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A Tale of Two Jams

In my continued attempts to not really work on Journal properly and get involved in more short form game development I decided to attend both TIGJamUK2 and Global Games Jam 2010. Both were weekend long rapid game making events held two weeks apart. They both turned out to be very different so I thought I'd jot down my experience of how they panned out.

TIGJamUK2

Located on the upstairs floor of a bistro in Cambridge we crammed in a little over 40 people all with laptops around small tables. With no introductory fanfare or structure, you just found some space and set up alongside the other jammers. This immediately made the whole thing a very social experience as you quickly got to know the people you were sitting with: who they were, what they'd made, what was their chosen dev platform.

The selection of people there was fantastic, they were all indie game makers but all of their backgrounds were different. With people of many ages, nationalities, and experience it led to a huge variety of interesting games being put together. The main thing was though that these were all people who knew how to finish making games and were here to get some games written and make some new like-minded friends.

Once things got properly underway the weekend mostly consisted of 3 hour game jams. Everyone would write down themes on scraps of paper, 3 were chosen at random and you had to make a game that used one of more of the selected themes. There was even a 1 hour jam in there at one point but the 3 hour format seemed to really work. It was just enough time to implement a couple of mechanics and get a rough prototype of a game up and running.

This was my first experience of making games in such a short period of time and I was very unsure I could pull it off, but the focus and pressure of being around so many other talented developers really made a difference. As long as you've got a tool you can work with quickly you can really put some interesting stuff together at high speed. Being a very slow and crappy coder I decided to use the weekend to get to know Game Maker and that proved quite a success.

I was involved in making 7 games over the course of the weekend of vastly varying quality but each one was a new learning experience for me. Ideas that sound interesting or funny in my head could turn into really boring or confusing games. I also got managed to work on a few concepts that intrigue me enough that I'd like to come back to them later and perhaps turn them into full projects.

Global Games Jam 2010 - Qantm College London

Two weeks after TIGJamUK2 I was very excited to be back at another event I imagined would be quite similar. Global Games Jam is the much more professional cousin of TIGJam, running simultaneously in a huge number of locations across the world, I attended the London event which was being held in a college that runs game development and production courses.

The difference in tone in the jam was quite immediately apparent, opening with us all in a lecture theatre where we watched a pre-recorded presentation played at all sites worldwide, including an interesting video keynote by Ste Curran of OneLifeLeft and Chime. We were then left in the room to break the ice and do a bit of socialising, though after chatting to a few people I quickly realised people were gathering into teams so had to strike quickly to make sure we had all the members we needed to make something.

The format of GGJ was to spend 48 hours making a single game in a small team. We had four primary members: lead coder, coder, artist and designer (myself) along with the help of a musician who was doing stuff for various teams. The overall theme for the jam was "deception" so we decided to make a punishing platformer that tricked the player at every turn. We pitched our concept to the whole room, watched everyone else's pitches and then got to work.

The weekend felt like a real microcosm of working in the AAA game industry:
- Friday was early in the project when we're full of great ideas and convinced we can do anything.
- Saturday was when the quantity of work involved really dawned on us and we worked incredibly hard all day feeling like we weren't really making much progress.
- Sunday was crunch time, corners were cut, ideas were scaled back, coding became hacking.

The rest of my team looked completely shattered by the end of the weekend, having survived on little sleep and working themselves beyond their limits. Being the designer I wasn't quite as busy as them, I spent friday coming up with the overall design, saturday building the levels in Mappy and then on Sunday I switched to doing production work getting the art and music into the game. So unlike them I got a good night's sleep back at my flat each day.

The one other key difference of GGJ was that the demographic here were not indie games makers, they were primarily students or graduates with hopes of getting into the real games industry. These were not people who had made short games before under such pressure. There was a real sense of inexperience and desperation about the attendees. Who were largely attempting to bolster their portfolio for their next attempt at sending out their CVs.

There Can Be Only One

Having experienced both, I'm unsure if I'd do Global Game Jam again. While I met some great people and I always enjoy making games, the format seems to skew towards the most draining and demotivating aspects of the games industry. Also it somehow primarily attracts an audience of people who aren't really in it for making small fun indie games but are just seeing this as a stepping stone to becoming a cubicle based drone. They were good people and very friendly but not people who inspire me to make better games.

I left TIGJam with a bunch of people on a high, a sense of camaraderie after a fun weekend. We'd all made a lot of games and new friends. While I left GGJ with a team low on morale having barely finished a project that wasn't as good as they'd hoped it would be. Seemingly great metaphors for the difference between the indie and AAA gaming industries.

Welcome to the home of Locked Door Puzzle, the independent game development studio of Richard Perrin located in Bristol.

My primary focus is on creating expressive games that explore different forms of interactive storytelling.

For contact details check the about page.