This is a guest post from Jonathan Frawley, an indie developer and computer scientist based in Dublin, Ireland. Jonathan is a server-side developer for Digit Games Studios. In his spare time he enjoys making small games, taking part in games meetups, gardening and reading. You can visit his website here.
When I was in college, I had worked on a few small game prototypes and demos. I wanted to make games full time you see, and I thought the best way to do this was to just do it, something I still agree with.
These demos helped me get an internship as a developer in the games industry. When I graduated, I got a job making tools for game developers. While it was fun in its own way, for someone who dreamed of creating games, it did not give me my fix.
Dare to Ludum
Pretty disillusioned with my game career, I remembered one of my friends telling me about Ludum Dare. It is an online game jam which is split into two competitions. The first one is referred to as “The Compo” and is a single-person 48-hour jam where all art assets and code have to be created in the jam. The second is called “The Jam” and has much more relaxed rules. It takes place over 72 hours, allows for people to work together and art and code from other projects can be used . A theme is announced at the beginning and both competitions use this as their basis.
I decided that I would give it a go. The first time I tried to do it, I failed. Like all of my gamedev before I had used technologies which were complex and took too long to get anything done. By Saturday night, I had nothing to show for. I abandoned the project out of frustration and burnout.
I decided for the next Ludum Dare, I would do a lot more preparation beforehand. I investigated different technologies to enable me to make games more quickly. I decided on Flixel, as it allowed me to make simple games in no time at all. I made a demo which loaded in an image, did an animation, displayed some text on the screen and played some audio. This was everything I needed technologically to make my game. I also did some simple things like getting in plenty of food and drinks for the weekend and planned out how I was going to spend my time over the weekend.
This time I managed to get a game finished by Saturday evening which was immensely gratifying. On Sunday I was able to add music and polish the game before submission. What resulted was a much better finished product than any other demo I had ever made. I learned what it takes to get a game ready for the public, something that I had never experienced before. As a developer it forces you to think about getting things done as quickly as possible, rather than in the most extensible or maintainable way. This goes against everything you are taught about software engineering, but is essential to the game creation process.
In Ludum Dare you can only vote on other games if you have submitted a game. Since this is from people who have been through the same process, their feedback is very constructive and lets you know what you did well and what you can do better next time. It is also fantastic to see the work other people have done to learn from their games and their blogs.
Ever since my first Ludum Dare, I have tried to get involved in as many game jams as possible. I recently did my first local game jam – the Global Game Jam which was co-organised by the Global GameCraft team. This is a 48-hour game jam where you work on your own or in teams to get a game finished based on a common theme. I found it much easier to work here where I was surrounded by other jammers rather than the solitary experience of Ludum Dare. It was also a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, to bounce ideas off of them and to get feedback on your game as it is still being developed. It’s also a lot of fun, even if you are new to game development and need some advice on how to get started.
So with this I am very much looking forward to the Global GameCraft I am doing in a few weeks. Over the past 2 and a bit years, the Global GameCraft team have done an amazing job in building up a community around game jamming in Ireland and abroad. Having started with an event in Dublin, it has since grown into a global affair with events being held all around Ireland, London and New York. Having talked to a people who have gone to past events and the team themselves, the GameCraft team really understand what is great about game jams.
That is, that game development is collaborative, easy and fun when you just do it. For anyone looking to get into game development or get better at it, there is no better way than to do as many game jams as possible.