what did you do at game jam?
It's been so long that I was tempted to title this post "Neglect".
I participated in the Global Game Jam at the end of January, so I figured I should take a minute to reflect.
As soon as I arrived home from Mount Royal, my son asked me "what did you do at game jam dad?".
So I have to think. What did I do “at game jam”. More importantly, what did I learn.
My team were all basically strangers. Two programmers, two artists. A couple of us had met very briefly at igda meetings, but that's about it. To me, that seemed to be the right way to do things. Meet with a group of strangers, put our heads together and build something. Anything.
We started by finding ourselves a nice, quiet, centrally located, fishbowl. That glass room became our studio / flophouse for the weekend. Next we needed to decide what to build. We had a basic concept based around herding creatures to their doom. That concept was quickly fleshed out in the most ridiculous ways we could conjure. We then moved to divvying up the work. We split along very obvious art / code sides. The programmers would write code, and the artists would create the art. I went to the event fully expecting to find myself in a team full of artists. I figured I would probably end up with visual studio afterimages permanently burned into my retinas. I was cool with that. I was much cooler with leaning back painting sprites in photoshop for 48 hours. So we put our heads, and talents, together, and we made... something.
The truth is our game was a bit of a failure. It's a bit janky, the controls don't really do what they should, the little animals kind of run everywhere, and there is no front end. It functions, but only just.
That does not mean that I think that the team was unsuccessful. In 48 hours we went from not really knowing each other, and not having a game concept, to creating a functional HTML 5 "thing" that at the very least, made everyone grin for a second.
So what did I do “at game jam”. Working on my own I get pretty used to wearing several hats. Scratch that. I wear all the hats. At the same time. It's a leaning tower of fucking hats, and most of them don't fit me. At game jam I wore one hat. I wore the artist hat... Actually I probably just wore the brim. I didn't go there thinking that this would be a relaxing time. I went to do some work. It just happened that there wasn't a ton of work for me to do there. It's been a while since I've had to brave a tense all nighter to meet a deadline. Typically in those situations I would have more work than Any single human could hope to accomplish, and about 37 seconds to complete it. The days when clients call up at 4:30pm on a Friday, requesting radical changes for an important meeting Monday morning at 9:00am, are hopefully behind me... or at the very least, I now have the options of saying no or setting my price. My expectation was that I was, in fact, doing this exact thing, to myself. Instead I felt incredibly relaxed. There was quite a lot of work to do, but I could have easily done double. At one point during the 48 hours I thought about offering up art services to the other teams diligently working on their stuff, but :
1. most of the teams seemed to be well into their projects, and adding another person might be detrimental.
2. a few of the teams were working toward possible commercial releases, and really couldn’t recruit new team members for legal reasons.
3. I was enjoying just relaxing and drawing environment tiles.
At another point I made a 3D model of one of our characters and did a turntable animation of it. I was reasonably sure that this would never be used in the game, but it was fun to do, so I did it.
As it turned out, about 1% of all the work I did actually ended up in the game. At the time, I found that endlessly comical. I still find it funny.
So I really didn’t do that much work, but what did I learn “at game jam”.
Bring an air mattress. The floor is hard.
Bring a kettle. Sometimes you want tea at 3:00am.
I’ve created countless seamless textures for 3D work, but I had never created a tile set for a 2D game. I am pretty sharp with the photoshop and I can hide repeats like a mamajamma. There had just never been any call for me to create a tile set. While I didn’t learn any new techniques, I did do something new, and that is always fun.
I learned that tools are important. Not just important. Perhaps the most important. Or even the mostest important. On the art side we had tools out of every available orifice. Couple different versions of photoshop. Some vector tools. A few different animation softwares. 3D modelling and animation tools. Graphics tablets and touchscreen transforming laptops. Paper. Pencils. Burnt sticks and cave walls. At one point we could have built stuff from spiral pasta. Had anyone ventured into our centrally located fishbowl looking for art, we probably could have stuffed their pockets with doodles and sent them on their way. Since we were creating a HTML 5 game, I was unaware of any coding tools, engines, frameworks, etc. that could have helped our programmers. I’ve since found several great HTML 5 tools that we could have used to speed things up and lighten the load on our team, but not having those tools available when we needed them probably hurt us. I still think our programmers pulled off some amazing things given the time allowed.
I think that, next year I will try to offer up my time to other teams. Maybe I will create a work board for people who want to offer up their time to multiple projects. Teams can go up to the board and put down a request for art or music or assistance from an expert in some field or other, and anyone with time to spare can check the board to see where they can lend a hand.
I think mostly I remembered that it’s fun to work with other people... not really something I learned, but it’s certainly something I needed a refresher on.