The Game Maker’s Toolkit (GMTK) is a video game analysis series created and presented by Mark Brown, a British video game journalist. The pandemic didn’t stop game makers across the world in GMTK’s 2020 Game Jam. We managed to catch up with Mark to learn more about Game Jam’s and how the event went.
Hackathon Entertainment: How did you develop an interest for game design & development?
Mark: I’ve been a fan of video games for most of my life, but I had never given much consideration to how they were designed or developed until I played the games that Valve released in 2007, including Portal and Half-Life 2: Episode 2. These games all featured a developers’ commentary mode, where those who made the game explained the thought process behind the work. The way they spoke about using psychology, architecture, and composition to lead the player, train the player, and create interesting scenarios was just fascinating to me. From that point on, I started to learn more and more about the process of designing games.
Hackathon Entertainment: What is the story behind Game Maker’s Toolkit?
Mark: Prior to starting Game Maker’s Toolkit, I was working in more traditional video game journalism by writing for websites and magazines like Pocket Gamer and Wired. By the early 2010s it was becoming obvious that fewer people were reading video game-related content, and more people were watching it on sites like YouTube. If I wanted to still have a job in a few years, it seemed sensible to at least give video a go!
For a while I was unsure how to approach this, as I didn’t really want to emulate the content I was seeing (mostly dudes pointing a camera at their face and having exaggerated reactions to horror games). But when I stumbled upon video essays from the world of movies (specifically Every Frame a Painting), I realised I could combine my interest in game design, my background in journalism, and this style of video-making to create something new. That ended up being Game Maker’s Toolkit. Fortunately for me, the first videos were quite popular and I was eventually able to turn to make videos into a full-time job.
Hackathon Entertainment: What is a Game Jam?
Mark: I describe a game jam as a “game making marathon”. The idea is that a whole bunch of people make a whole bunch of games, in a very short period of time and usually in accordance with a theme. So for the GMTK Game Jam for 2020, people had just 48 hours to make a game, and it had to fit the theme “Out of Control”.
Making a game in such a short period of time might sound extremely hard, and a little nuts, but it’s a good way to stretch your creative muscles, test yourself, and maybe come up with a hasty prototype that could, one day, be turned into a full game.
In fact, some wonderful indie games started life as game jam games, such as Superhot, Snake Pass, Don’t Starve, Hollow Knight, and Titan Souls.
Hackathon Entertainment: What challenges were there in hosting the game jam and how did you overcome it?
Mark: One of the biggest challenges I face with the game jam is making sure that the games are rated in a fair manner. After the games are finished, there’s seven days for people to play the games and give them a rating. In all of the GMTK Game Jams (2020 was the fourth), I’ve allowed everyone — those who made games, and those who did not — to rate the games. This has caused issues in the past where people have used fake accounts and whatnot to cheat their way to a good rating.
The obvious answer to this problem would be to limit voting to only those who made a game. But that didn’t sit right with me: I don’t want the jam experience to be limited to an exclusive few who have the skills and time to make a game. It should be open to everyone who has an interest in games.
So for 2020 I found a compromise. Working with the staff of itch.io (an indie game website where you can host game jams), we made a system where public voters can only rate games given to them at random, until they’ve proven that they are rating in good faith. This still keeps them involved, but heavily discourages cheating in the rating process.
As with most problems, there’s usually a compromise to be made that can fix the biggest issues while staying true to the original meaning of the jam.
Hackathon Entertainment: What were you most happy with in hosting the game jam?
Mark: Well, 2020’s jam is, at the time of writing, the biggest online-only game jam to ever be held. We had 18,000 people sign-up, and they created over 5,400 games. It was incredible to have so many passionate, talented, and hard-working people all get together and make something.
And the games were great! I played loads of them on streams, and I played the top 100 games in order to pick my 20 favourites, and I was blown away by the inventiveness and creativity on shown.
Hackathon Entertainment: What advice do you have for people that want to get into gaming/ game design/ game development?
Mark: Start small. It’s a common problem for those who get the game-making bug to think their first game is going to be as big and as complicated as Grand Theft Auto V! That’s probably not going to happen, so start small and make something you can actually finish. Then make something else. And something else. Every project you finish is a stepping stone towards greatness.
Also, it’s never been easier to make a game. There are so many tools out there that are free (or cheap) and user-friendly. And there are huge communities and loads of tutorials to use. Check out Unity, Game Maker, and Godot.
Hackathon Entertainment: What future events can game enthusiasts look for from GMTK?
Mark: The GMTK Game Jam will return in 2021! Keep an eye on the YouTube channel for the announcement of the date!