My History with Game Jams #LDJam

If you want to be a game developer, you need to develop games.

And when I look back on what games I’ve made, I realize that most were originated during game jams. What follows is a trip down memory lane with links to my game jams of the past, complete with links to post-mortems. Those are hard-earned lessons learned from a game jam veteran, kids.

2005: Game in a Day

Garage Games used to host the 24-hour game jam Game in a Day. I participated in my only Game in a Day on June 10th, 2005. The GID theme was Fusion, and I came up with an ambitious design.

I’ve been warned by TomB in #gameinaday on irc.maxgaming.net that I really should pick something simple for my first GID. The fact that I feel I need a design means that it is too complicated. Perhaps he’s right, but we’ll see how I do.

It would be an ambitious design for me today to complete in a 48-hour game jam such as Ludum Dare. I was young and naive, I was not very knowledgeable about the programming language or the 3rd-party libraries I was using. I had no experience with pacing in game jams. Even so, it seems even this early I learned a lesson that would serve me well to remember:

About 10 hours later, I finally have the main character moving about the screen according to the arrow keys. He only moves in four directions, but I’m not going to draw up more images for diagonal movement this late in the GID. I’d rather spend my time getting the fusion part of the game going.

Smart move, Self from 10 years ago!

What I recall most vividly during this jam was an overwhelming sense of fear the likes of which I have never known before. Early in my 24 hours, I started worrying that I didn’t know what I was doing and wouldn’t be able to finish, and I felt like I should quit. Logically, I knew it made no sense, that if I stopped, then it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it was a cold, numbing feeling I couldn’t easily ignore. Fear is the mind-killer, the little death that brings total annihilation, and I was apparently facing it head-on for the first time in my life.

But I did it! My first game jam ended with a playable game, the creatively-named FuseGB. It does not resemble my design at all, but I pushed forward and managed to make a playable game in 24 hours.

I gained a lot from my Game in a Day participation, including first-hand experience I never had before that would serve me well.

2008: Ludum Dare

Three years later, I was getting ready to participate in Ludum Dare for the first time, back before it had a dedicated domain name.

LD11 Minimalist by GBGames

Even though I spent a lot of my precious development time trying to get basic infrastructure together, I had a finished game with six hours left to polish it up before the deadline. I purposefully picked a simple set of mechanics so I had the best chance of finishing. While today’s Ludum Dare competitions see thousands of entries, in 2008, there were 70. I earned my first LD trophies in this compo, including my prized “Amazing Pickle Sandwich” award from HybridMind and The “Thanks for Epilepsy” Award from keeyai.

You can read my Ludum Dare #11 post-mortem for Minamilist, which eventually became a slightly better game Walls and a short-lived Facebook game called Sea Friends. It even inspired Maximalist, a game by pansapiens I enjoyed.

Later that year in August, the 12th Ludum Dare compo started with the theme Tower with the optional theme of Owls. I had successfully submitted games to two game jams, so I went in quite confident. I was also dabbling in test-driven development at the time, and I thought that a timed competition was the perfect time to practice my TDD skills.

Ludum Dare #12 was the birth of the ridiculously obtuse Towlr games, but I managed to submit what amounted to a tech demo. It had an owl, and a lot of people were inspired by my user interface. I got “The Palm Of RSI Prevention” trophy from Hamumu for it.

Tower Defender Game Play

But it wasn’t a complete game, and in fact it had bizarre bugs, such as the enemies climbing up the tower into the sky and getting stuck. As you can see, apparently I thought this bug was a good thing to show in the screenshot.

There was no way to lose, and no way to win. According to my Ludum Dare #12 post-mortem for Tower Defender, I wrestled with technology more than with game development, something I still struggle with because I insist on doing everything from scratch instead of using existing tech.

Months later, coinciding with the Winter Olympics, Ludum Dare #13’s theme was Roads, and early on I had a concept that I saw to completion.

Road Lockdown design

These design notes eventually turned into these guys:
Road Lockdown

driving around in this game, Road LOCKDOWN!:
The final screenshot

I find this odd, but somehow I never wrote a post-mortem for this game jam. The final entry post and development time lapse don’t really say much about what happened, but I recall getting the game finished and submitted at the very last minute, getting “The Photo Finish” trophy from Doches. The game earned me The “I Can’t Get You Because You’re In The Bike Lane” Excuse trophy from demonpants, poking fun at how you have limited controls available to steer only at intersections so your squad car and the criminal’s car can be driving towards each other but in different lanes of traffic.

But the important thing is that I finished a playable and complete game again. That’s 3-ish out of 4 game jams, and that ain’t bad!

More Game Jams to Come

Thanks for reminiscing with me. Rereading my old posts reminds me of how far I’ve come.

Soon I’ll write up what happened in the next year and beyond!

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