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Surviving A Team Based Game Jam – Tips From The Space Driller Team

Game jams have been growing in popularity among indie developers and even professional game developers. They are a great opportunity to step away from your current project(s) and comfort zone and make a game you might not have tried making otherwise. They can expand your skillset, your creativity and your career.

With this potential, it is often necessary to take a further step and try performing a game jam with a team rather than as a solo effort. But how does that work? How can you go from working alone to working with a team overnight? Luckily, we have had one such team recently who made a wonderful game for Ludum Dare, the Space Driller team, who took the time to share some tips.

When writing about the game last time, I asked some questions about the team experience and received some great responses from each member. Despite not all of them having worked together before, these guys really pooled their talents together and came out with a great game. So what made this possible? Let’s find out.

How was the experience of working on a team for the game jam?

Dan Konves: I tend to prefer working on teams.  I like having the ability to toss out ideas and having opinions from several different angles.  It lets you know what’s feasible, as well as what would or would not function well in the game or be fun to include.  It also helped keep things realistic in terms of scope, when a particular idea would get too grandiose for a 72 hour jam, you had someone to remind you of that fact.

Tyler Collins: Working on a team was very fun. I can definitely say that brainstorming with three people is a lot better than thinking up ideas yourself. It makes it really easy for great concepts to be forged. Honestly if we had had more time with this LD (work interrupted all three of our schedules over the weekend), we had a lot more planned. We may also continue to work on this and make it into a more fleshed out game. It got a lot of positive feedback, so there’s definitely a reason for us to work on it more haha.

Josh Maggard: Yes we had a three person team: Dan Konves as the Artist, Tyler Collins as the musician, and myself as the programmer. Of course sometimes our responsibilities overlapped but that was basically the setup. I had worked with Dan before briefly in college but hadn’t worked with Tyler.

Working with them went well I think. We did have some problems getting used to each other’s workflow but that is something I think all new teams go through. We did collaborate remotely and that was part of the problem. Some ideas that should have been simple took a long time to get across.

What tips do you have for others looking at doing a team based game jam?

Dan: As far as tips go for teams?  Meet in person, please.  At least once.  Or at least face-to-face via video chat.  It’s so easy to confuse ideas and instructions through text alone, and actually discussing the game with your team in-person will be extremely helpful.  Another important thing is not to hold to your ideas so rigidly.  This is a collaboration, and there are more people adding input to the game than you alone (unless you’ve been given that amount of power).  Work with your team, not against them.  Having ideas mesh and sprout into something more than you initially imagined is far more worth it than being limited in scope and imagination.

Tyler: As far as tips go: Google Docs and joint Skype Conversations. We had an open Google Doc that could be edited by all three of us, and a joint Skype conversation so we could IM each other all the time when we had files to send or ideas to share.

Josh: There are always people looking for teammates in LD. If you are a programmer that needs an artist or an artist that needs a programmer or if you have any skill that would be beneficial to game development just take to twitter or the LD IRC and you’ll be able to find a team to be a part of. Also it’s a great way to network with and get constructive feedback from the game developer community.

How has participating in the Ludum Dare help you become a better game designer and developer?

Dan: Ludum Dare has definitely helped me in prioritization, even after only doing it once.  I came into it expecting ideas to be cut, and wasn’t so sad to see things go while the more important aspects got the attention they needed.  It also helped with rapid development and concrete decisions early on, laying the groundwork right away so that the rest of our time could be spent on making it better rather than just making it work.

Tyler: I think that working on this Ludum Dare has really shown me how taking inspiration from even a handful of sources can turn into something great. I’m definitely looking forward to future LDs, maybe even doing the 48 hour one by myself once my programming skills get up to snuff.

Josh: Participating in LD has dramatically improved my skillset as a designer/developer. You get a short time frame to make a fully functional game. It has taught me how to finish a game which is not something I think a lot of us get a whole lot of practice in. Also it’s a great way to network with and get constructive feedback from the game developer community.

What tips would you give to others looking to participate in a future game jam?

Dan: The only tips I can give are those towards preparation.  Since there is no way to know what the theme will be or what type of game you could make, you need to be ready for anything.  Make sure that all of your production tools are squared away and that you know how to use them in a timely manner.  Figure out limitations: both of your tools and of yourself.  Plan out what you will be doing with the rest of your team beforehand so that you don’t stop hold things up somewhere down the line.  Artists: be sure to ask what the resolutions of your assets should be.  Nothing sucks more than cranking out an awesome looking enemy, complete with animations, that ends up being either laughably small or to large to implement.

Also, it’s supposed to be fun, so be sure to squeeze in some time for that!

Tyler: And for one last tip: If you’ve been working on a song or specific part of the game for so long that you think it isn’t good anymore, take a step back. Go outside for a bit, go play a game, just do something besides work on it for 20-30 minutes and come back. It’ll really keep you from trashing things that really are good just because you were focused on it so long that you couldn’t tell anymore.

Josh: For people looking to participate in LD I think the main advice I have is to have fun and don’t get frustrated if you can’t finish a game. Also I don’t advise using the jam to learn a new framework or language, I think you should use the jam to expand your knowledge on something you already know a decent amount in. Otherwise you’ll find yourself wasting time on learning the framework/language instead of becoming a better game dev.

Of course there is a ton of good advice for LD and game jams in general out there on the internet like this fantastic advice from Chevy Ray (an awesome game dev and the creator of FlashPunk): http://www.reddit.com/r/ludumdare/comments/ykgaa/ld24_tips_and_tricks/c5wpqb1

In a follow up to this, Josh and Dan wrote up a great post mortem on their experience making this game. Here are some highlights from that.

Under what went right:

-Setting realistic goals

D – We wanted more.  So much more.  But that’s true of every game dev out there.  Personally, I had no problems in dialing back the amount of things to have in the game.  We were really good at cracking down and being realistic at what we could and could not have in the game, which is what let us put as much polish on the game as we did.

J – Yeah many features didn’t make it in and many features were cut out at the last second, but that is a part of LD eh?

Under what went wrong:

-Communication

D – We didn’t meet up face-to-face once throughout the entire weekend.  We easily could have, but for some reason decided not to.  Communicating entirely through text chat can be counter-intuitive a lot of the time, and I left Josh confused with many things I said in regards to some very important aspects.

J – This was definitely a big problem. Several issues came up that would have otherwise been no problem at all. Also some ideas took longer to get across than they should have.

As for future plans for Space Driller, they had this to say:

D – More of everything.  Enemies, art, locations, powerups, and an actual story!  We had some pretty rad stuff that we wanted to implement initially, and we’re going to try and go forward with it.  The Incredible Flying Drill might not make a full return, but I promise that more fun things will take its place.

J – Don’t listen to Dan. We’ll still have flying drill. I’ll hide it in the game somewhere.

I would like to thank Josh, Dan and Tyler for taking the time to share their experiences. The game that came out of this game jam was wonderful and full of potential. I wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors.

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