The Game Jam Boom
Making a game is impressive enough, but making a game in days, or even 24 hours, is mind-boggling. So much effort goes into the creation of a videogame, from concept and design to programming and troubleshooting, that compressing all of that down into such a short timeframe should be impossible, and yet, nearly every weekend, people are spinning out these fantastically fun feats.
These incredible sprints of creativity are called game jams. Originally started in 2002 by Chris Hecker and Sean Barrett, a game jam is a game-making contest that lasts between 24 and 48 hours. The name comes from “jam sessions” in music, where people gather and play not-fully-finished songs just for the fun of it. The same idea applies to game jams; basically, everyone gets together to test game concepts and push the limits of what you can make in a weekend.
Access to the Little Guys
One of the many fantastic things about game jams is that they give first-time developers access to the industry and a spotlight. These contests don’t require you to have experience in the industry or to use particularly expensive or complicated tools; all you need is a basic engine, an idea, and the ability to execute it within the timeframe. Many game jam successes have been made with tools like GameMaker, RPG Maker, and Unity, most of which have free options or trials that you can use to make your game, meaning that all you have to spend is time.
On top of that, participating in a game jam puts your game in front of a wide audience. Not only are other devs and fans already looking for fun, new games to try, but YouTube gamers tend to frequent these parties as well to pick up new games for their channels. This means that your game has the chance of ending up in front of millions of people, giving you a chance to build a reputation in the industry and potentially making a career out of what was originally a hobby.
Of course, you don’t have to go the professional route. You can participate in a game jam just for the fun of it; there’s no pressure to be on the level of huge game studios because the games are available for free and with the knowledge of the constraints of their development. You can use game jams just to make something you love, practice your skills, and point to your project and say, “I did that!” It’s an accomplishment to be proud of on its own.
Development Under Pressure
Having a solid deadline can be terrifying and stifling, exciting and motivating, or somewhere weirdly in the middle. For some people, having a short deadline means that they are forced to work fast and make decisions they would otherwise procrastinate or agonize over for far too long. For others, being put on the spot like that causes them to freeze completely.
If you happen to be in the latter category, game jams aren’t for you. And that’s completely okay! Everyone works differently; you shouldn’t feel pressured to perform well under the same circumstances as everyone else. It’s totally fine to find a way to follow your passions that works for you.
If you’re in the first category, however, game jams might be the spark you’ve been looking for when it comes to creating a new game from scratch. It’s essentially the NaNoWriMo of the gaming community, and, just as with NaNo, at the end of it, everyone gets to enjoy the fruits of everyone’s labors.
Fantastic Games from Game Jams
It’s all well and good to say that game jams produce these awesome pieces, but it’s even better to show that off. Here are some wildly successful game jam alumni.
Exactly what it says on the tin, Goat Simulator is a game in which you play as a goat. This shouldn’t be as funny as it is, but with busted physics, hilarious sound effects, and tons of Easter eggs and nods to other games, it was a smash hit right from the start.
The game was developed by Coffee Stain Studios for their game jam in January of 2014. The developers were recovering from their serious game Sanctum 2 and intended for it to be just a silly prototype based on the hilariously broken controls of classic skater games. It was picked up by major gaming creators on YouTube and became an instant hit for its clear silliness and fun.
Today, the original Goat Simulator is rated extremely highly on steam and has a 62 on Metacritic. I say “the original” because the game has spawned a huge number of silly spinoffs ranging in theme from zombie apocalypses to Star Wars.
Home Improvisation is basically a simulator in which you build furniture. Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, none of the Ikea-esque furniture comes with any sort of instructions. It’s a game that pokes fun at the frustration of building “do it yourself” items that seem to make absolutely no sense, and it’s a joy to watch while an extremely fun pain to play.
It was developed by The Stork Burnt Down for Global Game Jam in 2015 using Unity and was another one picked up by YouTubers. It has mixed reviews on Steam and was the winner of IndieBits Festival’s Best Overall Game 2015.
Super Hot might be the most popular title on this list. In this highly-stylized game, your character is in a computer simulation with some really interesting rules. As the game says in its sharp, flashing instructions, “time only moves when you move.” You shoot, slash, and punch your way through the world in strange stop-motion, with the thumping yells of “SUPER…HOT” to pump you up for the next level.
It was developed by Piotr Iwanicki and friends for the 7 Day First Person Shooter game jam in 2013, after which it was almost immediately greenlit by Steam for its instant success. People loved the prototype’s ideas and gameplay so much that, when the team opened a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first full title, it was completely funded in less than 24 hours.
There are now three titles in the Super Hot series, including Super Hot VR. The original has an 82 on Metacritic, incredibly positive reviews on Steam, and Super Hot VR won awards in 2017 for Best VR Experience from IGN and in 2018 for Best VR/AR Game from the 18th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards.
Celebrating the Jam
Game jams are incredible. To be able to put together something as complicated as a videogame in mere hours will never cease to impress me, regardless of whether the game is “good” (and that’s subjective anyway). They’re a fantastic way for developers to come together to enjoy the things they all value: making fun things to play.
Whether you’re sticking to a particular message or theme, or just making something to blow off some steam, a game jam is harmless fun that takes some stress out of and puts more good into the world.