How game jams can give you the edge when you’re look­ing to get started in the in­dus­try


Stu­dios look for many things when in­ter­view­ing prospec­tive em­ploy­ees. Pas­sion is tan­ta­mount, as is tech­ni­cal pro­fi­ciency, and hav­ing a good de­gree be­hind you will go a long way to demon­strat­ing your com­mit­ment to a devel­op­ment ca­reer path. But in all the years we’ve been cre­at­ing Get Into Games fea­tures in

Edge, the thing that ev­ery de­vel­oper we’ve spo­ken to wants to see above all else is a strong port­fo­lio of projects. Some of these could be fin­ished games; oth­ers might be smaller en­deav­ours fo­cused on the in­di­vid­ual’s par­tic­u­lar dis­ci­pline – pieces of art or au­dio ex­per­i­ments, for ex­am­ple, or a proof of con­cept for a game­play me­chanic.

Build­ing such a port­fo­lio will take ded­i­ca­tion, tal­ent and – per­haps more than any­thing else – a great deal of your free time. It’s a daunt­ing prospect if you’re al­ready plough­ing hours into a de­gree or a day job, but one way to ac­cel­er­ate the growth of a port­fo­lio is to take part in game jams. These events, which take place un­der strict time con­straints and of­ten ask par­tic­i­pants to work to a par­tic­u­lar theme, have turned from un­usual ex­per­i­ments into sta­ple ac­tiv­i­ties, of­fer­ing both nascent and es­tab­lished game mak­ers the op­por­tu­nity to gain ex­pe­ri­ence, try out new ideas, and work with peo­ple they may not have met oth­er­wise.

Most jams will wel­come a va­ri­ety of skill lev­els, and par­tic­i­pants will be ei­ther placed into teams or al­lowed to de­fine their own groups be­fore at­tempt­ing to cre­ate some­thing work­able in a tight time­frame that might be as lit­tle as 24 hours. A huge num­ber of events are now avail­able to take part in, rang­ing from one-off lo­cal events to in­ter­na­tional jams such as Ludum Dare and Global Game Jam, which take place in all sorts of lo­ca­tions across the globe and at­tract hun­dreds of en­tries. In a few short years, the promi­nence of game jams has en­joyed a huge surge.

“When I started out mak­ing games in­de­pen­dently around 2008, it felt like game jams were in their in­no­cent hey­day,” Ho­hokum de­signer and Hol­low Ponds co-founder Ricky Haggett tells us. “I held one at my house that a hand­ful of folks came to, which was a fun toe in the wa­ter. Then I or­gan­ised a much larger one at the Honeyslug of­fices to co­in­cide with [de­vel­oper and event pro­moter] David Hayward’s in­au­gu­ral World Of Love con­fer­ence. Loads of amaz­ing peo­ple came – like Terry Ca­vanagh, Ed Key, Stephen Lavelle and Tom Betts – and it re­ally felt like some­thing good and spe­cial.”

Jams, Haggett ex­plains, al­low par­tic­i­pants to prac­tise cre­at­ing a small project with­out be­ing bur­dened by the pres­sure of it hav­ing to be your best work while still work­ing within the con­straints of an ar­ti­fi­cial dead­line. They al­low you to test and ap­praise your work prac­tices and find creative ways to tighten up your ap­proach to devel­op­ment and be­come a more ef­fi­cient cre­ator. And they cre­ate a space in which you’re sup­ported by other de­vel­op­ers – many with plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence to share. “[There’s] a huge sense of ca­ma­raderie,” Haggett says. “The con­ver­sa­tions around peo­ple shar­ing their jam work, and the re­leased games them­selves, feel hugely valu­able. Jams are very much a part of the glue that binds the in­de­pen­dent devel­op­ment com­mu­nity to­gether.”

That sense of ca­ma­raderie, and the team­work that en­gen­ders it, is an im­por­tant as­set in an in­dus­try whose in­die suc­cess sto­ries rep­re­sent ap­peal­ing, if un­re­al­is­tic, paragons to those hop­ing to be­come the next Notch.

