What’s a Game Jam?
A Game Jam is an organized get-together with the intention of creating a full game – from conception to completion – in a pre-determined, short period of time, usually one weekend. Popular Indie games such as World of Goo and Crayon Physics Deluxe were both created during this same type of rapid prototyping.
What happens at a Game Jam?
A bunch of folks bring their laptops and get together in one place, find out the theme for the jam, break up into brainstorming groups, then form teams with a mix of skillsets, and get to work! Game jams usually run for 48 hours, from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. To get a quick feel for what happened at the 2012 UMSL Global Game Jam, check this video.
Why can’t I just do this at home?
You could do this at home, but the primary goal of the Game Jam is camaraderie, teamwork, and making friends. We want the game development community in St. Louis to be united and grow, and that will only happen through the unity that comes from events like this one.
I’ve never made a game before, can I still participate?
Absolutely! We have had participants as young as 7-years-old, and we have had professional game developers with decades of experience in the industry. All are welcome, of all skill levels. You’re sure to learn something no matter what, have fun, make friends, and create some cool games in the process! Many participants also get a chance to meet and work with potential employers, or potential employees! As one attendee described it, “A Game Jam is like an internship in action.”
What should I bring?
Depends what you want to do. If you’re a programmer, bring a computer with your programming tools installed. If an artist, bring a sketchpad, pencils, paints, crayons, digital pens, or whatever you’re comfortable using. If a designer, bring a notebook, graph paper to design levels, or whatever you think would be good. If an audio person, bring a mixer panel, or a keyboard, or a microphone, or again, anything you want. The point of the jam isn’t to force you to use things you’ve never used before, but to take advantage of whatever skills you already have, and let you use those skills, improve those skills, and network with others with similar interests, to see what kind of cool creative things you can make.
How much does it cost?
Not a dime! We have been very fortunate to always have very generous sponsors who provide us with space, wi-fi, food, and sometimes even T-shirts and other cool swag.
Sounds great! How do I sign up?
Go to http://globalgamejam.org, log in, and then associate your account with the St. Louis UMSL page. You can also check for the latest notices at the St. Louis Game Developer Meetup Page.
When is the next St. Louis Game Jam?
The calendar for 2014 is:
- January 24-26, 2014 (at UMSL)
- April 11-13, 2014 (at Webster University)
What is the timeline for a Game Jam?
It varies a little bit from jam to jam, but in general:
- Friday afternoon: Jammers show up at the venue, sign-in, and check they can connect to Wi-fi.
- Around 6 pm: A special theme is announced for the jam. Then either:
- Participants break up into 10-15 person brainstorming groups for about 15 minutes, to come up with ideas for games based on that theme. Everyone then comes back together to hear the different ideas, and then we form teams around different ideas. OR, sometimes:
- Teams were formed prior to the theme announcement, and then as soon as the theme is announced, they get to work!
- 7 pm – ?? Get to work! (there’s usually pizza in here somewhere, too)
- Saturday: Work work work!
- Sunday: Around 4 pm, development stops. Then we gather around 5 pm or so to see the games that people made!
Why such a short time frame?
The short time frame is there to create restrictions and encourage creativity. When you see the ticking clock, you’re forced to think on your feet and focus on your game’s strong suits rather than spending hours perfecting the way light reflects off of your grass texture.
So I can finally begin my RPG that takes place entirely in a Hermit Crab cage?
It’s possible, but it will depend largely on the theme.
Yep! To prevent people from “cheating” and further encourage creativity through restrictions, we ask that all games revolve around a certain theme. The theme will be kept secret up until the event, but once it is announced, feel free to interpret and incorporate it into your design however you choose!
What technologies can I use?
You name it! Everything from GameMaker, to homebrew Nintendo DS development, to Assembly, to Pen and Paper will be accepted. Be aware that some technologies will make sharing your game more difficult, so if you want people to actually play your creation you will need to use something appropriately widespread.
What technologies do you recommend?
Hands down, one of the easiest ways to create a game. Simple to use drag and drop interface for basic games, and a full scripting suite for more advanced ones. Slightly limited version is free. Full version is $20 US. There may also be free trial codes available at the jam so you can get a full version, just check with the site organizer to see what’s available!
- Game Salad is another easy-to-use toolset.
