Jump to content
Site Stability Read more... ×
  • Advertisement
Sign in to follow this  
  • entries
  • comments
  • views

Preparing for and Participating in a Game Jam

Sign in to follow this  


The Toronto Game Jam is opening for registration later this year. I'm hoping to participate again since it's been a great experience every time. As of last year myself and a friend have participated in the Toronto Game Jam three times. The event, also known as TOJam, has developers come together at George Brown College for three days of manic development of crazy game ideas.

Participating in a jam can be overwhelming but also rewarding and fun as hell. Over the last few events I've had things go right and things go wrong. Here are some tips to help avoid some of the worse pitfalls that you can hit during a jam.

Tip 1: Know what you're going to make in advance

At TOJam you have from Friday at 10:00AM until Sunday at 6:00PM to create your game. While you don't need things to be set in stone you should know that you're making a puzzle game and if will be based on sliding tiles or stacking blocks. If you don't know what you want to make then you'll be using up your time figuring out what to do instead of doing it.

The week before the game jam we take our one or two paragraph "elevator pitch" and write a simple list of what needs to exist to fulfill that pitch. We then refine that list into a detailed set of tasks we want to complete on each day of the jam. With the list we can grab work as it's ready and keep dead time minimal.

Tip 2: Know what features you can drop

Murphy's law always strikes. Something goes wrong and suddenly the deadline is looming. When figuring out what to do for the game you should have some idea of what features you can drop without ruining it. Generally this list will be very short but it's always handy to have if you fall behind schedule.

Making a list of optional features is also a good gut-check on whether you've got a realistic schedule. If the list is long then your project is probably too large. A schedule that feels like it has too little work on each day is better than one with too much. You can always add work and scope to a project while you're working on it. It's much harder to cut scope down when you're running out of time.

Tip 3: Balance your workload between team members

If you're jamming solo you don't have to worry about this. If not it's critical that everyone has something to do. One trick is to have broad but shallow task trees. If C depends on B which depends on A then they can only be done by one person. Sure you could work on A then your partner can work on B but you can't work on C while your partner works on B. A way of fixing this is adjusting your design so B and C depend on A but not on each other. From a coding perspective using interfaces and loose coupling helps a lot.

In our latest jam, TOJam 12, we had a number of lethal hazards which could be activated by a button. In the bad case character death would depend on development of some arbitrary hazard which would depend on implementing the button to activate it. To avoid this we set up the button with two observable events, OnPressed and OnReleased and gave the player character a "Killed" method. By having a simple interface everything that was activated by the button could be developed independently. By having the "Killed" method player death could be written independently from any specific way of killing the player.

Another trick is to group your tasks into distinct streams. During the start of TOJam 12 I developed the base skeleton of the game while my team mate whiteboxed levels. The only dependency here was that I needed at least one level to load to start the game which was done well before I needed it. Later on I worked on handling player death while my teammate composed the title theme song for the game. 

Tip 4: Have a library of game creation tools in advance

When jamming it's important to always be working on the game you want to make. The last thing you should be doing during a game jam is building a tile map editor. In TOJam 11 we lost about four hours to writing input handling code for a twin stick shooter. That took away time from more important tasks like generating bullet patterns, spawning enemies and so on.

Tip 5: Minimize the number of variables the game's design

I'm not a professional game designer so I'm not sure if "variable" is the right word. What I refer to is a thing that can be changed to alter the feel and balance of a game. The speed of a character, enemy hit points, number of enemies, how often they shoot, how often you shoot and so on. All of these variables add complexity to the process of making a game "feel" the way it should. Having lots of low hitpoint enemies could make you feel powerful. Having a few high hitpoint enemies would feel quite different. Having lots of high hitpoint enemies could make the game feel dangerous, scary or simply unfair. In all these cases I'm only changing two variables, the number of enemies and their hitpoints.

At TOJam 11 we produced a twin stick shooter called MANT: The Man Ant. The twist is that the bullet patterns would be generated procedurally. This also was the biggest headache. Pattern generation worked but it was extremely unbalanced. Sometimes patterns would be pathetically easy. Sometimes the game would produce enormous unavoidable walls of gigantic bullets. We burned up at least half a day trying to get a consistent and fun difficulty curve but still had huge differences between sessions. The game was a "finished" working product but it wasn't very fun.

Our next project was a puzzle platformer built around using dead bodies left behind when your character dies to reach different goals. Variables are generally level specific and mostly independent. Things like how quickly a door should close or how often a gun should fire. Tweaking still took around half a day but we stopped tweaking because we were done rather than being out of time.

ToJam Specific Extra

If you're driving from another city don't forget to take traffic into account. The 401 and Gardiner Expressway are infamous for a reason.

Related Links

Toronto Game Jam website
Our TOJam 11 project (not a great game in my opinion)
Our TOJam 12 project (you can find more details on how the jam went in the development log)

Sign in to follow this  


Recommended Comments

There are no comments to display.

