If you've never participated in a game jam before, it can be a bit daunting. We at BGS wanted to try to make it a little easier for beginners (and pros!), so we put together this handy introductory doc to jamming at a BGSjam. Read along here, or grab the latest version via Google Docs.
Advice for BGSJammers
1) Don’t Be a Hero - Use a Game Engine!
It is called a game jam for a reason. If you want to build your own game engine – go ahead, just make sure you have finished it before the BGSJam starts, so you can spend those precious 48 hours making a playable game. Don’t waste your programming kung fu on writing a game engine during the jam, use it to make a game! (Unless you are making a networked multiplayer game in Visual Basic on a dare. Even then reconsider.)
2) Be Realistic About the Goal
The primary goal is to “finish” in 48 hours. That means have a playable game when the clock runs out. Think small and then make it smaller. One good level in a platformer is better than 10 boring levels. Remember that no one is taking the game away from you at the end of the jam, so you can always go back and embellish, polish and add that other level that wasn’t quite done.
3) Being on a Team
Remember that group project they made you do in school and how much it sucked when someone didn’t pull their weight on the project? Don’t be that person. The bigger the team the harder it is to keep everyone on the same page, so factor that in to your plan. If you are a new jammer, find a team you can learn from and contribute to, even if it seems like a tiny contribution. When working with a new team apply the ‘Scotty Principle’ and under promise so you can over deliver.
4) Keep Moving Forward
BGS Jam is only 48 hours long, so every minute spent thinking up cool things is a minute you don’t have to implement the cool thing you just thought up. When the theme is announced get right into the brainstorming. Once you find an idea your team can agree on, move onto the design phase. Coming up with ideas is fun and exciting and everyone should get a chance to be a part of that process. Implementing ideas always takes longer than thinking them up and is almost never as fun or exciting. Wanting to do all of the fun parts and none of the tedious parts makes you a terrible teammate.
5) Good, Better, Best
Aim for good, settle for working. Remember, the goal is to finish, not just start, a game. Get everything working before you worry about making it better. Try to have your prototype up and running by Sunday morning, so you have the rest of the day to polish it and add those juicy bits you hoped you would have time for. Keep moving forward until you make it all work before you double back to make something better. Best is out of the question in 48 hours.
6) Sleep, Bathe, and Don’t Forget to Move
Buffalo Game Space is NOT a 24-hour jam space so eventually someone will ask you to leave. Typically the space is open until around 1am Friday and Saturday nights and opens up around 10am Saturday and Sunday mornings. Plan accordingly! Don’t despair, you can use that time to sleep and take a shower. You will be more effective the next day with all that rest and the rest of the jammers will appreciate that you don’t smell like dirty sweat socks.
7) Eat Some Real Food
Buffalo Game Space jams usually have food available. Everyone throws in some money ($20 or so) and gets to partake in pizza, sandwiches, bagels, pastries and the occasional taco over the 48 hours of the jam. That usually covers pizza on Friday night, breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturday and breakfast and lunch on Sunday. If you want to provide your own meals, go ahead, no one is stopping you. Want to go out to eat? That’s okay too. Of course that means less time to make your game, so plan accordingly.
What to Bring
1) Bring your Gear
Typically this means a laptop and assorted peripherals. If you don’t have a laptop, or prefer to use your desktop when you work, go ahead and bring that. Buffalo Game Space is locked at night, so leaving your gear overnight is not a problem. Make sure you bring your power supply, a mouse, and any other peripherals you need. Game controllers, drawing tablets, second monitors, docking stations, cellphone chargers and even surge strips are popular items for jammers to bring.
2) Bring an Open Mind
Game jams are an opportunity for people to try something new. For some it is trying to make their first game. For others it is working outside their comfort zone, either by using new tools or taking on a new role in a project, or working on a team with new people. If you go into the jam thinking that you are going to be the sole designer on a new online multiplayer role playing game that is feature complete in 48 hours, you will be disappointed with the outcome. If you go into the jam thinking you want to learn something, like how to add sound effects to a game, you are much more likely to be pleased at the end of the event.
3) Bring a Positive Attitude
Maybe you have an idea you think is great, but no one else seems to want to work on it. Maybe you have a great idea for a game mechanic, but the rest of the team wants to go in a different direction. In Jams as in life, you aren’t always going to get your way. Find another way to contribute, or another project to work on and maybe next time everyone will love your idea. Stay positive and remember this is as much about having fun as it is about learning. There are only 48 hours in a BGSJam, so don’t waste any of it pouting because someone didn’t like one of your ideas. Jams are too short (and so is life).
Find the Best Tool for the Job
If you know how to use any of these tools, make sure you have them installed and ready to go. If you don’t know how to use any of them, pick some out and start learning them. Most of them have tutorials and online documentation to help you get started. DO THIS BEFORE THE JAM. There are still only 48 hours in a BGSJam, so that is not the time to learn how to use new software.
1) Game Development Engines
- HaxeFlixel – Open Source 2D game development platform. Platform with which Go, Morse, GO and Fist’s Elimination Tower were created.
- GameMaker Studio 2 – GML code for programmers or a drag-and-drop interface for beginners. This engine used to develop CrashLands and Hyperlight Drifter.
- Construct – Powerful HTML5 game engine for making 2D games without coding. A Small Robot Story and Mortar Melon were made with this engine.
- Unity3D - Uses C# for code and has a large Asset Store to help speed development. Probably the largest user base among Buffalo Game Space members and BGSJam attendees, so there is a local community to help you if you get stuck. Can be used for both 2D and 3D games. Shotgun Farmers and Firewatch were made in Unity.
- Unreal Engine – Another 2D and 3D game development engine. Uses C++ for code and has a drag and drop blueprint system for non-programmers. There is a Marketplace for assets to help speed development. Borderlands 2 and Bioshock were made in Unreal.
2) 2D Artwork
- Inkscape - A free, open-source vector graphics program. Compare to Adobe Illustrator.
- Gimp - Free, open-source, compare to Photoshop.
- Pixlr – A free, Flash based WebApp for image editing/creation. Compare to Photoshop.
- Photopea - Free image editing website. Can edit .psd layers. Compare to Photoshop.
- Aesprite - inexpensive fully featured pixel art and animation tool. Easy to learn.
3) 3D Modeling & Animation
- Blender - A free, open-source 3D modeling, rigging, and animation program. Works well with Unity.
4) Free Music
- freemusicarchive.org - Be sure to search by license to make sure it is okay to use.
- Incompetech – Royalty free music for all kinds of uses including video games. Be sure to list the composer in the credits of your game.
5) Sound Effects
- BFXR - A simple, free program you can use to create 8-bit sounds.
- Audacity - A free, full featured audio recording and manipulation program.
6) Free Fonts
- Font Squirrel – 100% free for commercial use.
- dafont.com – Be sure to sort by license, so you can find the free fonts.
Licensing and Attribution
At BGSJam you are going to be making something creative. It would suck if someone took what you worked so hard on and passed it off as theirs, possibly even for profit. Return the favor and treat others with the same respect you would expect. Never try to pass someone else’s work off as your own and give credit where credit is due. Don’t think you can just add a disclaimer to your game saying that your use of that Rick James song is “Fair Use”. If you're using something, you have to use it according to the agreement(s) attached to it. Otherwise you are attempting to cheat the law and no one likes a cheater. Only a court can decide if something is truly “Fair Use” and it almost certainly isn’t worth getting sued over.