If you’re a programmer who wants to write real code, but doesn’t want to worry about things like frame timers and double buffering this is probably the way to go. The code is written in C# using the Visual Studio IDE (or Express), and the XNA libraries take care of most-everything complicated for you. Your Windows games can also be compiled and run on Xbox and Windows Phone 7. And all of that is FREE.
Flash is amazing. A wide reach and no distribution problems. Plus, if you don’t require the Flash IDE, and can live with the replacements, development is free. If you’ve never used Flash before, it will take time to learn the design environment and actionscript nuances. Once you’re passed that hurdle, it’s a great environment for creating games. Plus, you’ll have few distribution issues, and get the MAC version for FREE.
Unity makes 3D hardware accelerated game development way easy, with impressively short development times. 2D game development is slightly tedious, but hardware accelerated scaling (aliased), rotation and full alpha transparency make that hurdle worth jumping.
For people who love 3D, but don’t love creating engines from scratch there’s the Unreal Engine. It’s awesome and it’s FREE! (but it’s still a lot more work than 2D, so make sure you’re being realistic)
- Torque Game Builder
An amazing scriptable hardware accelerated 2D game builder.
Free and apparently very nice.
Simple Directmedia layer. It’s an industry standard that goes way beyond graphics. It’s also cross platform.
Haaf’s Game Engine. Want to use C++ and want 2D graphics accelerated by a 3D card? Here’s a free engine that makes it easy. Before you get too excited you should know it’s Windows DirectX only.
- Pen and Paper
The Global Game Jam is accepting Pen and Paper games this year, so we will be as well. This could be a great choice for some of you non-technical people!
But you can basically use anything you want. If you have an existing engine from a prior project with all of the essentials in place, just go ahead and use that. You could potentially mod a game, but be warned that if the theme of the game can’t be easily expressed through your chosen technology you’ll likely be fighting with your tools the whole time.
So I can use this time to finally learn Assembly, right?
Uhhh, no. You’re going to want to come into this with a technology in mind and the knowledge of how to make a game with it. If you’re spending your time learning a new technology from scratch your game will suffer for it, guaranteed.
What if I don’t know how to program? Is there a place for me?
Probably! People will likely break out into teams of coders, artists, and sound people, with many people taking on double-duty. Making icons for power-ups and putting together highly repetitive title screen music using free software will lighten the load and go a long way toward improving a game. If you still want to get your hands dirty with the game creation process, spend a few nights brushing up on some of the GameMaker tutorials prior to the event. It’s surprisingly easy!
Will there be computers there for me to use?
Nope, sorry, you have to bring your own equipment. If you want to get on the internet, it must be wifi-capable.
So who isn’t this for?
We’re not sure yet! Our advice would be to show up and see where we can fit you in. If you find yourself without much to do you can always go home. We usually have plenty of non-game-related tasks that need doing too, in support of the event. Take pictures of the different teams, help out as a tester, do an hour-by-hour blog or twitter feed of the event, help out as a “gofer” to run errands and help the event run smoothly, there’ll be lots to do.
I have a wedding to go to on Saturday. Should I bother coming for the rest of the time?
Yes! We’d love it if you can make it for the entire time, but we know how life is. If nothing else, you can do some ridiculous voice acting for the 10 minutes you’re there.
I’m really not interested in making games, but I’d love to observe. Can I still come by?
Sure! But please still register so we can get a count of how many people are coming. The best times for observers will be on Friday around 5-7 pm, to see the announcements and maybe participate in the brainstorming, and then on Sunday from 5-7 pm, to see the finished games!
Can I keep working on my game after the Jam?
Yes! It’s highly encouraged, even. We want these games to stand as a symbol of St. Louis’ strengthening game development community, so we’ll be doing what little we can to promote them long after the Jam is over. If your game is a little better than can be accomplished in 24 hours it only makes everyone look better.
What have you done at previous jams?
Click on the “Games” link at the top of the page to see the wacky stuff we’ve come up with in previous jams.
Darn, this sounds awesome, but I’m busy this weekend. Are there going to be more?
Yup! We usually have 2-3 jams each year in St. Louis. For more information on these, join the St. Louis Game Developer Meetup Group to keep up on announcements.
How else can I help?
If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, please contact wes at superwesdotcom for a sponsorship packet.