Global Game Jam: A Post Mortem

This year I attended the Global Game Jam and made The Cleaner. More than creating a game in 48 hours I came away with more insight into the process of developing games and gameplay. In this post I expand on some of the lessons I took away from the game jam. Ultimately, I think the jam is more about having fun and reflecting on the process of game making than on actually creating a game — not that you can’t have it both ways!

What’s really amazing to me is how important the non-game stuff turned out to be. The people you work with and the process you use to collaborate will have a huge impact on your end product. Picking teammates who can complement your skillset is critical. Maybe even more important, though, is finding teammates who share a common vision with you and who know when to compromise. For me, the first thing I did was walk up to Scott, our artist, and try to get behind his idea. While I might have had different thoughts about what to do I knew it was more important to get someone like him onboard. I knew it would be possible to influence the game once we were working together.

And it’s not just the people you work with. Depending on how you go about developing your ideas your game will wind up radically different. In my opinion, my group went about thinks too aimlessly. As soon as the contest started we began throwing ideas (worse, code) against the wall to see what would stick. While this approach isn’t necessarily wrong it meant that the final game ended up feeling stitched together. If we had spent more time fleshing out the game design upfront we likely could have had a more cohesive and interesting game in the end.

So what would I have done differently? Most likely, I would start the process by thinking through some possible ideas on paper. While it’s fairly cheap and easy to prototype things in Flash it’s still more expensive and there’s a tendency to become entrenched in an idea because code has been written. After fleshing out several ideas, I would then try to prototype the most promising one as quickly and cheaply as possible.

In theory, you could spend the entire first day on this kind of experimentation, and when you only have two days that might sound like too much. However, I think if you can start your second day with a complete picture of what you want to make you can then design a game in a holistic fashion — something The Cleaner sadly missed.

How do you prototype new ideas?

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