I’ve put together a small list of things I find helpful to do before and during a game jam. Some of these suggestions may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget things when a deadline is approaching.
Prepare Your Tools and Assets
There are an abundance of game engines, frameworks, level editors, task trackers, and more that you can use to speed up your process. If the rules of the event allow it, you can also leverage existing art and audio assets other people have made (with permission, of course). It helps to be familiar with your tools before the actual game jam, so practice a bit if you haven’t used them before. Try setting up a sample game to help you figure out how you want all the pieces of your workflow to fit together.
Maintain Your Scope
It’s fun to think about all of the cool things you want to add to a game, but it’s important to remember that you probably won’t have time to make all of those things. I find it easiest to put all the “extra” things in a list that I can come back to later. Building a game is a constant exercise in pruning the excess, in refocusing on what is important, and in making sure those important things are finished and working. Think about the ideas that you want to communicate to your players, no matter how small or straightforward they may seem. Think about what you want people to experience when they play your game. Focus on those experiences, and treat everything that doesn’t align with them with caution.
Team Up With Other People
Working with a team of people is more complicated than working alone, but I find it far more rewarding. There is some wisdom in being careful about working with too many people, especially on a short deadline. However, if you can prioritize and divide work amongst yourselves, you can often build much more than you would have been able to on your own. You might even have time for some of those extra cool features you set aside earlier!
It’s important to note that with more people involved in a creative project, there will be more differences in opinion. Be sure to consider everyone’s ideas and treat them with respect; you’re all working to build something together.
The sooner your game is playable, the sooner you can iterate on and improve it. Create a playable game as soon as you can, and then play it yourself. Does it align with your ideas and goals? Ask other people to play your game; they might see something you don’t.
Take Care of Yourself
This one is especially important. With all of the excitement of a game jam, it’s sometimes easy to forget that you need to drink water, eat food, and sleep. Move around every so often. Take breaks! Your well-being is more important than your productivity.
Enjoy yourself! You’re making something cool that other people will experience, and that’s awesome! I hope to see (and play) your work in the game jams of the future.
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