Game jams are nice little events where game developers, including first-time developers, can join and create games. As someone who entered her first game jam earlier this year, I enjoyed the experience overall and I learned a lot from it. Today, I’ll be giving you some advice on participating in your first game jam.
Browse Forums and Discord Servers for Teammates
Unless you’re a jack-of-all-trades and can manage a truckload of work, you’re going to need some teammates. At first, you might be hesitant on reaching out to complete strangers for help. However, trust me, these people will be as eager as you to create something great.
The jam page itself will sometimes have a thread or a Discord server dedicated to recruiting members for your project. When you’re making that post, you want to be clear on who you’re recruiting and what you want to be done in your game, as well as provide a synopsis of your project. Finally, include ways for interested people to contact you, such as Twitter, Discord, a DM on the forum, or email. I’ve had more responses through email and Discord personally, so I’d recommend including those.
Think of an Idea and Go Smaller
Whenever you’re entering a game jam, you have to remember that you have a time restriction. Some game jams last one or two months, while others last a week or even 48 hours. You want to make sure the game you want to create is possible to make within that period of time. My advice for anything is to think of something and go smaller. Sure, you can include exciting features, but at the end of the day, that’s a lot more work for you and your teammates. Unless you and your team can handle that extra workload, it’s best if you just have a small scope for your idea.
If the jam rules allow unfinished products, I’ve seen people create demos and release their full game after the jam. You can also revamp your game after the jam is done. No one can tell you can’t do that. After all, it’s your project!
Now, this tip will depend on the jam. Some jams will allow you to start on outlines and sketches prior to the jam. If that’s the case with the one you’re entering, take advantage of it. It’s incredibly hard to create a good end product when you’re winging it the entire time. It also doesn’t help when you have the deadline looming over your head. It also just saves a lot of time and you can focus on moving forward with your game rather than just staying in the same place for a couple of days to a week.
There’s Nothing Wrong with Using Free Resources
After making your recruitment post, if you find yourself not getting any responses for a position, feel free to use free resources online. There is a stigma towards games that use free resources, with people claiming that they’re lazy games. However, ignore that. Remember that you’re making a title for a game jam. You have to get this product done within a certain time frame, so you can’t wait around for someone to say, “Hey, I saw your post. I know it’s two weeks before the deadline, but can I join your team?” You have to take charge.
A good place to start is itch.io. Browse through their free game assets and see what fits your game. Do you need sprites? They have that. Maybe music or backgrounds? Yep, those are there too. The only things that are difficult to find are custom UIs. There are a few on there, but your options are relatively limited. So if you don’t like any of the ones you find, don’t be afraid to just use the default Ren’Py UI.
Outside of itch.io, there’s this great masterpost on Steam which lists a lot of different websites you can go to, broadening your options by a lot. Finally, Lemma Soft Forums has a section dedicated to creative commons resources.
Communication is key in development no matter what you’re doing. Whether you’re the programmer, artist, writer, or the project lead, you’ll want to keep everyone in the team updated on how the game is coming along. An easy way to keep all these updates in one place is to have a group chat with just you and your teammates. That way, everyone is able to talk to one another instead of someone having to play telephone.
At the End of the Day, Have Fun!
It’s cliched advice, but it rings true. Game development is hard. As I mentioned earlier, there will be issues, both big and small. However, at the end of the day, you want to make sure you take a much needed break and don’t stress yourself too much. When I worked on my game jam title in February, I wrote 500 words per day. I took advantage of the time I was given and made sure I still worked on my title without feeling overwhelmed.
If you find yourself freaking out over things, breathe. Step back for a second and take a day for yourself. Your well-being is way more important than your project. Then, come back to it. As the game jam reaches its end, you’ll find your game coming together and it’s such a wonderful, fulfilling feeling to have.
If you find yourself worrying whether people will like your game, don’t worry about it too much. I can’t say that feedback isn’t important; you should listen to it. However, don’t change your entire game for someone because you’re afraid they won’t like it. Remember, you’re the one who is making this game a reality. You’re the one who was able to recruit other people to join your vision because they saw something in it as well.
So drop all your worries and fears and have fun!