“I think too many peo­ple start out try­ing to do ev­ery­thing them­selves, of­ten with un­der­whelm­ing re­sults,” Haggett says. “Whereas if they con­cen­trate on be­ing great at one spe­cific thing, and team up with peo­ple with com­ple­men­tary skills, they could prob­a­bly make some­thing in­cred­i­ble right off the bat. Per­haps a good

ap­proach is to join a large stu­dio, where be­ing good at a sin­gle thing is more likely to be en­forced, but where you can meet lots of amaz­ingly tal­ented peo­ple you might one day team up with to make a smaller thing.”

In­creas­ingly, ex­pe­ri­ence of this kind of team­work is be­ing fos­tered by uni­ver­sity course lead­ers who are keen to cap­i­talise on their stu­dents’ widerang­ing skills as well as those who are learn­ing other dis­ci­plines – the uni­ver­sity pro­files over the next few pages re­veals an as­sort­ment of in­no­va­tive ap­proaches to stu­dent col­lab­o­ra­tion from in­sti­tu­tions across the UK, and game jams form an im­por­tant part of that.

“We run sev­eral game jams each year, from [tak­ing part in] in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions like Global Game Jam to our own Three Thing Game jam,” says Uni­ver­sity of Hull se­nior lec­turer War­ren

Viant. “And sev­eral of our most suc­cess­ful teams have gone on to found their own in­die stu­dios as a re­sult, while those that go on to join triple-A stu­dios have plenty to talk about in in­ter­views and a solid port­fo­lio of – of­ten crazy – games to show off.”

The Na­tional Film And Tele­vi­sion School, mean­while, uses jams to get its first- and sec­ond-year MA stu­dents to team up, and Brunel Uni­ver­sity Lon­don uses them as a way to hone stu­dents’ ap­pre­ci­a­tion of ‘fin­ish­ing qual­ity’ in any project. “Port­fo­lio pieces are the best way to show you are a de­signer – by ac­tu­ally mak­ing some­thing, not just talk­ing about it,” ex­plains Brunel’s Game De­sign and The­ory lec­turer and di­rec­tor of dig­i­tal games the­ory and de­sign Kelly Boudreau. “Game jams are one op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate games, or to get a great idea off the ground. And we’re pleased to say our team won this year’s UKIE stu­dent game jam in both the main cat­e­gory and the ac­ces­si­bil­ity cat­e­gory. We’re very proud of them.”

It is Aber­tay Uni­ver­sity, how­ever, whose rep­u­ta­tion is most closely bound in with game jam cul­ture. The Dundee in­sti­tu­tion hosts Dare To Be Dig­i­tal, an in­ter­na­tional game devel­op­ment com­pe­ti­tion held an­nu­ally, in which it in­vites 15 stu­dent teams from around the world to com­pete for a num­ber of sub­stan­tial prizes – in­clud­ing large cash in­vest­ments and the BAFTA Ones To Watch award. But Dare doesn’t fol­low the tra­di­tional jam model.

“Many of these games be­gan their lives in tra­di­tional 48-hour game jams,”

Dr Wil­liam Hu­ber, head of Aber­tay’s Cen­tre For Ex­cel­lence In Game Ed­u­ca­tion, ex­plains. “But we like to think of Dare as a model for a fu­turefac­ing, more sus­tain­able game jam:

“I think too many peo­ple start out tr ying to do ev­ery­thing them­selves”

FROM TOP Hol­low Pond co-founder Ricky Haggett; Acid­nerve co-founder Mark Fos­ter

Haggett is work­ing on Loot Ras­cals at new stu­dio Hol­low Pond. As one of the cu­ra­tors of club night and game show­case Wild Rum­pus, Haggett of­ten in­cludes stand­out ef­forts cre­ated dur­ing game jams

ABOVE Haggett cre­ated Ho­hokum at for­mer stu­dio Honeyslug and was in­volved in the early game jam scene. LEFT With its clear fo­cus, it’s easy to see how Ti­tan Souls be­gan life at a game jam

Fruit­wolf is Fos­ter’s lat­est Ludum Dare game, which he cre­ated with David Fenn and An­gus Dick

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