Learn About Game Jams
On this page, you’ll find the following info:
- Who can join LameJam?
- What is a game jam?
- Why do we use themes/constraints in jams?
- What is the goal of a game jam?
- What am I allowed to do/will I be doing in a jam?
- What makes a good jam team?
- How should I prepare for a jam?
- I’m experienced! How can I help?
1. Who can join LameJam?
While LameJam is being advertised primarily to the local Ottawa student community, LameJam is open to anyone! Even if you have experience making games, feel free to come by and help out some teams that might be struggling, or just try something new. All we ask is that attendees are kind, helpful, and respectful to everyone.
2. What even is a jam?
Much like jamming in music, a game jam is a time for people to bring talents together, be creative, have fun, and mess around with new ideas. In this game jam, attendees will form groups and be given one weekend to come up with a game idea, develop it, and release it to the world to try it out. Most jams, including LameJam, revolve around some central theme that all jammers will try to make their game around - released the first day of the jam, or a set of constraints - such as LOWREZJAM where games are restricted to at most a 64x64 pixel resolutions!
3. Why themes/constraints?
Have you ever been to the grocery store to buy some cereal, and you look down the aisle at dozens of brands and wondered, “What cereal do I really want?” only to walk out with whatever cereal was sitting at eye level? That kind of decision paralysis tends to leave us too exhausted to come up with unique and interesting decisions and we tend to fall back on what’s easy and what we know. By adding some constraints, we introduce problems - problems that require interesting and novel solutions to solve!
Themes tend to be open ended, allowing lots of interpretation to jammers. They provide some unifying direction to everyone, but are not very strict in themselves. You might look at a theme like Blossom, and interpret it differently depending on who you are - is blossom about beautiful visuals of flowers? Is the player the driving force behind making flowers blossom? Is it about seeing a big payoff from long-term planning and development, or maybe a coming-of-age narrative? Any interpretation is fine, so long as the theme helped you to get there. It looks to harmonize the ideas without restricting them to a small and rigid set of viable games.
Constraints tend to be more limiting. The more you force yourself to stay within the constraint, the more difficult - and unique - your solutions will be. Remember that game making, and creativity all together, is about problem solving - establish a problem you’d like to overcome, and find solutions. Perhaps you’d like to make a platformer, but the constraint is Three Buttons. Sure, you can run left and right and jump, but can you find a way to lean into the constraint and do unexpected things with that third button? Maybe you make extensive use of the left/right movement in ways other platformers hadn’t, or perhaps you apply your own constraint that only one button can be used for movement. The problem now becomes: Can you make it fun?
4. What is the goal of a game jam?
Everybody comes to jams for a different reasons. Generally, the goal is to have made something playable by the end of the weekend and to show it off. If you’ve never seen game jams before, you may be thinking, “How could anyone make a full game in a weekend!?!?” - you may want to take some time to play a variety of game jam games. While Itch.io is filled with them, I find browsing the results of Ludum Dare [link], a popular semi-annual jam, to be a great and curated way to see many different types of entries. The point is typically not a beautiful codebase, a game that could go directly to market, or even something that is a complete experience. Instead, it’s usually a place to tinker with ideas and just exercise game making skills. Here are some different motivations people have, and tips for you if you should approach the jam in this way:
- Maybe you want the satisfaction of completing a project
- Scope small, plan something smaller than you think you could make in half a day. You’ll be surprised how much goes into finishing something, so just pick a tiny project and run with it without hesitation, and prepare to cut features during the jam!
- Prioritize what you think will be the most fun for the player and the easiest to get working. Focus on using skills you already know, and if something won’t be seen by the player, remove it or do it as quickly as you can
- You want to learn new tech
- Avoid hinging the whole project on the new tech working out, especially in group settings
- Do some research ahead of time and treat the new tech as a constraint - one limiting factor that you’ll try to work with regardless of the theme, but still in line with the theme/constraints
- You want to meet new people
- Awesome! Pick something you’re pretty good at and put yourself out there. Typically a team will want at least one: programmer, artist, producer/project manager, designer; of course, people tend to take on multiple roles and fill in the gaps where possible with online resources.
