Chris Hecker on Jams and Compos

Posted by (twitter: @mikekasprzak)
March 15th, 2010 11:51 pm

At GDC this year, Chris Hecker (Indie Game Jam, Spore, Spy Party) gave a brief rant on the state of game jams, compos, and the scene that revolves around them. Chris himself is no stranger to the jam/compo circuit, being one of the founders of the Indie Game Jam back in 2001. Here’s what he had to say.


I don’t imagine this will strike a nerve with anyone many around here. After all, if you hop in to our IRC room during the off season, you can catch many developers working on what they consider their “main projects”. And sometimes those main projects started or were seeded by a compo. We’re all about taking what you’ve learned or made here and going above and beyond the 48. We encourage it, since we do it ourselves. To the IGF, to Kongregate, to the App Store and beyond.

18 Responses to “Chris Hecker on Jams and Compos”

  1. Codexus says:

    Personally, I leave my LD48 as they are: 48 hours games. But this is mostly because they are the result of the one or two week-ends a year when I actually do some gamedev. πŸ˜‰

  2. jovoc says:

    Chris Hecker is a douchebag.

  3. checker says:

    Thanks jovoc! Anyway, thanks for the note, PoV, I wasn’t sure how the rant would go over in this community. The started and seeded point is one I meant to make, and I’ll update my page…SpyParty, my current game, was actually started at IGJ4, so I do think it’s a great way to get new ideas. I just want people to take those ideas to their conclusion.


    • jovoc says:

      hehehe — i think I just took it personally, what with my 15 or so unfinished LD games. :)

    • PoV says:

      I just want people to take those ideas to their conclusion.

      I completely agree. It’s something I wish we were doing more to promote. All of us in the administration are busy making our games, and while we’re committed to keeping Ludum Dare going, our businesses certainly take priority. We can always pull together a regular compo, but our wishlist for the site/community gets the back seat.

      Where I’d like to see this community go is to become a serious place to dissect and analyze the game prototyping process. Discuss, share and create ways of creating games faster. DrPetter’s sfxr was an incredible overnight success, making it so anyone can click a button and get a usable sound effect. Innovations of that scope will be rare, but I do think the industry could benefit from a place dedicated to discussion of process. Not so much the “I made it in 2 hours” angle, but how complete of a vertical slice can I do in 48 hours? The faster we can iterate ideas, the quicker we can know how good it is, and if it’s worth pursuing.

      And hey, what better time to put theory in to practice than over a weekend? πŸ˜‰

    • Fiona says:

      Dear Chris Hecker,

      Please enter Ludum Dare this month. I want to see how someone who has worked on such a high-profile title as Spore does making a game on their own.


  4. pansapiens says:

    Thanks for posting this, raises some interesting ideas about the role of game compos.

    I agree it’s an important thing to ‘finish’ _some_ games and explore the mechanics+dynamics they embody properly. If you hit on a brilliant new game mechanic, it’s your duty (!) as a game designer / game developer / guy-who-hangs-out-on-IRC-and-makes-games / whatever to give it a fair go and explore it with some depth, ultimately bringing it to ‘real’ players, even if that takes time. But lumping a game like Braid in with a bunch of Indie Game Jam projects is like comparing oranges and lemons, (and pineapples and durians and genetically modified blue tomatoes) – game compo games are more than often _experiments_ with unfamiliar or novel mechanics. Sometimes these experiments work and are worth exploring in depth, and sometimes they fail miserably and are probably better treated as a learning experience that can be applied when designing future games. Without these initial experiments, we would have no Braid.

    We DO need more “wacky ideas”, even if they are attached to shallow games. When we find one wacky idea the proves to be worth exploring, we should do it justice and turn it into a finished game. The douchebag is both right and wrong.

  5. ExciteMike says:

    Haha. That was my lonely clapping when he talked about Ludum Dare.

    This turned into a long response, so here’s a disclaimer: I am someone who makes a lot of very small, very crappy games. I am biased on this.

