Global Game Jam: A Newbie’s POV

GGJ round logo

Making a game in 48 hours seems a massive task, yet it’s something tens of thousands of people do every year at Global Game Jam, an international game jam for developers of any type and skill level to come together and create something new.

Though game jams—gatherings of game devs to create games in short spans of time—can vary in size and the given amount of time, Global Game Jam is the world’s largest physical jam event, this year taking place in 78 countries.

This was my first year doing GGJ, and my first year doing a game jam in general (I have since done one more, where I co-created a card game!), and I was honestly hesitant about the whole thing, because what am I, but a writer? I thought there was nothing I could possibly contribute to such a short game. Turns out narrative can be pretty important to even a game made in 48 hours, who knew?

Okay, yeah. Everyone knew.

FRIDAY: IT BEGINS

Global Game Jam takes place in January and, much like I am with this post, I was late to the arrival day of the event. Though I got to registration late, I did arrive in time for the keynotes and the most important part of day one: the reveal of the year’s theme.

Themes for GGJ in the past have ranged from single words like Extinction, to entire phrases like “What do we do now?” and it’s generally best to go into the jam with no pre-existing ideas. This year, we got Ritual, which we were then told to keep under wraps until the last timezone participating in GGJ, Hawaii, began the jam and had the theme revealed to them. Every site and person gets the same theme, and they must all keep it secret, keep it safe. Some sites are better at this than others, apparently.

The reveal of the theme officially started the jam at 5pm local time, and from there everyone came together to pitch ideas and form teams. I was absorbed into a massive team of nine people, named Doodyfroody for reasons I cannot remember, and we all escaped together to come up with ideas for our game-to-be.

Alongside the theme, there are optional diversifiers at every GJJ that a team can choose to include in their game, such as Comic Book Colours (Can only use a 4-colour palette for the game) and Loudmouth (All audio assets must be sounds created by mouth) from this year.

We picked Infinite (Procedurally generated worlds) and Twitch Plays (Create a game played by the masses on Twitch, the streaming service) and ran with them, coming up with the idea of a young witch gathering ingredients to perform rituals. The witch would be controlled through the Twitch chat, not unlike Twitch Plays Pokemon.

This is where we made our first mistake: over-scoping. 48 hours is a remarkably short amount of time when you have an entire game to make. Still blissfully oblivious, we all got down to work on our respective jobs—mine being a tag-team narrative designer with my best bud, Alex—with big grins on our faces.

SATURDAY: REALITY STRIKES

Still riding that game-making high, we started our second day. Game jams are so exciting, I thought. So much fun! The best thing I’ve ever done!

From there, I went through a slow descent into complete madness, writing more and more bird puns as my soul slowly died. In all fairness, this was my own fault: I could have decided to not write so many puns.

It was around midday that we had a meeting because we realised we just were just, straight-up, not going to meet the deadline—3 PM on Sunday—with the game we were making. We cut a bunch of features, narrowed our scope, and continued on. I went back to my puns.

Saturday passed doing what I love doing most: working collaboratively on a project with a bunch of amazing and talented people, with waffle and pizza breaks to keep ourselves going.

There is something so beautiful about watching a game you’re part of come together; something less beautiful about broken aircon in the middle of summer.

SUNDAY: OH GOD, OH GOD, OH GOD

The final day. Judgement day, as it were—except there is no judgement in GGJ. Like NaNoWriMo, the competition is in you and your team finishing the game, not in who made the better game. Which is good for people like me, a girl who doesn’t have a lick of competitive spirit. There’s a sense of camaraderie, of having somehow survived the weekend with everyone else at the site. You are united in exhaustion and potentially unfinished games.

By the final day, everyone was a little stressed, having realised just how little time we had left to finish. I finished my writing jobs early afternoon, and just spent the remainder of our time watching the programmers work their magic.

Seeing words I’d written on the screen, in an actual game, for the first time was pretty amazing. Watching the characters talk with dialogue I’d written lit a light in me I didn’t know was dark, strengthened my desire to create games. It’s a hard feeling to put into words, even as a writer. 

global game jam owlder hoot

It was also fun watching my friends and teammates react to my awful wordplay. Art by Lianne, UI by Lucy.

There was another group that had joined us in our claimed room over the weekend, and I spent a bit of time wandering over and checking out what would become Faithgame. Seeing how each team had taken the theme and used it was really interesting. There were a lot of cat games, which we would see come presentation. I’m still not entirely sure what about “Ritual” screamed “cats”, but I’m hardly complaining.

Come the deadline, we submitted our game and put it up on Twitch for people to play. It was a last-minute rush, and such a relief to finally be able to step back and take a deep breath. We did it, we thought. We were done!

We spoke too soon.

Our game glitched right off the bat, completely not working for our presentation, which is fair given how much we tried to do over the weekend. Maybe one day we’ll polish it up. (Unlikely.)

After watching everyone’s presentations of their own games, we went home and drank to celebrate, still proud of all the work we’d done and what we had created over the weekend. It may not have worked like we planned, but we still made a game in 48 hours. How cool is that? So cool!

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?

Yes. Absolutely, and I would recommend that anyone at all interested in making games, be it seriously or as a hobby, try it out too. There are also a variety of other jams throughout the year, including Ludum Dare and Asylum Jam. Basically, it is likely some of the greatest fun any person who likes creating will have over a 48-hour period, while also making something to be proud of. At best, it will inspire a love for making games, as it did for me.

For anyone who considers doing a game jam, some advice: start small, keep communication between team members open and flowing, be sure to take breaks and eat proper meals, and always keep an open mind about ideas. Also, don’t forget to go home and get some sleep.

global game jam instax

Jamming with jam.

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