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My Creative Process For GameJam Competitions
Updated 5 months ago
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Hi everyone!
Recently, I have been hard at work creating an entry for GameDevHQ’s 5th GameJam competition. This is the third GameJam that I’ve entered, and I can’t say enough about how enjoyable it has been to participate in these competitions – although it can also be a bit stressful at times! However, this is one of the benefits of GameJam, as it tests a developer’s ability to meet tight deadlines, which can be a valuable skill in the long run.
Since I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a couple of GameJams, I thought sharing my process could be helpful for other aspiring game developers. I can tell you from personal experience that these competitions can be difficult to navigate, so I hope this information can be helpful for those readers looking to get involved in GameJam themselves.
Before I jump into an in-depth walkthrough of my process, here is an overview of the steps I utilize:
  1. Setting Goals
  2. Research The GameJam Theme
  3. Brainstorming Ideas
  4. Research Assets
  5. Aligning Ideas With Assets
  6. Writing a Game Development Documentation (GDD)
  7. Creating A Scene, Establish Style And Mood
  8. Develop Basic Gameplay
  9. Doubts
  10. Develop Advanced Features
  11. Add To The User Interface (UI)
  12. Adding Extra Content (Menu, Intro, Game Over)
  13. Refinement And Polishing
Without further ado, let’s jump into the process that I utilize during GameJam development.

Setting Goals

Before starting out, I feel that it is important to set measurable goals that I want to achieve. My goals have changed as my experience with GameJam has grown. While my expectations were low for my first GameJam, as I just wanted to see what it was about, my goals for my third entry are much greater. This time around, I wanted to make a complete (although small) game with as many features as possible. My expectations increased, as I wanted this game to be enjoyable for players while at the same time forcing me to push myself as a developer. With GameJam, it is important to keep in mind that the scope of your project should be realistic and achievable, all while still pushing you to better your skills at the same time.

Research The GameJam Theme

After a GameJam is announced, the very first think that I do is research the theme. This can easily be done with a quick Google search, which typically helps you figure out how most people relate the the competition’s theme. Additionally, I’ve found that social media sites like Pinterest can help you develop ideas about your game’s concept.

Brainstorming Ideas

Once I’ve developed a good understanding of the theme, I then work to apply that understanding towards the creation of a concept for my game. Typically, I will write out ideas by hand, as this is what works best for me. However, I highly suggest using whichever process helps you brainstorm most effectively. For example, I also try to keep my ideas in the back of my head, which allows me to continue brainstorming even as I am grocery shopping or running errands. You never know where inspiration can come from, so it is always good to keep an open mind. If you find yourself struggling to narrow your ideas down, it can be helpful to mix them together, which oftentimes results in the creation of an even better and more original idea.

Research Assets

Once a couple of ideas with good potential are created, I typically go to the Asset Store and other similar sites to start looking for free assets I can utilize. Personally, one of the trickiest things about GameJams is having to use free assets without copyright restrictions, as there is a very limited number of really good assets that are also free. When looking for assets, I always work to keep my ideas in the back of my mind, as this has been very helpful when it comes to sorting through which offerings to use in my games.

Align Ideas With Assets

After seeing which assets are available, choosing which idea to pursue is typically a little bit easier. I try to match stand-alone assets to my ideas as much as possible. If an asset is complete, then I work to combine it with other offerings to make it align well with my game idea. After I feel good about how my assets aline with my ideas, I am ready to dive into the game development process.

Writing a Game Development Documentation (GDD)

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I never really thought that I’d have to spend time writing documentation as a part of my development process. I’m one of those people that gets excited by their ideas and can’t wait to start turning them into a great game. As a result, I rarely take time to write my ideas down and elaborate on them a little better. However, after a couple of GameJams and my experiences developing my upcoming game Crumbling World, I’ve realized that it is very important to take a step back and write down all of my ideas in a game development document, often referred to as GDD for short. Investing some time in writing a clear outline of the game’s concept, gameplay, and features can save developers a ton of time in the long run and allow a game to be built upon a stronger foundation, concept, and story.

Creating A Scene, Establish Style And Mood

As an artist, it is very hard for me to work on anything that I do not find visually engaging. When creating a scene, the first thing that I always do is add some objects and set the cameras and lights to set the sort of style and mood that I am going for in my game. This setup might not be the final one used in the game, but it is oftentimes very close. Spending a little bit of time setting the right style and mood satisfies my artistic cravings and allows me to stay motivated as I work on developing a game.

Develop Basic Gameplay

Next, I work to develop basic gameplay. This typically means adding the core functionality of the game that allows it to be playable. Typically, this functionality starts off as very basic, with no sound effects or special features – only enough to allow a player to play through the game and win or lose. If this basic gameplay works as intended (and if it’s fun!) then you have a great foundation to build upon throughout the rest of the game’s development.

Doubts

During this particular GameJam, I had some serious doubts from time to time. I thought I had a good idea, but then my game started to look just like games that I had seen previously. Obviously, we all have artistic inspirations, so in a sense this is normal. Yet, I was overcome by the urge to completely abandon the idea. In short, I was having a crisis and felt that I was betraying my original artistic perspective. Eventually, I realized that my game was still unique in many ways, so I decided to keep going, as I was learning lots of new things while also having fun throughout the process.
If you have doubts about your project, I highly recommend taking a break. Taking a step back can help you gain fresh eyes, which allows you to proceed with a new perspective. Additionally, having someone else play through your game can help you get constructive feedback that will help you improve your game while dissipating your doubts at the same time.

Developing Advanced Features

After working through my doubts, I was inspired to add more features and advanced functionality to the game. This might involve adding cinemachine and timeline to develop some cut scenes, or having a more complex following camera added to the game. Adding music, sound effects, and particle systems are often a must, as these allow the game to be more enjoyable and feel like a polished finished product.

Add To The User Interface (UI)

Adding to the UI can be considered a part of adding advanced features, but it is very important to communicate the goals and functionality of the game to the user so it deserves its own section. Typically, I add elements like life bars for players and enemies, a score tracker, or similar features so the user can follow their progress, understand what is happening in the game, and become more engaged the longer they play.

Adding Extra Content (Menu, Intro, Game Over)

Adding some final touches to a game helps move it closer towards a final product. Adding a menu to start the game, a final screen to show players when the game is over, the player’s score, and a navigation screen if the user dies are a must. After features like these are added, it’s time to polish things up before publishing the game.

Refinement And Polishing

At this point, the game looks good and there is some extra time to fix minor bugs, polish up animations and effect, and refine the game in general. The goal of this final step is to create the most professional looking product possible. Even if it is just a GameJam, as an artist and professional game developer I am all about the details, so I like to add finesse in all my games. After I am satisfied, I can feel proud of my creations and click the “Build” button to publish my finalized game.
I hope that outlining my development process for GameJam can help you if you want to participate in the future. Please feel free to check out my game: It’s free to play here.
Thanks for reading!

Dani Marti
Indie Game Developer - Artist
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