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My first Game Jam experience

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My first Game Jam experience

For many people wishing to get in to game development, one of the biggest challenges is completing a project. There are few areas of development that exceed the potential complexity of making a game. I have suffered a long time with what apparently is a common occurrence for budding developers; I still can't get a dang game finished.

The problem I find is that ambition outweighs capability. You always want to build your dream project, it's easy to forget that you can't just jump to your loftiest ambition when just starting out with game development, this kind of project is a life-long ambition.

So what better way, I thought. To just get some of my work out there; why not a Game Jam? The great thing about Game Jams is that they limit the scope of a project due to the time restraints placed on the competition. The fact that is a competition also adds a pressure element which doing things at your own pace never seems to have.

I set out on my adventure, I opened, a popular game jam site.

1. Choosing a Game Jam

There was so much variety on that I spent a couple of hours trawling through the many results. I eventually reached a point where a certain game jam caught my attention. I was looking for something limited in scope graphically as I wasn't even certain if I would find a team or not.

I happened upon a perfect choice, create a PlayStation 1 era game. Graphically, contextually and thematically. The ideas started popping up, there was so much potential with this theme.

It was at this point I had the idea of creating a game in the vain of Colin McRae Rally for the PlayStation 1. Before I decided that I would try and find a team, I started work on a prototype of such a game.
Rally Game Prototype PSX

Click to view video, (Spoiler alert... but this was the most tangible thing made during this whole process!)

Once I had something playable (A car model that could drive around a dirt track looking somewhat like a PSX game)* I headed on to the jam Discord and set out to find a team.

2. Finding a team

So onto the Discord I go and there's plenty of activity. I am genuinely impressed by the incredible quality of the work being produced and shown off; but equally confident of the prototype that would be used to find a team.

I wrote a message listing out my skills in programming, art etc. It wasn't long until I had people message me, all of varying skill and experience levels.

I had finally decided to team up with two guys who both had good skill in art assets and music. I would do the programming in the project. We created a Discord channel and began the discussions on game direction, the ideas came flowing in.

3. The 'shiny object' phase

At was at this point alarm bells started ringing. I was going to present my prototype and I thought it would be a good enough demonstration for us to go with that idea. What instead happened is the team splurged a wealth of ideas with a variety of different game styles.

There seemed to be an obsession with creating something unique and individual. The next big thing per say. I just wanted to make a simple game, nothing too ambitious, predictable but reliable. Something I thought was achievable. There was a lengthy discussion where I chose to try be be open to ideas rather than ship my own.

This lead to us deciding to do a niche genre of game with all sorts of magical features that I had next to no familiarity or motivation to work with.

4. A rudderless boat

As the project progressed, there were stages where we almost got a plan down; although this never came to full fruition. As this idea was being pushed by another team member I took a back seat as the idea 'wasn't my baby' and I thought it would be egotistical for me to try take leadership of the project.

So all this information was brewing, ideas flowing left, right and centre. Reference photos galore but the project still lacked a tangible design, there was plenty of steer towards it but no real leadership, no delegation or structure. It was a few days until the jam would officially start and I went in not really sure what we are going to do.

5. The Game Jam starts

After a few days of more or less of the same thing (throwing ideas around); the jam started. It was at this point the guy shipping the main idea we had 'agreed' to do told us of a presentation he had devised for the project; which was news to us.

He proceeded to show me and the other developer an incredibly contrived and crude drawing of this revolutionary new game idea he had.

5. Creative differences

No word of a lie, I was utterly gob-smacked. This idea was so mundane and boring I felt like dosing off when he presented it. I mean no offence to the guy but it was painfully so.

It was at this point I had lost any motivation to work on the project. In my own mind this whole project had turned to a chore that zapped any creativity and passion from me. There was little to no direction from the one shipping the brunt of the ideas.

When I'd come home from my day job, I had no desire to work on it. This lead to no contact for about half of the game jam. I'd become completely disinterested in the project.

6. The collapse

After almost a week of the odd message on the team discord I finally decided to call it a day. It just wasn't working for me. I explained the situation to the other team members and decided to leave the team.

I wished them the best of luck and did genuinely hope to see them prove me wrong.

8. The conclusion

It's not the worst game jam I'm sure, but it certainly could have been a lot better. This experience taught me that perhaps I do need to take the lead if a team has no direction. Just because someone wants to take up the role of leader it doesn't mean they are naturally suited to the job.

We all have to play to our strengths, sometimes compromising on that doesn't add any value. For the next game jam, I hope to either find a team with a stronger leader or a team who is willing to allow myself to take the mantle.

When I am in a team that is rudderless I often don't step up because you can often be worried about 'stepping on someone's toes', as to say; when joining a team you want to be co-operative and positive, not imposing your idea as the best and only option to other people.

The thing is, an entrepreneur doesn't worry about such things I'm sure. It's their role to take up this mantle. Would I recommend game jams? Absolutely, just know your own strengths and weaknesses and be prepared to step up if its in your nature to lead. Perhaps if I did, I'd have finished a dang game!

The struggle is real...

In hindsight I'd wished I'd have discovered Tim Ruswick's Youtube channel. In particular videos like this:

Rally Game Prototype PSX


Welcome to my blog! I'm a computer programmer, I develop software, games, make music. I write about various aspects relating to the development process, be it art, coding or even design.

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