What to Expect at a Game Jam
Several people who are interested in participating in the Meaningful Gameplay Game Jam are asking for more information. A few of them aren’t even sure how a game jam works, so that is the first order of business.
What is a Game Jam
A game jam is an event where game developers get together to hang out and make games. This usually takes place over the course of a weekend, starting Friday evening and ending Sunday evening. A game jam is usually centered around a single theme or concept that participants should make their games about – in our case “gameplay that is significant for or provides purpose for how one lives life.”
A jam usually starts with a sort of social hour, followed by brainstorming game ideas and breaking off into teams to make the games. Recently, we’ve been trying to end a jam Sunday afternoon with a show & tell so everyone can see what was created.
The word “jam” here is appropriate, because the event is in some ways similar to musicians getting together to jam by just playing music with each other. So the overall vibe is pretty informal, composed of one-part coworking at desks and one-part social with developers catching up with each other and checking out what everyone else is up to.
One of the most unique things about a game jam is the creative energy present. For many developers, that leads to a kind of productivity that is hard to replicate anywhere outside of a game jam. Because of this, some people have attended who don’t even intend to work on games at all, but are simply there to feed off that energy. And some full-time indies will work on their own projects instead of participating in the jam, so that they can take advantage of that productivity. While not the ideal situation, those people are welcome at most game jams. Remote attendees are almost always welcome – that is certainly true for the Meaningful Gameplay Game Jam!
Game jams also vary in their competitiveness. Historically, Ludum Dare has been an online “game making competition,” although recently a jam component has been added that is not competitive. Our game jams haven’t been competitive at all. The Global Game Jam seems to be somewhere in the middle due to featuring specific games, but not explicitly recognizing winners. The GGJ is technically a collection of many jams happening at different locations all over the world.
How to Prepare
Preparing for a game jam is mostly straightforward, except for a couple things that can be easy to forget. The #1 thing a participant can do to prepare for a game jam is:
Prepare your development environment.
This point is most important for those intending to work on a videogame. At many game jams, some teams will fail because a large part of the jam is spent just getting a game engine to compile, or upgrading software, or preparing an art pipeline. Therefore, prior to the jam, videogame developers should make sure their software is up to date and tested (including OS updates, middleware, libraries, etc) and that any custom tools to be used compile successfully, including developer tools that would be installed on a new computer – like a potential teammate’s computer.
Other important things to do to prepare is to get some good sleep before the jam – since jams tend to involve staying up late – and brush up on any rusty dev skills so that you can be as productive as possible.
What to Bring
Put simply, participants should bring whatever needed to get their work done. That could include the following:
- A computer with all needed components
- A power strip
- A video out adaptor for your computer (if showing something, a safe bet is VGA)
- Brainstorming/creative supplies
- A board/card game testing kit
- Food (usually not provided by the jam host)
- Clothes/toiletries (if the jam is out of town)
- A wireless router (this can come in handy for larger jams where wireless connections get maxed out)
- Folding table/chairs (usually not needed for most jams, but sometimes for less organized ones)
Where to Stay
If you’re coming from out of town, you’ll be looking for a place to stay. The arrangements for this seem to vary widely from jam to jam. Some jams – including the ones hosted by our IGDF club – allow people to sleep on-site. In the past, we’ve set aside dedicated “quiet rooms” for this very purpose.
Many times people who live in-town will host out-of-town jammers, too.
Developers who participate remotely usually stay connected at a game jam through a variety of different communication software, which could include IM/IRC chat, audio chat through Skype or Ventrilo, or video chat through Skype, Google Hangout, Facebook, etc.
In addition, jam locations will sometimes have a UStream channel where the public can watch the progress and chat in a sidebar.
What Makes the Meaningful Gameplay Game Jam Different
I’ve written a post on my own blog detailing how a Meaningful Gameplay Game Jam is different from normal game jams. Check it out if you’re interested.
[P.S. Let me know if I missed anything!]