Rapid Prototyping: How to Jam at a Game Jam or Hack-a-thon and Not Blow It!

game jammer

By Pamela McMillan

One of the biggest mistakes made at game jams and hack-a-thons is lofty ambition. The thing to keep in mind is that you have a set amount of time to complete the project whether it is 24 hours or 7 days. The most important thing is that you have something playable on time so keep it simple.

Think of the project as a prototyping exercise for a small project you can further develop later. You are supposed to be collaborating and having a good time so enjoy. Write a brief concise statement detailing what the project is about. For example, we will create a game. Questions to ask: What is the end result as the winner or what happens to the loser? What do players have to do to win? What could cause them to lose? I find the best strategy is to think simple. It may not be a Triple A game, but casual gamers or kids may love it.

Example:
Game Title: Peace on Earth Thanks to the Aliens

Genre: Action Game (Side Scrolling Shooter)
Instructions: Help the Alien silence the frog by clicking on the left mouse button and firing flies from his ray gun for the frog to eat. The goal is to feed the frog as many flies as possible to stop him from being noisy. The more flies he eats, the more points the player gets for keeping him quiet. This is a quick game to play.

Reward: If the player is able to feed the frog 35 flies, he advances to the next room to be thanked by the townspeople who were able to get some sleep.

Simple Game Design Document:

Game Objects: Four game objects are the wall, frog, Alien and fly. The wall is a square that when repeated around the borders of the background will serve as a barrier to keep the alien from leaving the stage. The alien has a ray gun that he shoots while walking slowly toward the frog. When he shoots a fly into the air, the frog eats it. Every bug the frog catches and eats, earns 1 point.

Levels: One level of game play that gets more difficult when frog starts to move around.

Sprites: Wall, Alien, Frog and Fly

Sounds: Frog croaks until he grabs fly and relaxing music plays in the background

Controls: Left mouse button to fire ray gun

Keep in mind, the most important thing is to deliver. You have time constraints so set realistic goals to meet your deadline.

Pamela McMillan is a technology Expert and President, Chair & CEO, of PETAL et al.