To give you some background information first, I am a researcher working at “Technische Universität Darmstadt” in the field of Serious Games with a strong interest in games in general. After talking about it a few times with my colleagues, I decided that it was time to take part in a Game Jam myself two months ago. Because I found the idea of having other participants around in order to exchange ideas intriguing, I asked my supervisors if we could organize a local event at our building and invite some of our students as well. Thankfully they supported this idea, so this postmortem will take a look at two different aspects – organizing a local event in an university context and making our first jam game simultaneously. Spoilers: In the end everyone agreed that this won’t be our last jam.

The university event

Picture from our local event

Our local event

To keep the experimental spirit of the jam, we didn’t want to impose any restrictions on the participants. This did not only include topical freedom, but also the technological. We explicitly invited participants with no preexisting knowledge in game design and creation and did not differentiate between student and university staff participants (after a joint brainstorming session we formed mixed groups only based on game ideas). While seeming natural, this decision had many implications in the context of a university, most importantly that it is almost impossible to grade such kind of event. In this case students cannot get credit points for their work, which prompted concerns that we would not find any student participants at all.Thankfully that wasn’t the case. Quite the opposite: We found 15 students, which was a great number for our location. But more importantly, these students were exactly the kind of people we had hoped for. The absence of grade meant that everyone had a great passion for (creating) games and that there was no pressure to get a result matching some additional grading-releveant criteria. Therefore everyone was highly motivated and eager to experiment, learning new skills on-the-fly. It also created a friendly environment without competition-based thinking, where the groups were willing to show their intermediate results and exchanged feedback regularly – which is often neglected when everyone is striving for the best grade. And last but not least, this informal structure minimized the organization effort and allowed the organizers to take part in them jam themselves.

All in all I am extremely pleased with the atmosphere during the jam as well as the results, which turned out to be great for a university with very few gaming themed lectures (in my opinion). I also found it amazing how much the everyone learned – the contribution of the supposedly “inexperienced” participations was well beyond what one could have expected. Big thanks to everyone who took part in the event and I’m looking forward to the next one!

Our game “A Maze Thing”

Screenshot from our game "A Maze Thing"

A Maze Thing

As I already mentioned, I also took part in the development of the game “A Maze Thing”. This Unity-based game is built around the idea that you are in an enemy-filled maze, where you have a radar to counter your limited vision. This radar however updates every 10 seconds only, so you always have periods of uncertainty between this updates.
While I am very proud of the result, especially because it was our first jam entry, there are quite a few lessons we learned along the way:

  • We did no proper project setup, so our team (5 people) ended up using different folder structures which got quite confusing in the end.
  • Testing started very late because we integrated our separate parts only after they were finished. This left us not enough time for finetuning and balancing the gameplay.
  • We assumed that a game working in the unity editor would also work as a build. Discovering to late that this was not the case (having two scripts with the same name) almost prevented us from submitting an entry altogether.
  • In the end we simply forgot some small details (a quit button, using a default seed showing all room types we build) which wouldn’t have cost much time to implement but which would have improved the game quite a bit.
  • Since there is no time for optimization, performance should be a concern right from the start and one should favor simple graphics / algorithms over complex ones.
  • We did not plan our strong points (like the level generator) – they simply emerged because the guy responsible for them invested much time in it. In the end it worked quite well, but I feel that we could have picked our focus more deliberately.
  • Some tasks took more time than necessary due to learning / technical difficulties. While being fine for our approach (we had no ambitions on “winning” and were eager to try some things we hadn’t done before), this would have to change if we were shooting for a more polished game.

I’m very curious on how much we can improve for the next jam by working on these aspects – and on the feedback we already received for our entry. Many thanks for the comment!

Games created at our local event:

If you are interested in the games which were created at our local event:

 

PS: Please note that despite posting this text from our group account, this post reflects my personal perspective only.

Christian Reuter

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