    I want to challenge the notion that games should be deep or fully explore a mechanic. It seems like it goes without saying, but a lot of games have not really done that, but are still things that we think are worthwhile. Braid was in at least in part Jon Blow’s reaction to Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time precisely because it was a very good game that many of us loved, but did not do much with it’s rewind mechanic. Ico didn’t really explore all the gameplay potential of guiding around a helpless girl, but was wonderful. I also loved Braid and I loved VVVVVV’s amazing use of what can be done with such a simple mechanic. The point of the examples is that great games can be made either way! A deep exploration of what one game mechanic is just ONE way to make a game that is interesting and worthwhile.

    Another point worth making, I think, is that when he talks about taking a game to it’s aesthetic, artistic conclusions or to explore it to the degree it deserves, it’s not really clear what that means. So like, Katamari Damacy comes along and explores an interesting control scheme and an interesting new mechanic, but how do you judge whether rolling things up was explored deeply enough?

    It was one of the last few lines that really bugged me though. “We need more depth and understanding.
    We don’t need more wacky ideas or shallow games.”

    That part is ludicrous.

    I don’t say that because I’m angry or because I’m offended. I say it because it truly is silly to just dismiss such a broad category of games like that. You might as well say that more books should be nonfiction and we don’t need short stories, that paintings need to be more photorealistic and we need fewer sketches, that we need more prose and less poetry, that we need more stand-up comedy and less joking around with your friends, or “We need more GDC talks that are deep and insightful. We don’t need more rants.” (Please don’t think that’s what I’m saying. I like both kinds of GDC talks!) Liking a certain sort of game is completely fine and normal. But that doesn’t mean we need less of the other kinds.

    So I disagree, but I don’t get why people are calling Hecker a douchebag. He wasn’t being insulting or mean or stupid or anything…

    • PoV says:

      Haha. That was my lonely clapping when he talked about Ludum Dare.

      You rock! Now that deserves a trophy… :)

    • PoV says:

      It was one of the last few lines that really bugged me though. β€œWe need more depth and understanding.
      We don’t need more wacky ideas or shallow games.”

      That part is ludicrous.

      I agree, but I think it’s one of those points that had to be made that way to get people to pay attention. It’s not that that we don’t need more “wild and far out” games, it’s just the ratio of crazy games to finished games is way off right now. The artform and industry will benefit more from 1 notable finished game than it well from 500 prototypes. Fortunately for us, it looks like the number of projects going LD->beyond is growing. And it’s true, not all projects are suitable for that next step. But we’re a great place to iterate, foster and find those gems.

      Of course, nobody is obligated to support the industry and artform, but you can make money if you do. Most people I know are fans of money. πŸ˜€

      • checker says:

        > it’s just the ratio of crazy games to finished games is way off right now.

        Yes, this is really what I meant. And, I also agree with the comment about wanting depth in GDC talks instead of rants!

        Braid did start as a prototype (I know this, because Jonathan was living at my house at the time :), but it didn’t end as a prototype, that’s the key. Not every mechanic is worth 3 years, but there are a lot of promising things that come out of jams and compos that just get left on the floor, while the authors go on to do another jam/compo.

        I dunno, maybe they become mulch for somebody else.


    • pansapiens says:

      ExciteMike: I should note that my ‘douchbag’ line is really just a quote of jovocs ‘douchbag’. I probably should have used quotes ”. I don’t know the guy and have no real basis upon which to form an opinion about him. Actually .. just what is a douchbag ? Actually, don’t answer that :)

  6. Kimau says:

    Speaking as someone who works in a studio which NEVER “finishes” our games. Preferring to make targets and keep the budget small. I wanted to shout and scream this from the roof-tops.

    I love doing these comps but what I truly get pleasure out of is polishing and polishing some small mechanic or bit of visual feedback.

    It is something I wish I could do professionally more and more.

    Loved the message, love the talk.

  7. ExciteMike says:

    I’d like to discuss this more and I have another big response typed up, but but I’m not sure if a comments thread is the right place. I have forum that I’ve set up as a place to which I can move this kind of thing. I’ll take it there:

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