Ask anyone, making games can be hard, it can be a challenge, it can frustrate you in ways you never thought possible and that’s when you have months / years to make a game. Consider then if you only had 24 hours from scratch. That’s everything, from getting the theme for what the game is about, creating assets, audio, gameplay and above all else, a trailer. That is the challenge set forth in the modern day Game Jam.
Now we’re not talking about the next doom, or an uber 100 levels style game that you see in retail shops or online. We’re talking about making a practical game, with limited resources, competing against multitudes of other teams (or individual devs, some brave souls do go in it alone) for glorious prizes and glory (or at least a pat on the back and the knowledge you were picked!) Most of these events are organized online so the whole world can compete, some organize special rooms or events to get in to the Jam mood. Others are big conference events, like the one’s I recently supported at universities and schools.
In this article I’ll go over the fun and frolic that were the Stafford and Hull Windows 10 GameJams and the sheer crazy output from some amazing individuals.
Be sure to check out the rest of the Windows 10 GameJams going on across the world, you can see all the crazy things going round on twitter with the hashtag #Win10GameJam:
WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THIS?
When considering the idea of throwing all the rules out of the window and building a new game from scratch with only 24 or 48 hours to complete it, most people would run screaming. However, the fun to be had, the sheer force of will to expand your skills and also to participate in a community of other crazy headed (and hair’d) folk is truly amazing and your actual game projects and skills will be all the better for it.
When building a game for a jam, we’re not talking an absolute finished project, it’s an experiment, a shell, a start. Some GameJam games hit the trash the moment the competition is over, others become something more. The primary aim is to focus your game development skills to create something using the tools your familiar with (or if you are really crazy, a new tool).
Also pour in to this mix that before the GameJam actually starts, you don’t even know the theme or goals are for the project. Like an exam, everyone is given the same information at the very start as the starting gun fires. Theme, idea, design and GO. I reached out to a few devs who regularly hit up GameJams and Alex Rose (of AlexRoseGames) had this to say:
“In a few days you can make a prototype and have over 10,000 people play it, press quotes and awards, and even publishing deals. It’s the ultimate tool for testing new game prototypes, it’ll make you make games you never dreamt of and it’s extremely fun”.
The Three word Jam – Hull University
One of the Jams I attended in person (to offer some friendly Unity / MonoGame advice and support) was the Hull University Windows 10 Three thing word GameJam. In this jam, the students (a mixture of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th years) and even some professors, were challenged to make a working game in 48 hours (how much you slept in that 48 hours was up to you) using three words as the basis of your game. By the end you were judged on the finished state of your game, its fun factor or playability and more importantly, it’s adherence to that teams three words.
“In a few days you can make a prototype and have over 10,000 people play it, press quotes and awards, and even publishing deals. It’s the ultimate tool for testing new game prototypes, it’ll make you make games you never dreamt of and it’s extremely fun”. In this instance, one of the professors (an organizer of the event) used a fascinating new device he had just cobbled together the previous week using an Arduino, the Thingomatic Box (you can read more about this fascinating device here.
This amazing device pulls three words out of thin air that are related in some shape or form. Teams got 3 chances to select the words for their team that would form the basis of their game (which I thought was very generous). Then off they went, boldly in to the beyond to bash their creative ideas in to action.
THEN FOR A BREAK
As every developer knows, games don’t just make themselves, they need to be fed just like anything else, also as every developer knows, you have to feed them the right things in order to succeed, in this case Pizza, Fizzy or energy drinks and sugar, lots of sugar! But mainly Pizza (especially if it’s the bacon BBQ variety, yum). On the teams drove, some throughout the night (while I and the rest of the judges popped off to the pub and then on to a nice sleep), judging by the looks on the teams faces in the morning, it was a LONG night (and there was not a scrap of Pizza left!!).
If you manage to attend an in-person camp, there are usually rewards to be had and for most of the Microsoft GameJam competitions there were some unique GameJam prizes, as modelled by some able University staff members. This XboxOnsies are a prize possession to be had, a very rare item.
THE END OF THE ROAD
So after many hours of toil, pizza, energy drinks and a complete lack of sleep, the contestants rallied together for the Judges voting. We were very pleasantly surprised by the results (as we frequently are at these events). With only a short space of time, many teams had completed all their projects with a high degree of quality, most even kept to their chosen target words.
In sixth place was an awesomely funny title called “SinkablePots” using their words Sink, Able and Pots (quite clever I thought), they dove in to the running for their sheer fun factor and that it made every judge laugh, a good quality. If you don’t mind seeing something you will never be able to unsee, then check out their promo video.
Team GDB drove hard in to third place with their fast paced head to head 2D shooter game, with a twist. Their game “Hard Boiled Fury” took their three words Food, Much and Many to new heights in this multiplayer death match food shooting game. I’m hoping to see this in stores soon!
Right out of nowhere, these two brothers, one in his first year and the other just completing his second (at another University as well) stole the show with a John Carmack level of ingenuity in just shy of 48 hours.
Their game “Temple of Eyes” based on the three words Eyed, Wide & View, not only kept to theme but they also produced 3 fully playable levels with an increasing level of difficulty and a high score table. These two will go far!
