What I saw at the Global Game Jam 09

I drove to Pittsburgh last weekend, and attended the First Global Game Jam. Here are my pictures:

And here’s a link to the game my team made in 48 hours:

It was exhausting, but I’d never experienced a game jam before, and I got good things out of it. But generally, I’m not sure if I’d go again, or how I’d approach it if I did.

I know I was a bit disappointed by…the lack of inspiration. I mean that I went looking for inspiration, was looking for other people showing me amazing things and cool new tools, and I didn’t find that. It wasn’t my peers; it was all college students. It wasn’t that they weren’t excited, hardworking and creative; it’s that they couldn’t speak to me from a similar frame of reference. So it was a bit awkward and lonely.

The place was swimming in Game Engines. It seems self-evident to me that you shouldn’t attempt to learn to use a new game engine while trying to produce a 48-hour project. Even if the game engine is the best, easiest, most well-documented system on the planet, there’s still a learning curve. And a couple of local, BETA engines were being actively hawked to the participants! Most teams would up using Flash, which is a fine engine. When it came to making teams, I told everyone in ear shot that I preferred my own custom "engine"; it was what I’m most familiar with. This may be why my team was one of the smallest.

I slept twice, 3 hours each. It was exhausting. In fact, it took so much out of me I was still exhausted days later. The rest of the team was in similar shape, except for one artist who went home at night (we wound up not using any of his work).

Talking with people, I learned that Pittsburgh was home to two small game dev studios (I forget their names). Cleveland has only one (that I know of). I suspect every city has at least one, created by two students with ambition and a garage. That’s a Good Thing.

I’ve told my students, and I tell every young, aspiring game developer reading this; you should go do a game jam. It’s not my peers, but it IS yours. Plus, you’ll experience things that are very similar to the game industry.

– You’ll work to an impossible deadline, and put in crazy hours to meet it.

– You’ll be forced into ad-hoc teams of strangers that you’ll have to work with and get along with.

– You’ll get only vague guidance about the important things, and very specific instructions about things that don’t seem that important.

– You’ll be forced to make tough choices about what to work on, what great ideas you have to leave out, and when to ship, knowing you aren’t finished.

– But most importantly, you’ll learn how you work when you’re tired. Everyone in the game industry gets into situations where they’re dog tired, they’ve been working for 12 hours straight, and they still need to get things done NOW, so they HAVE to keep working.

And everyone does it different. Some close their office door and blast their music. Some chug the caffeine like it’s banned. Some get really silly. Some get really surly. And until you’ve done it, you don’t know how you react, and how best to set yourself up for success.

Not bragging here, but I already knew all that stuff. The only surprise for me was that I’m still able to keep up with the young guys.


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