- Remember to be open to ideas and avoid getting too caught up on the specific idea you are making; learn how other people work, be open to new ideas, and remember no idea is a bad one, just make sure it can be done in a weekend.
- You want to try a new skill
- This can be a fun way to jam for experienced creators! Find a role you can’t flex often and try it out exclusively
- Find a well established team with a good skill layout, and see if you’re able to take on a less-important aspect of the game, focusing on the new role you want to learn. Account for the slower work output by taking on fewer tasks and allow yourself time to absorb information and iterate
Of course, you may be coming to a jam for any reason, and it’s perfectly valid. Ultimately, just try to have fun, meet fun people, and learn something along the way.
5. What can I/do I do during a jam?
Every jam has different rules for what is allowed, but typically you are expected to start from an empty project without any ideas in mind ahead of time. You will either bring a team, work solo, or form a team before the event starts. From there, you are given a theme and possibly some constraints to brainstorm game ideas. You don’t want to spend too long on brainstorming, but try to go beyond your initial reaction.
Personally, my typical jam schedule tends to follow:
- Theme announced, spend an hour with the team coming up with ideas and take whatever we have.
- Switch from creative mode to planning mode. Break up your game into features, sort out what’s most important to get in right away. Aim to have a complete project! What’s the bare minimum needed to make it playable? Remember - the sooner it’s playable the better. Game making is about starting and improving, so start small and improve over the weekend.
- By the end of Friday, there’s either a detailed and prioritized list of things needed to make the game OR a small prototype of the gameplay itself, either on paper, in a one-page document overview, or as a really rapid prototype in a game engine using basic geometry or default sprites.
- Saturday’s goal is to get something into other jammer’s hands as soon as possible! Dedicate to the idea from Friday, try to get a version other people can play, and put it out there for folks to try out. See what they like and dislike, and finish up the game.
- Sunday - if you have a producer - is a time to get submissions prepared. Figure out how you are going to submit early, do a test run if you can, and then focus on small additions. Tweak some content, maybe try adding levels, or focus on polish with nice effects. It’s up to you what to focus on with Sunday… it may just be getting that first playable version. That’s fine!
What about art? I’m just a programmer!
If you are an exclusively programmer team and couldn’t find an artist to help out, you can typically still get by using legally free assets online. Take a look for public domain assets (royalty free assets without copyright), such as those by Kenney, Incompetech, Quaternius, or any of the hundreds available on Itch.io and OpenGameArt. Take some time to learn about Creative Commons licensing!
It’s also worth mentioning: Jam games need not be pretty. Some outstanding games have been made focusing on interesting tech or mechanics, similar to how some amazing jam entries are made largely based on their artistic merits. As long as people can understand what they’re looking at, it’s perfectly okay to use simple graphics that you made in Paint or the basic geometry functions built into your framework or game engine. Treat it as a constraint on your initial design and see what you can do!
6. What does LameJam weekend look like?
- Opening workshops on how to use game engines
- Team formations
- A welcome panel from the organizers going over the event
- Theme announcement
- Talks on jam skills
- Opening talks on jam skills
- Mid-day talks to take a break on jam skills/industry interests
- End of day Prototype Playtesting
- Opening talks
- Finishing up work
- End of day/midday closing talks
- Show and tell!
7. How should I prepare for LameJam?
Ideally, you will learn what you need to at the jam, or be working with some people with experience. Of course, it never hurts to do some preparation! The first thing you can do is sign up here on Itch.io and join the jam, as well as join our Discord server where we’ll happily answer questions and chat!
We will be promoting the use of either the Godot and Unity engines. If you are totally new, our personal recommendation is Godot as it is very lightweight and easy to get started in. You can look up the official tutorials for each of these, and we encourage you to come by the workshops on Friday to ask questions.
As an experienced game developer/jammer, how can I help out?
We’re always looking for mentors! If you would like to gain the Mentor role on the Discord server and help people out with issues that come up, you can let us know here. Come by the Discord and say hi!