About my first Global Game Jam

I was never good with videogames when I was a kid. My parents thought that videogames would make me sedentary and most of them were cruel and violent so they never really encouraged me to play or bought me one of those sweet Nintendo consoles, nor gave me coins to pay for the arcade machines. Sometimes I would tell my parents that I was visiting my grandma and then sneak to my friend’s house to play Super Mario Bros. I would read about Monkey Island and Lara Croft in magazines and dream of having a computer powerful enough to play them.

Fast forward quite a few years, I’m now living in New Zealand with a good “grown up” job. I can now buy my own console, my own computer and play at my leisure. Even though I’m not really skilled with controllers I realise that I still very much enjoy games. I even started making games with a group of friends, nothing fancy, just learning basic 3D modelling with much effort.

But then something even cooler happened: I joined Enspiral Dev Academy, an accelerated bootcamp to learn web development. I not only discovered that I love programming, but also that I can make videogames; construct them from scratch, make the computer do what I want it to do. This realisation was a rush of excitement and a mix of feelings including joy, fear, happiness and anxiety. I am happy to be able to spend hours and hours looking at my screen and making things that other people will be able to play, but how do I really make this my career?

All beginnings are difficult

Of course when you just start to learn something in life many things can seem distant and somewhat unattainable. In game development like on other disciplines one tends to look up to the people established in the industry and the learning path that took them where they are, and think only in terms of what one doesn’t know yet and how far the objectives are. Despite these feelings of inadequacy I was sure that making games would make me happy so I tried to look in other places for inspiration.

I started learning things like the Unity3d game engine and creating projects of my own that I could slowly bring to life one step at the time. It was also important for me at this stage what I was able to take from the experience of indie developers such as the ones showed on Indie Game: The movie. I can see more and more beautifully crafted games being released on Steam every day which are created by very small groups of people. My crazy dream of making games was not impossible (just really hard).

I know I have to keep learning and keep creating, and while doing so I found out about Game Jams. Game jams are gatherings of people that develop a game from scratch over a certain period of time. They are the “hackathons” of game development. The next Global Game Jam for 2017 was happening soon so I thought, what better way to kickstart my learning?, so I signed up on the spot. This was only a month after my graduation.

My Global Game Jam project

With no time to spare I started to prepare for the Global Game Jam by doing online courses on C#, reading books about game design and continuing to code every day. I was lucky enough to be able to assemble a killer team with two former graduates from my dev bootcamp and my partner who is also my game dev team better half. We had lots of energy and what we lacked in game development experience we compensated on willingness to learn and to be part of the experience.

We arrived on Friday morning to the venue and started setting up our gear while we waited for the announcement of the Theme. This year’s theme was “waves”, which meant everyone around the world had to make a use of one of the many meanings of the word waves on their game concept. We were quick to agree on an idea which was fun, small and just hard enough for all team members to work on. As we all shared a web development background we decided to use an HTML5 game engine called Phaser which was well documented and relatively easy to pick up.

We stayed until 1am that Friday but then we all went home to get some sleep. It seemed more productive to have some rest between the long hours of work during the day and I think everyone else did somewhat the same. We worked fifteen hours on Saturday and another seven hours on Sunday, and we tried to take some small breaks for food and coffee in order to avoid burnout. One of the things I think worked out the best about our teamwork was that we had a few “stand-ups” or small chats during the day to see where everyone was at, how we were feeling and what we wanted to do next. I can recommend that to everyone working in a high pressure environment.

By Sunday at 3pm most of us had exhausted all mental fuel, luckily we had a product that was acceptable according to the goals we ourselves set up. The cool thing about Game Jams is that it is not a competition, it is all about making something that you will be happy with. The organizers emphasize “scope” a lot as one of the success factors and I couldn’t agree more. We created something that is not perfect but it shows a prototype of what we are capable of. If you want to try it out it can be found here

Game Development community

As someone that comes from an IT background mostly on other industries, I cannot emphasize enough the friendly welcoming environment that I encountered when joining the Game Development community. Since the the first meetup I attended at Game Developers of Wellington to the New Zealand Game Association slack channel I felt that everyone was genuinely happy and that they had a great desire to help and collaborate.

The Wellington Global Game Jam organizers, specially all-round super star Navi Brouwer, were amazing taking care of every detail and keeping a good atmosphere. We had catering at all times, professional silly photos taken, and even emergency toothbrush and deodorant. The later was much needed and used by yours truly as the space was little and the people many, and it got rather warm at some point.

I was able to meet quite a lot of people from other teams, chat and have a laugh between the hard work. Everyone made us feel welcome at all times. At the end of the Jam we all got to go around the tables and play other team’s games. Not only I was meeting these amazing creators but also got to play with their unique cool work!

Why should you participate in a Game Jam?

The feeling I had at Sunday night when coming back home after extreme long hours of intense coding was this: bliss. I worked very hard and I was very tired but I was also extremely happy. There is nothing better than to be able to create a work of art, something that people can see and interact with while sharing this sense of flow with the people surrounding you. If you are a developer, a coder, an artist, a designer, a musician you can also be part of this great collaboration experiment.

I know that I want to do is to make video games, would you like to find out if it’s for you too?