This month's FMF theme associates itself with the topic of game jams, hacks, and developer retreats. With the coming-and-going of the Global Game Jam, Games For Studies asked for opinions, experiences, and musings based on the constrained development environment. Are game jams and hacks setting a precedent for how games will be more commonly developed in the future? How do game-making getaways differ in terms of experience?
Don't forget to catch next month's theme details at the bottom of the page!
Game Jams, Hacks, and Developer Retreats
I recently took part in my first game jam and it was great fun, but I’m not sure how valuable I think they are to the development community, at least in their current incarnation. Sure, they are a celebration of the collaborative and innovative nature of game development and they result in an astounding amount of new ideas and projects, but do they reinforce behaviours and ideals that are negative to games development as a whole? To me, a lot of game jams reinforce and normalise some of the most negative aspects of games development like crunch and unpaid collaborative work. They don’t truly show the long term effort, determination and iteration that are essential to game development. I’ve heard from numerous developers that they are put off by portfolios full of game jam projects, since they show that the developer can work on a project for a few days but not necessarily for the months and years that full development projects run for. I think game jams will always have their place in the community, but I’m frustrated by the strange reverence that they enjoy. Should we not be putting more effort into bigger community projects that run for longer periods of time? Would these not be of more value to developers and help to create stronger community ties within the industry? I understand the place that game jams have, and don’t get me wrong I really did enjoy the experience, but can we not do better?
Game jams have become almost a standard of practice for game development. Businesses use the method as a way of sparking new ideas and allowing staff to let off some creative steam; universities encourage students to take part in order to build up both their skillset in their practice and their resilience to the intense environment. They’re popular for these and many other reasons, but I feel they also may be damaging expectations and abilities to work in longer, more sustained projects. Also, with the abundance of game jams that take place (on a seemingly-weekly basis), the shine and purpose of these events may start to wear off. I’m relatively skeptical of the format of game jams: while I support the fail-fast process, I’m not so sure about the idea of rapid development in order to publish to make money as quickly as possible. In this case, fail-fast leads to a fast fail.
This year was my first proper experience of a game jam by taking part in the Global Game Jam (GGJ). By that I mean actually sitting in a chair for 48 hours and making something. It was also one of the most challenging tasks I have conducted as well. I am not a programmer, I have never felt that ability would work with me. But the GGJ this year created an objective, an objective of learning to code. There was no pressure, or competition involved to learn to code, but working in a team and making that commitment drove me to program. I'm not saying what I did was amazing, but I learned something from the GGJ. Another team member who was a programmer learned all about game engines, which was something foreign to them. This highlights what has been said to me repeatedly about game jams, take something away. Whether its a new skill, a couple new friends or the lesson that you can't function normally after staying awake 36 hours. The reward of a game jam is that self motivation to do something, and to take something away that you earned. There aren't a lot of activities that can do that.
The theme of this year’s Global Game Jam was “Waves”, accompanied by visual and aural stimuli to spark the creativity in participants. The interpretation of the theme (as a mechanic, not simply an aesthetic) has never felt more experimental: real-time data on wave strengths to determine level difficulty; elastic controller inputs; and lots of variations of sound as an input that created an entertaining soundscape at our jam site! The one thing I’ve noticed is how much of a craft the game jam format has become over the course of a few years from observing, organising, and participating. It’s not simply a get-together in hope of half-heartedly creating ‘something’: participation and results from the Global Game Jam seems to have gotten a lot more sophisticated and considered. They’ve become a breeding ground for novel explorations of concepts that otherwise may not rise to the surface.
Academic Writing and the Art of Failure
There are a few of us out there working on papers, journals or university work based around games. and I am willing to bet a lot of them are cross disciplinary involving health, psychology, social science etc. One of the biggest challenges I have faced is academic writing, and the constant reiteration and starting anew. Similar to game development I find myself weekly adding, removing or rewriting work, it's really what research is about. The biggest struggle is reviewing what you have previously written and trying to extract what you need for the next iteration. The temptation to start again is daunting, and having to tweak what you already have doesn't seem to feel right. I have had the same experiences in game development and wonder if this is just a natural process of the human thought process. The desire to start again, or to improve, the whole idea of a clean slate. Just a thought.
"FMF Vol. 3" Example Topic: '#MotherLanguage': Games and Multilingualism
Submission Deadline: 28th February 2017
Published: 5th March 2017
Submissions made to: Andrew.Reid@GCU.ac.uk