About three weeks ago I attended my first game jam, which was hosted by the mobile-game company King at their office. It was an amazing experience, and I thought I’d share what I learned during this event with some do’s and don’ts from a programmers point of view. I’ll also provide you with some screenshots of the state our game, “Commander Penguin branching out”, was in when we finished the jam, and give you a sort of post mortem on that.
I went to the jam myself as programmer and was paired up with 4 other persons of which 1 was a game designer, 2 were graphics artists, and 1 was a writer. The theme of the game jam was Evolution. It started on Saturday morning a 9 am, and ended on Sunday at 6 pm, so there wasn’t a full 48 hours for us to use. We weren’t allowed to stay at King’s office for longer than until 9.30 pm on the Saturday due to security reasons, which of course meant even less time.
I can reveal straight away that we unfortunately didn’t finish the game entirely. A lack of time was probably one of our biggest issues, and was something that really struck hard on us. Of course everyone tells you this, and it is sort of self explanatory, but there really is no time to be wasted, and it’s really important not to over scope your project. If you feel like the idea your aiming at “might have a chance” of being completed, think once again and see if you can reduce the scope. It is much better to start out with a project you know that you will be able to finish, rather than overdoing it from the beginning. If you have time, you can always add more features as you go. It is however much harder to solve a situation where time is running out and you don’t have a finished game yet, which is going to be my first tip; aim for something that takes less time than you think.
Aside from a lack of time, we had a few technical difficulties as well. We decided early on to use Unity as our game engine, but barely anyone had that downloaded or was acquainted with it. Once people who were going to use it had it downloaded, it didn’t work for various reasons. A lack of preparation with tech and a lack of game engine knowledge resulted in us only having one computer with the game engine running in the end, which of course resulted in huge a bottleneck where everything had to be imported and rigged at that workstation. So for the second tip; be prepared with your tech and make sure that things work before arriving at the game jam. Once you’re at the venue, it simply takes too much time downloading software and getting comfortable using it. Even if you’re not a programmer, having basic knowledge of how to important assets and rigging can also help a lot.
Of course it’s hard to tell beforehand which engine that is going to be used, but from looking at what the other groups used, I’d say probably 75% used Unity. A good bet when going on a game jam would be that Unity is going to be used to some extent, so it’s useful to have some knowledge of that and be prepared to fire it up once getting to the jam. If you’re used to some other engine and have better knowledge of that, by all means, do use it. But I think in general the most common engine at these events is Unity, at least when creating 2D games.
Another thing that was against our favor was the fact that I was the only one in our group of 5 who had any coding experience at all. If you’re used to game programming and have created many games, this might not be a big issued, but I was simply not experienced enough to handle the workload given the time constraints on my own. In hindsight I should’ve looked more into the Unity API and gotten comfortable around using the built in libraries, classes and methods. What also could have helped a lot would be to write my own library of commonly used data structures or patterns in order to not have to do that on site. So, third tip; as a programmer, be sure to know your way around the engine you’re intending to build the game in. Prepare yourself by writing a small library with commonly used game patterns (if you think it’s going to be useful) and read up on the engine API.
The last thing I want to mention is don’t forget the sound! This feels like something that can be easily forgotten, as this was something we initially didn’t put much thought into, until we suddenly realized at the end of day 1 that we didn’t have any sound. Luckily, one person in our group had some spare time and decided to take responsibility for the sound. Despite our game not being entirely done at deadline, at least it had sound. So last tip; don’t forget the sound!
- Don’t underestimate the time it takes to create a game. Aim for something simple that don’t take much time to complete, and instead add features as you go if you get time over.
- Be prepared with the tech you’re going to use. Download game engines, audio editing software, graphical editing programs etc. you intend to use before coming to the venue, and make sure they work.
- Have a basic understanding of how a game engine works and how to do simple tasks such as adding sprites, music etc, even if it’s not your field of expertise.
- Don’t forget the sound!
In a world…
Where penguins are the dominant species, one bird must sail through the galaxy in search for a new home for his people. If he fails the penguins will die together with their collapsing home-planet.
He finds the foreign world TR33 at the end of Memphis Galaxy. It was perfect, if not for the leafy inhabitants.
Our penguin must now fight not only for his life, but for the future of penguin-kind.
It’s… Commander Penguin.
You play as Commander Penguin with the sore goal surviving for as long as possible. The trees spawn at random locations and their spawn time will increase with time. This means that you will eventually be swarmed with trees, which is when the game ends. Your only way of hoping to survive is to chop down trees with your axe to keep the population as low as possible.
At the current state of the game, the trees can accidentally spawn on Commander Penguin which locks him in place. The ability to chop down trees wasn’t finished in time, and the animation states of Commander Penguin is buggy. This is something that is intended to be fixed so that the game can be enjoyed as it was meant to be, so stay tuned for the next blog post with the finished version of the game.