If constraints breed creativity, then a game jam is a pressure cooker for new ideas in games. Like a band “jam session”, a game jam is where people of all disciplines related to video games (or even board or card games) come together in order to create a game in a short amount of time. The games created in game jams may be rough or short, but they can lead to some truly interesting experiences. Overall, game jams are a great part of the game development community that not only teach independent developers how to create quickly and efficiently, but also allow people from all development related fields to meet and establish connections.
The main constraint for the participants of the jam is time. Most jams are around two or three days, while others are a couple weeks, a month or even a year. This amount of time is much less than a usual development cycle, so ideas, prototyping, artwork, sound design and coding all have to be fit into this very small time frame. Another constraint the jam may feature is a theme. Although this may seem narrow the subject of the game, a theme gets the developers thinking on ideas of what their game could be about. A fun part of themed jams are how the developer(s) interpret the theme to fit it into their game.
Game jams can be a one time thing, but many jams are annual such as the Global Game Jam which takes place at the end of each January. Other jams are held a few times a year like the longest running game jam, Ludum Dare. Yet still, some jams run nearly continuously like One Game a Month, where jammers can participate every month of the year.
The entries into a game jam are generally rated on their graphics, gameplay, sound and adherence to the theme. There is usually a winner of the game jam, but it is always emphasized that this is not a competition, but just an intense prototyping ground for future works or a chance to inject new ideas into the industry.
Several critically successful video games started out as game jam games, such as Gods Will Be Watching and Super Time Force Ultra. Game jams have been home to some of the most unique game ideas I have ever seen like Daniel Linssen’s Roguelight where your only form of attack is your only form of light with which to see. I have no doubt there are hundreds or thousands of games made in game jams that are unique and beautiful experiences that I haven’t gotten to see.
The innovative nature of games that come out of game jams is just one of the good things that come from game jams. If you know about National Novel Writing Month, you can understand how forcing yourself to create a large project in a short amount of time can free up your creativity, getting your thoughts back on track for other projects you may be working on regularly. Developer studio Double Fine Productions takes
two weeks a year to host their own game jam, Amnesia Fortnight. During these two weeks, their development teams all take a break from whatever projects they’re working on to create smaller video games, which may or may not be fine tuned for commercial release.
It’s easy to see how game jams are an interesting way to keep creativity fresh in this burgeoning industry. I can’t wait to see how this process grows in the future, and to see if more studios start to incorporate it in ways similar to Double Fine.