In January this year’s edition of Global Game Jam (GGJ), the world’s biggest annual game development marathon took place. Every year the event gains in popularity, however in Poland still few people have heard about it. During the last weekend of January the Goyello team, Piotr Styczyński, Karol Dąbrowski and I took part in the Tricity edition of GGJ. Plenty of people asked us about the event and wanted to know why we decided to participate. Are you wondering what that game jam buzz is all about? Are you planning to join the next year’s edition but not sure whether it is worth it? In this blog post I will do my best to convince you that is really is worth it.

Global Game Jam is…

2GGJ is a 48 hour game development hackathon. It takes place simultaneously in 500 different locations around the world. 36,000 participants from 93 countries take part in the event. Teams of developers, graphic designers, sound engineers and gaming enthusiasts from various countries meet locally and develop computers games from a given theme.

3City Game Jam (3CGJ) is the Tricity edition of the event and Poland’s biggest game jam at the same time. Global Game Jam is a great opportunity to test your skills, have fun and meet people who share your interests.

Global Game Jam isn’t…

To make sure you correctly understand the idea of GGJ, it is good to learn what the event actually isn’t. GGJ differs from other game hackathons because:

  • It isn’t an opportunity to win prizes. Some GGJ editions provide prizes for the best games. Sometimes those are just titles and sometimes winners get e.g. game consoles. Even then awards are not presented by the jury. They depend on all participants’ voting results.
  • It isn’t the beginning of your startup adventure. Many companies sponsor GGJ but they rarely do it for commercial reasons. They want to be seen as potential employers but games developed at the events are not presented to “business angels”.
  • It isn’t a right place for competition lovers. What counts at game jams is the great atmosphere and cooperation which are much more important than competition. Lots of participants, mostly high school and university students, come to game jams with no experience in game development whatsoever. More experienced colleagues are always ready to help them solve problems connected with the idea, architecture or code writing. People come to game jams to experience the atmosphere, to have great time and to take up the challenge. They are not there to compete.

3City Game Jam − step by step

GGJ is a 3 day event. Every day participants work according to a planned schedule and have to comply with certain rules.

Before the event started we had signed up on Game Jam’s official and local website. Due to limited number of places, restricted for technical reasons, I strongly recommend you register as early as possible. 150 people could participate in this year’s edition of 3CGJ.

Day #1

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3CGJ took place in Olivia Business Centre, the same office buildings Goyello office is located in. So to get there we only had to leave one building and go to another. We got there on Friday around 5 PM, we were given our starter kits – sweatshirts, mugs, identity cards and other stuff – and started to look around for a proper place to install ourselves for the next 48 hours. We chose a secluded table in the western part of the building to avoid screen reflections.

Next, the organisers greeted us all and announced the theme of this years’ edition: ‘The Ritual’.  Having learned that we immediately ran to our table to brainstorm. A long and heated discussion led to a conclusion that we would develop a game whose main hero, a white cat, was to perform a ritual to find his way to a place called Cat Utopia.

I presented the idea to other GGJ participants. It sometimes happens that people want to join your team to help you develop your project. This time no one decided to cooperate with us so just after the presentation we got down to allocating tasks. I was the one to be responsible for coding and supervising my colleagues’ work. Piotr was supposed to be in charge of all animation works while Karol was our graphic designer. After we had planned our work for the next two days we went home to get some sleep.

Day #2

We started early – we were on the spot around 7 AM and got down to work immediately. The assumption behind our game was that the cat, our hero, was looking for a land called Cat Utopia. That is why we titled it Cat Utopia. The cat had to overcome obstacles, fight numerous enemies (i.e. wild dogs) and collect various items (i.e. milk boxes) to be able to perform his ritual and open the gate to Cat Utopia.

The project assumptions we made were in line with what I described in my previous article about the Global Game Jam strategy. The most important issue was to focus on well-defined tasks that give the largest outcome with the smallest amount of effort made.

We spent the whole of Day #2 on coding and designing. There were only several meal breaks – we were served breakfast, lunch and dinner, provided by the organisers. In the morning we were also asked to create a team profile on the official GGJ website. We finished at 11 PM, so we spent 16 hours working and had only a few short breaks.

Day #3

On Sunday we arrived a bit later – around 9 AM – and started to put together the “bricks” we had built the day before. As usual, it took more time than planned. We managed to finish the whole thing before the deadline, though. Just before 3 PM Cat Utopia was ready.

We presented the game to other participants and made it to top 10 of the Tricity edition. We came home exhausted but proud. We developed a working game in just 48 hours! Want to check what obstacles the cat had to overcome to reach Cat Utopia? Play the game.

Why is it well worth it to take part in Global Gam Jam?

I can think of at least four advantages of participating in events like Global Game Jam.

#1 Learning new things

3At your first game jam you will learn how large a project you can develop in 48 hours. You will also get to know simple tricks to “deceive” the user to reduce the number of functions whose implementation would take hours. Everything will last longer than you expect so you will make yourself used to being flexible when it comes to sticking to the plan. You can also learn a new profession. For instance, if you are a developer, you can learn graphic design. That’s what Piotr did. He is a developer in the .NET team at Goyello. At the game jam he was responsible for all the animation works.

#2 Meeting new people

Meeting new people is an issue that has been trivialized in the IT world. GGJ is an initiative that challenges the stereotype of introverted developers glued to their computer screens, unwilling to make conversation. Meeting strangers face to face and a common pursuit towards an ambitious goal that has to be reached in 48 hours is a challenge not everyone is able to rise to. Game jam participants are great at meeting that challenge, though. We did very well, too. We are not members of the same team at Goyello. Despite that, at GGJ we managed to form a “well-oiled machine” team.

#3 Making new ideas a reality

During a game jam you will have an opportunity to try things you have never tried before. Have you had some crazy ideas in you head for a while? It is a chance of making them come true. Have you always wanted to prototype a piece of software? Game jam is the right time to do it. Of course, plenty of your ideas will end up in the bin but writing them down and checking whether they work or not can be a great inspiration for your future projects. We for instance always wanted to develop a cat game. Some members of the team think cats are the most awesome animals on Earth.

4#4 Having great time

Is there any other form of entertainment that is as interactive as games are? It’s great fun to be a game developer. It was an extremely rewarding experience to see how you can make things work in such a short period of time. And seeing people’s reaction to the outcome of our brought us plenty of satisfaction. Because at games jams you don’t compete. You simple create the best game you can, fighting against time.

Have you had an opportunity to participate in previous editions of GGJ and want to tell others about your experience? Or would you like to take part in it next year and have questions you want to ask? I’m waiting for your comments.

Coach, mentor and Team Leader. Certified .NET developer, Agile enthusiast and Machine Learning specialist. In his free time ̶ avid scuba diver and fantasy books reader.