This feature is republished from my posting on The Grand CraftStudio Game Jam on 2/26/2013
Since I know there are at least a few of you who have never participated or even know what a game jam is, I wanted to go a little more in depth than the FAQ on the subject. In this article I will cover the phases generally taken by game jam participants. Since I’ve only witnessed and/or participated in a few game jams myself, my view may be skewed. If you are a game jam veteran, feel free to correct or improve in the comments below.
You should start your game jam entry with a healthy dose of brainstorming. It is really important to start figuring out what you are going to do as soon as possible. As important as it is, in a game jam, you also want to get it over with as soon as possible. I would say use the first hour for brainstorming. Also, keep in mind you have a limited amount of time, so unless you are grade A developer you should probably steer away from ideas that involve: RPGs and Story (unless it’s an implied narrative), Multiplayer (with CraftStudio you can do local multiplayer ideas, but keep in mind not everyone rating this game is going to have another person) and Complex AI (Keep it simple!) It might be good to peruse the entries for other game jams in preparation; more on that in my next article. After the brainstorming is done, everyone in the team gets assigned (or assigns themselves) roles they are most suited for. Let’s get to work!
Which takes us to the prototyping phase. This is where you get a bare bones version of your gameplay up and functioning. This gives you the ability to try out the gameplay idea “find the fun.” This also gives you the ability to course correct without breaking and rebuilding too much. Artists can be happily creating rough versions of the vision they had during the brainstorming phase. But to tell the truth, I haven’t seen this phase in every case. So, this phase may be skipped depending on many factors: the difficulty of the gameplay idea (or lack thereof), the experience of your team, or the general feeling of the group. Personally, I really like this phase. So much so, most of my games stay in this phase… Oh wait, that’s a bad thing. 😦 Moving on!
Now comes the part where you put it all together; the building phase. Artists have done their broad strokes, programmers have the basics down, sound is… non-existent or minimal. This is where it all comes together. More than likely this is the phase where you are building menus and linking disparate systems. By the end of this phase you should be able to run your game through from start to finish.
Now to find the ugly edges. The testing phase is a fairly important part in any project. It is arguably less important in a game jam context, since limits on time make people more forgiving about bugs. However, you should attempt to have this phase especially if you skipped the prototyping phase. You want all hands on deck testing the game and reporting bugs to some central repository. I’d advise categories for bugs so the people assigned to those areas can quickly see what they need to do because at this point, time is ticking and you are coming to the end of the deadline.
Now to polish up those ugly edges in the refining stage. This is where programmers are fixing and retesting bugs and artists are making their art a little prettier and fixing up any other problems uncovered. If you haven’t already, you should probably put sounds and music in here. This is it. When the deadline comes the end result will be this version that you submit.
And it is also the end of this article. So to sum that all up: brainstorming, prototyping, building, testing, refining. I hope this little bit coverage on the process is useful to everyone.