So I decided to take part in a few game jams to see what they were all about, I have mixed feelings about them and will take you through my highs and lows during two recent jams.
What is a Jam?
Within a set period of time you have to produce a game to some theme or basic specification. The rules are usually basic.
Having clear goals and a deadline really gets you working! I was making pixel art and thinking of how it would work in the game, basically multitasking like a beast. You learn new things rapidly and learn to actually finish tasks so there are lots of pro's to taking part in a jam. For many this will be the first project this see through to publishing.
After seeing the Flappy Bird game do so well I though why not make something simple like this to see project from start to finish in a few days, then I found Flappy Jam!
I got to work right away on the basic game and had a square dodging blocks before long and it ran well on all mobiles! WIN! Then I made my first big mistake, instead of adding graphics and submitting I decided to add levels, HP and character unlocks.
As a solo hobby developer I have little time and no resources and a wife who likes to see me every now and again, I basically locked myself in my study night after night polishing the game and trying to do far too much.
note: Samsung mobile with battery save mode enabled = poor fps!
Only 4 votes! I submitted at some stupid time in the morning then posted a bit about the game and slept the next evening at 7pm, I was tired and still have a busy day job to do! oh and I am training for a marathon and have 30+ miles to run a week.
Once the game was in the list I lost all interest and had to get my sleep pattern back to normal and try to make it up to the wife.
I did get a little bit of feedback, Okeedoke Studios comment is priceless, imagine that a Flappy Game being a bit grindy! This really made my day and also 556 views and 199 downloads was great.
I promised the wife I would wait a while before the next jam and get back to my main game Endure and take it easy, so I waited a few days then saw CyberPunkJam and thought I am doing that!
Cyber Punk Jam
With Clicky Pixel finished and shelved I was no longer a jam virgin and ready for more, this time I would be even more focused and learn from my mistakes, so I decided on an even more complicated game that would require much more art, more code and this time Id go for mobile, Windows, Mac and HTML!
So make a game based on the image of some punks jumping off a building, first thought was base jumping, too simple I thought, before I could even research it someone had posted their game and yes it was a sky diving game.
I decided I would do something a little different and after some time decided to remake an old Amiga classic "Walker".
Using LibGDX and some ripped sprites of the origin game I quickly mocked up a walking bot: View the Sprites here
I was not intending to keep these sprites in the demo I submitted, but I had little time to work on the game. I produced some punks to use as enemies and played about with pixels for a few evenings:
I also changed my screen saver and bought a new t-shirt! Making animated sprites is a slow process for a coder, I had to keep Googling for examples to help me get ideas, the game could have done with many more enemies but there was no game yet and I was running out of time. I made two types of punks, a helicopter and an Akira style biker, I am really happy with them overall
I only actually submitted this game as the jam had a 48 hour extension, I came home from work late, sat at my computer with very little complete; a robot that moved and shot bullets, a few enemies that had no AI and just ran across the screen, at this point there were no sounds and no background.
I made a background and 3 shops that would give the impression you were moving forward between waves, this took about an hour. Next I had to produce an algorithm to produce wave attacks, I got this so wrong, the first waves were fine but if you got to around round 6 you were completed overwhelmed, but I had run out of time. I think it was around 4am when I uploaded the .jar and HTML versions of the game, "Mech Stroller".
The game was full of bugs and lacked:
- Power Ups
- Decent AI
- Up / Down movement
- Balanced Waves
I spent an hour over my lunch break and put better waves into place and made the enemies a little more random with their movement, once this was published I saw a tweet saying I may have broken some rules in updating the game after the cut off point! If the game had been pulled I would have been annoyed but seems I got away with this.
Twitter, Forums & Reddit
So this time I understood it was important to get people playing the game and getting more feedback than with Clicky P. I posted to twitter every so often, posted in some of the Java forums I use and also hit Reddit for the first time.
Those people at Reddit must deal with a lot of spam and general time wasters, if you delete a post they make you wait forever to repost, I almost gave up on it, had to make a second account just to post, it is just not a nice interface to use:
It was worth using Reddit though as it brought some traffic to the game page, overall the game had around 500 views and maybe 70 downloads of the .Jar file. This just shows if you are producing a real game you need a solid
If you want to place in the Jam you are going to have to spend time convincing others who submitted games to play and vote on your game, some 268 people contributed to the jam in total, you are going to want a decent number of votes or a least a few that score you highly.
I played other games for hours and hours adding comments and trying to vote fairly, I must have voted on about 150 of the games, each time if possible tweeting to the dev asking them to check out my game in return.
I had 34 votes from other devs:
I am pretty happy with this score, considering I probably only spent half the available time on the game and put more effort into learning pixel art its a miracle there was any game at all. I find it strange how people will comment on whats missing from the game, the jam was around 10/12 days long and I am one person with a full time job, collaborating might be a better idea for more adventurous ideas.
I have learned a lot about myself, game making and a small faction of the Indie Game Scene during the last month or so. There are a lot of kind people out there on Twitter willing to help, give feedback and motivate you, this is great and really helped me stick at it.
Before you dive into coding or drawing try to come up with a simple idea that is possible in complete in the given time. Make a list of the assets you need for the game, if the list is getting to big you are aiming too high, try to truncate the list as much as possible. If you know others who might like to team up then work this out before the jam, I would have loved to team up with an artist for this so I could concentrate on the code.
I did enjoy talking to other developers after the jam ended but I did feel a bit of an anti-climax, the fun for me was making the game even though I didn't have enough time to really get it to a point I was happy with.
Use the Jams to make you fast prototype an idea and get some feedback but I would not suggest taking the comments on your game too personally, not everyone will like what you have done and this was made in no time at all.
Most of all try to have fun and interact with the Indie community as much as possible! I hope you enjoyed reading, please check out my games and throw any questions to me on Twitter @carelesslabs