Anyone who has participated in a Game Jam can tell you how the ticking clock affects the choices you make. Knowing that time and resources are limited, a game developer has to make hard choices if they want to finish something before the jam ends. The same principle is brought to bear by the theme. Many developers view the theme as a tool for preventing jammers from getting an early start and therefore an unfair advantage, but its real value is that it provides a focal point for inspiration.
Ian Dallas is the creative director at Santa Monica based independent game studio Giant Sparrow. They recently released their second game, What Remains of Edith Finch, which led to him taking part in a series of promotions for the new game. Of note was his “Ask me Anything” session on Reddit in which he talked about how the constraints of time and resources helped refine their production process and turn their final product into something better.
His response to the question ‘Without a constraint of time or resources what would you have done differently or expanded upon in What Remains of Edith Finch?’ was particularly revealing:
"Without a constraint on time or resources What Remains of Edith Finch probably never would have come out. Or it would have been some strange, hopelessly delicate monstrosity like the Spruce Goose. All in all, I'm very happy with the way things turned out."
Switching publishers from Sony to Annapurna in the middle of development could have derailed the project, or even killed it, but Giant Sparrow was able to use it as a catalyst to refine their goals and deliver a different, more focused experience. Luckily for them, they were working with a lot of the same people on the publishing side at Annapurna, since they had worked with many of them before they transitioned over to the new company.
The irony of independent game development is that many are drawn to it, in part, to have more control over the projects they spend their long hours on. This often frees them from some creative constraints, so anything is possible! That’s a problem though. Like a deli menu with 100 sandwiches, it becomes harder to make decisions. It could be ANY type of game, with any theme.
One way to approach this challenge is to be more aware of the constraints that still exist. In a game jam you have 48 hours to finish that game. As an Indie developer you have more time, but it isn’t infinite. How long will the money hold out before you have to ship something? What skills and experience do you have? Don’t fear the limits; embrace the challenge of building around them. Remember, necessity is the mother of invention.