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  • 9 Things I Learned About Game Jams As An Outsider

    [11.08.18]
    - Nida Ahmad
  • Game Jams are somewhat mysterious phenomena to me. I've been to one before (interview here), which I loved but it had been a while. My background in games covers a range of UX, market research and social media related things, working with developer teams but not actually developing the games. So, I decided to push myself and signed up to #jupijam (by Jupiter Hadley - @Jupiter_Hadley), unsure of what I could contribute but willing to give it a try.

    Here are 9 things I learned despite not being of a development background.

    1. Think about what you can bring.

    When I first joined my team, I was asked "what hard skills do you have?" and I froze. What practical skills could I bring that would be helpful? That's when the imposter syndrome went into overdrive but I decided to break down what roles I've taken before on game and non game projects, listing them and seeing what skills I already had.

    • I break games, critique builds, the UX and provide recommendations / feedback = Design / QA?
    • Love organising, managing and helping guide a vision = Production?
    • Have blogged, written essays and event descriptions = Copywriting and narrative?

    Despite not having specific, refined or years of experience in certain areas, your skills are transferable, regardless of how far away from #gamedev they seem. Specific game related skills are NOT required to be able to contribute. Your unique blend of experiences, background and skills will be valuable in some shape or form even if it's not obvious to you straight away.

    If you're worried how you could make a game, join a team and focus on one part of the project that you feel you can add to rather than worrying about having to do all tasks by yourself.

    2. Learn a new skill and challenge yourself.

    Game jams are a safe environment to be big, bold and explore, use this to your advantage. You may feel out of place and finding your footing it tough, but that doesn't make you any less capable.

    Do something you haven't done before, maybe help out different teams through testing their game. What's the worst that could happen? You try something new and realise you're great at it and enjoy it or find out it's not your thing? Well, that's some self development right there. You're in a creative environment where all mistakes are happy mistakes, right?

    3. Go simple but be open.

    Going down this route makes the experience less intimidating and stressful.

    • Think about the basics: Is there a basic game and feedback loop? Are the necessary buttons working as intended?
    • Focus on one or two mechanics. As Quang Nguyen (@asobitech) stated "it's better to have something small and well made than something big that may not function or be as strong."

    If you find that you are doing great, then be open to new features or ideas but keep them as stretch goals till the basics are well done.

    4. Manage your time well.

    Time management usually goes through the roof, where scrapping ideas or starting new builds half way through isn't uncommon - do try to avoid this though. What you can do:

    • Plan ahead and plan for things that could make you fall behind schedule. Don't make it too rigid, having a general idea of what you want to achieve is great but what you start with isn't always going to be what you finish with. New ideas, tools and priorities may pop up and so you will need to adapt and iterate as you go along. Prioritise what's important in terms of urgency and importance, if that helps!
       
    • Pool ideas, brain storm and do some free association. Think of media outside of games for inspiration. Take an hour or so to just to think and discuss ideas, maybe paper prototype, think about how you're going to approach this. Having somewhat of a game plan can help you be confident and get started.
       
    • Know that motivation is fleeting but discipline can be incredibly powerful and give you that nudge that you need to get through it all. Motivation won't help in the long run especially when you're tired.
    • Use tools to help you manage your time
      • Slack - for communicating with your team and seeing you're on the same page
      • Google Docs / Sheets / Trello - track everyone's tasks, what needs to be done and what's completed.
      • A basic game design document - the basics of the game are written and it's a great reference point, which saves time. See below for an example of simple one we used.


    A basic GDD with seperate pages for further details

    5. Breaks aren't a luxury, they're a core part of your development process.

    There is the common trope that people will consume lots of coke, caffeine and pizza just so they can stay awake and finish their game. It's unhealthy, destructive and can probably make you less efficient.

    Taking time away from your screen allows you to take a breather, clear your mind and rejuvenate yourself. Sleep. Go for a walk, get a meal and stay hydrated. Chat with others at the game jam.

    Including breaks within your game plan allows you to collect yourself and bring a fresh pair of eyes back, most likely noticing things you hadn't before. Your productivity will increase.

    If it's a great game jam, they'll tell you to go home, remind you to take breaks and eat something, which we had at #jupijam, with food being provided to us.

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