If you want to see more of the goings on from this event, check out the Flickr page for one of the organizers who snapped a whole load of more pics.
I am hiding in amongst those pics, honest!
One of the more experienced team’s @BetaJesterGames also crafted an awesome car vs car wreaking game made in Unity which looked awesome to play, you can check out their pitch here:
Although they didn’t win, one of the teams got an extra special technical award for going the extra mile, they managed to get their project deployed on Windows, Windows 10 mobile and a Raspberry Pi (running Win 10, don’t you just love MS’s new UWP system, build once, ship many).
Not only that, this bunch of first years managed to get this all done in approximately 10 hours, they didn’t even stay for the entire jam (favoring to pop off and finish their end of year coursework, slackers!). A truly fantastic achievement.
#WIN10GAMEJAM AT STAFFORD UNIVERSITY
Sadly I didn’t get to attend this one (far too many family commitments) but by all accounts it was a ball. The structure of the Jam was a bit looser than Hull but just as fun all the same. The winning projects (most of which were Unity based) inspired the judges and look set to be finished and published in the months to come (if the students want their extra prizes):
FIFTH – BATHTAPS
A Unity based game where the bath starts filling and bubbles start to flow, the aim being to pop the bubbles and stop the bath filling. The crime behind this story is that the team had multiple levels and several bubble strategies ready to go but, their project crashed and died overnight due to an issue with their GIT source control setup. The team rallied together to recover what they could and finished ready for the demo with the first level. I hope these guys continue and finish their game as it sounded like fun. (They learned a valuable lesson about trusting only one backup system :P)
FOURTH – RADHAMMER
Ever wanted to run screaming from a radioactive building armed with only a hammer to help you clear obstacles on
the way, then this team’s Jam game is for you. I was really impressed with their 3D quality on this game, especially with the short time limits:
THIRD – KEPLER 1861F
Multi-player games certainly are a challenge for any GameJam, it’s risky with all the network code flying round, just soo much can go wrong (as I’ve learned from experience). This team certainly pulled a blinder with their multi-player free for all space deathmatch sim. With up to 4 ships vying for laser glory and burning the competitions ships in to the darkness of space.
SECOND – POTATO FARMER EXTREME
You read a title and instantly know what the game is about, at least I hope that was the intention with this game. Basically a survival shooter game where the farmer viciously protects his potato crop from being destroyed by lots of nasty critters, armed with an impressive fly spray killer and infestation bomb (read BIG explosions). Manically fun.
THE CROWNING GLORY – FIRST – RESOLVE
Picked simply for its completeness and core gameplay mechanic (would like to have seen what would have happened to first place if BathTaps had lived). A challenged based game where the player is travelling with a dual headed gun down a twisty track, the aim being to destroy colored enemies with the right colored weapon, just for that extra difficulty.
Hard to make out in the images but this really was a fun and challenging game to play.
SUMMING UP THE #WIN10GAMEJAMS
The Windows 10 GameJams described above were just some
of countless others held at educational establishments across the globe, just check out the #Win10GameJam hashtag that I mentioned earlier for details on the others, these events can be seen almost anywhere, from the US, Europe, India and even the far east.
WAIT, THERE’S MORE
So what if you aren’t a student? Well there are many more events online as well, ready for you to join in either as a one man (or girl) band or as a team, in person or at home sheltered away from the other unwashed and sleep deprived developers.
Here are some of the main ones:
1. Ludum Dare
This is one of the biggest and best GameJam events that runs in 2 modes:
* 24 hour event hackathon – build and publish your game online in 24 hours, fast and furious.
* 48 Hour jams – Grab a team, find a location and hack it out for 48 hours, more time but a higher level of quality expected by judges.
This event alone usually produces about 4000+ games, so a great competition pool and what’s more, each entrant
is expected to publish their source, so it’s also a great opportunity to learn from each other for the next event! Keep an eye out, as fun to watch but not as much fun as rolling your sleeves up and participating.
Now, this is truly for the hard core dev. This is not just about making one game, but producing 12 over a year.
As the name suggests, you are expected to build (and publish?) 1 game every month, preferably bragging about it over twitter as you go with your pains, woes and joys. The organizers are a manic and crazy bunch who go all out to help out developers participating, they also help promote your works and deeds. If you want a career in game development, then this is one GameJam to certainly take part in!
The community is also excellent and hard core, willing to help out anyone participating!
Not so much a Jam but a catalogue of GameJams happening across the globe. This includes online and in- person events, so you can find almost anything you want to get involved with.
GET IN TO THE JAM
GameJams are a great tool to any game developer of any skill level or age, they help (read FORCE) you to grow and expand your skillset in ways you would have never tried on your own. They also help build up a portfolio of your skills and efforts, every budding game developer should try, if not in public then from the privacy of your very own bat cave. You don’t have to publish the game, it can just be a throw away experiment to learn or try new things. However I’d always encourage every team to go all the way to package and ship their games as you only understand the whole process once you have done it at least once. Above all, it’s a fun competition, they are almost never serious, just a band of happy devs out to mash it up and test their skills. Granted when big prizes are on the line, you may want to go that extra mile 😀 (XboxOnsie on order!).