In the space of 48 hours, you can't possibly compete with the best games in any genre. So try to invent your own.

One thing that disappointed me about most of the entries New Zealanders entered this year that I have seen this year is that most of them could be slotted nicely into existing genre archetypes - The adventure, the platformer, the shoot-em-up, and so on.

Contrast with the Hamilton 2009 entries Poultry Temperature Manager (Keep Chickens alive by keeping them the right proximity from each other) Canyon Chums (Two player game where ice climbers attempt to escape a Canyon) and Wardance (Blend of missile command and breakout, with strategic elements thrown in for good measure). All of these games were interesting because the core gameplay mechanics were utterly unlike anything that had ever been made before.

I admit to being guilty here: Despite having some arguably inventive addons, WitchBlaster is really just a standard shooter (With multiple levels, waves, end bosses, start, end and gameover screens - just like my 09 entry). And I had a lot of fun just making a shooter - I haven't touched the Shooter genre since the early 00s. However, how much more interesting would the game have been, if, for instance, you couldn't shoot at all but had to rely on reflexes and interesting powerups to escape dangerous situations?

In future Game Jams, this will be my priorities list:

  1. Invent an interesting new mechanic that is unlike any game ever played before
  2. Create content that allows this mechanic to be explored from as many angles as possible
  3. Add as much polish as time will permit


Being in a larger team is not necessarily an advantage

(Note - Since I was practically a solo team, albeit with contributions from others, this is definitely biased!)

It stands to reason that games made in small or solo teams won't be as large or as polished as those made by larger teams. After all, larger teams have more man-hours up their sleeves and a more diverse selection of talent to bring to the project.

However, I also noticed that the games made by larger teams were often less complete then those made by smaller teams. In fact, to me it almost seemed that the completeness of a game at the end of the Game Jam was inversely proportional to the size of it's team. I'm guessing this is because:

  • Expectations proportional to the team size
  • The increased amount of communication (The number of communications channel in any project increases exponentially with each member)
  • Decreased focus (The vision is diluted by the number of people who have a say, democracy does not work in game development!)

As Josh noted in his blog post on the Global Game Jam, the optimal team size seemed to be about 2-3 people.


Be prepared for the worst

Version Control is not enough if you don't have another copy of your tools. I found myself in this exact situation when the RAM on my Laptop died, and of course, no other computer on site had BlitzMax.

Next time, I'll make sure that I can run all of my tools from an external HDD if need be.


Budget your time

On the last day, with several huge features left to be added and time rapidly running out, I started setting hour-long goals for the last remaining features I wanted to put in the game. Even though I didn't quite manage to stick to my schedule (No thanks to my Laptop RAM!) this really drove me to stay on track and make sure everything got made in time.

Well, I can't really think of anything else to write so.. goodnight!



Joshua Smyth (not verified)

I think the mechanics come mostly from the theme. Last years theme was a real mind screw, this years theme 'Deception' is probably a bit more generic with respect to video games and can easily be slotted into almost any game.

RE: laptop - So did your laptop ram actually die? Did you have to pull out one of the sticks or something? How did you know it was the ram that was causing the issues? More info on that please.

Earok's picture
Joined: 02/06/2009

Hi Josh,

Yeah, I think you're right regarding the theme - a theme that's much harder to implement will result in more creative interpretations.

Regarding the RAM, I didn't know for sure at first, but I had my suspicions. Basically the laptop was BSODing every few minutes. I ran a copy of MemTest86 on a pendrive when I got home to prove that there was a RAM fault (which it did) and then ran the test again with only one of the sticks in the laptop to isolate the fault.

Fortunately, it was the 1gb stick, not the 2gb stick that was at fault!