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Advertisement
  • Advertisement
  • Blog Entries

  • Similar Content

    • By Tomato Head
      Hello everybody,
      I'm very interested in learning what is your process for discarding core game concepts that you've have come up with. Knowing that it is very hard to work on more that one development at once and plenty of people have more than one idea for games in their head, how do you discard or prioritize your concepts? Have many of you created prototypes and only then found the concept is not good? Have you found that there are core concepts that are bad and can never be iterated to get a playable/good game?
      Any advice is very much welcomed.
    • By Loosearmy
      Concept for Delayed Shots in a Fast Paced Shooter
      The base for this concept is that with each click or trigger pull there is a X-second delay before the gun would actually fire. This would make it alot more difficult to time shots and could create unique design elements that would cater to this delay. (i.e sharp corners and hallways where it would be hard to time when to click in such a tight enclosed space). Ive had this concept for a minute and i know we could code it to work but my main concern with this is, would it be a good design choice?
    • By Pepsidog
      I'm wanting to create a hybrid game between turn based and action.  I'm looking to create a system where the player has a list of attack or move options on their turn, but I want to add a skill minigame in order to make the game more engaging for non-strategists.  I figured some sort of minigame or something.  Any ideas are welcome.  Thanks in advance!
    • By EchoCell
      Hello folks! I’m looking for advice on which engine I should go with for a 2D game I want to make. The goal is to make a side-scrolling beat’em up/2D fighting game hybrid where the main levels are in beat’em up mode, but the boss battles are in 2D fighter mode. The combat controls (combos, special moves, etc) would be the same in both modes, and the game would include a tournament mode that is entirely in 2D fighter mode.
      I have minimal game developing experience, and am essentially a noob. I am mostly familiar with RPGMaker, but have also experimented lightly with Unity. I have zero programming knowledge, and thus am partial to engines more accessible to complete beginners.
      What engine(s) would be best suited to this kind of game? I am interested in both M.U.G.E.N and OpenBOR, but I don’t think either would allow the kind of genre-crossing I want to accomplish without significant programming skills that I don’t have.
      Also - and I realize I’m thinking too far ahead - I would like to be able to release this game via HTML5 and just host it online somewhere if possible. Otherwise I am okay with it being PC only.
      Thank you for your time and input!
    • By mujina
      What could be a way of avoiding using inheritance and virtual methods when designing components for an entity-component-system?
      I'll be more specific about my design issue:
      I currently have different classes for different kinds of colliders (let's say, CircleCollider and LineCollider).
      My system that checks for collisions and updates the positions and/or velocities of my entities should be something like:
      for entity_i in alive_entities { collider_i = get_collider_of_entity(entity_i) // components of same kind are stored contiguously in separate arrays transform_i = get_transform_of_entity(entity_i) for entity_j in alive_entities { collider_j = get_collider_of_entity(entity_j) transform_j = get_transform_of_entity(entity_j) if check_collision(collider_i, collider_j) { update(transform_i) update(transform_j) } } } my problem is that I don't have a generic `get_collider_of_entity` function, but rather a function `get_circle_collider_of_entity` and a separate one `get_line_collider_of_entity`, and so on. (This happens because under the hood I am keeping a mapping (entity_id -> [transform_id, sprite_id, circle_collider_id, line_collider_id, ...]) that tells me whether an entity is using certain kinds of components and which are the indices of those components in the arrays containing the actual components instances. As you can see, each component class is corresponding to a unique index, namely the index position of the array of the mapping described above. For example, transforms are 0, sprites are 1, circle colliders are 2, line colliders are 3, and so on.)
      I am in need to write a system as the one in the snippet above. I can write several overloaded `check_collision` functions that implement the logic for collision detection between different kinds of geometric primitives, but my problem is that I am not sure how to obtain a generic `get_collider_of_entity` function. I would need something that would get me the collider of an entity, regardless of whether the entity has a circle collider, a line collider, a square collider, etc.
      One solution could be to write a function that checks whether in my internal entity_id -> [components_ids] mapping a certain entity has a collider at any of the indices that correspond to colliders. For example, say that the indices related to the collider classes are indices 10 to 20, then my function would do
      get_collider_of_entity (entity_id) { for comp_type_id in 10..20{ if mapping[entity_id][comp_type_id] not null { return components_arrays[comp_type_id][entity_id] } } return null } This could turn out to be pretty slow, since I have to do a small search for every collider of every entity. Also, it may not be straightforward to handle returned types here. (I'm working with C++, and the first solution - that is not involving inheritance in any way - would be returning a std::variant<CircleCollider, LineCollider, ... all kinds of components>, since I would need to return something that could be of different types).
      Another solution could be having some inheritance among components, e.g. all specific component classes inherit from a base Collider, and overrride some virtual `collide_with(const Collider& other)` method. Then I would redesign my mapping to probably reserve just one index for colliders, and then I would actual colliders in a polymorphic array of pointers to colliders, instead of having a separate array for CircleColliders, another for LineColliders, and so on. But this would destroy any attempt to be cache-friendly in my design, wouldn't it? That's why I am looking for alternatives.
      A third alternative would be to just have a single, only, Collider class. That would internally store the "actual type" ( aka what kind of collider it is ) with dynamic information (like an enum ColliderType). Then I would have all colliders have all members needed by any kind of colliders, and specific collision detection functions which I can dispatch dynamically that only use some of that data. (Practical example: a "Collider" would have a radius, and the coordinate for 2 points, and in case its type was "circle" it would only make use of the radius and of one of the 2 points - used as the center -, while if it was a "segment" it would only make use of the 2 points). My gut feeling is that this would bloat all colliders, and, even if the bloat could be reduced - using unions in some smart way for storing members? I wouldn't know how -, then still the design would be pretty brittle.
      I'm clueless and open for ideas and advice! How do you handle in general situations in which you have components that can be naturally modeled as subclasses of a more generic component class? Inheritance? Smart hacks with variants, templates, macros, custom indexing? Dynamic "internal" type?
  • Advertisement

Important Information

By using GameDev.net, you agree to our community Guidelines, Terms of Use, and Privacy Policy.

GameDev.net is your game development community. Create an account for your GameDev Portfolio and participate in the largest developer community in the games industry.

Sign me up!