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GGJ Archives 2009-2012

Some tips for GGJ 2010

DoctorMikeReddy

In August last year, I was asked to write an advice piece for new organisers. As happens, a lot jumped in the way towards the end of last year, so it was never finished; along with a lot of other important and urgent stuff. Anyway, as we are nearly there, I thought it best to post the 2nd draft in case it was of use to new hosts as well as providing a focus for comments from old hands.

***Motivation and justification for taking part in the 1st Global Game Jam***

I had been aware of game jams and cram-coding through several notable indy games, such as Crayon Physics, AudioSurf and World of Goo, as well as others on the homebrew scene. So, the idea of developing a game in a few days solid effort was something that I was keen to try. When the IGDA newsletter for the EduSIG game through with a call to take place in the first ever Global Game Jam, I did receive support, but mostly of the “I can’t right now, but YOU should do it!” kind. However, I decided to go ahead, even with only “kind words” from others, which did mean a lot more work, but maybe not having to do all the politics made things easier too. My main motivations for organising the Newport event were: feedback from Industry that short fast “feasibility” projects were an excellent way to learn; and participation was an excellent way to “pump-prime” collaborative team projects that Newport were planning for student assignments, as well as to build a sense of community within the two cohorts (arts and programming).

***Lessons learned from GGJ09***
First lesson: Have someone who is in charge, not by being the one to give orders, but the person who is responsible for everything, who is prepared to do everything. You will be let down. This sounds worse than it is, but people will “on paper” agree to help, then get scared by the apparent enormity of it all. I know I was, but I managed to organise the whole thing single handedly for 20+ participants. Others did get on board to help out (mostly for the media opportunities), but this was primarily due to them having a clear idea of a straightforward involvement. Participation gives a better idea of what is actually expected, which I’m hoping will get more help from others this year.

If this is your first time, and you anticipate wanting there to be a second, be aware: adrenaline can only get you so far, and having a colleague to aid you will minimise the inevitable “I hate GGJ” feelings. I know of at least one venue from 09 that is not happening, because a sole organiser took it all upon themselves, and burned out. Doing it once on your own is ok, but these things improve with built up momentum, so it being a one off will be a great disappointment to participants.

Second lesson: Someone somewhere unexpected will want to say NO. Foremost, is whoever pays you. Get them on board before anyone else. I had great support from my management, who donated £200 in funds for refreshments. Then work from the bottom (power wise) up: Porters and Security, then IT support, then admin, then colleagues (lecturers in my case). For a 50+ hour (24/2) event including set up and clean up, you will be in a place that is not usually inhabited. You will probably need to do a risk assessment (or get one done), and consult over Health and Safety, as well as get the OK to use the room(s) overnight. Mostly, reassurance that it was going to be no extra work, and that participants weren’t going to be stupid was what was needed.

TIP: Have tea/coffee/biscuits etc available for the night security people and encourage them to come and visit for a chat; make them feel welcome.

IT support may not be willing to hang around for the whole time. Getting admin rights, or a mobile number in case of major tech problems is a must. Often with game dev software, some extra admin rights are needed to install or run the software, or to be able to access the internet. Factor in more time than you think to get machines working with whatever dev tools you are using; XNA needs Visual Studio installed, etc. If you are not using an existing PC lab, then wiring, power and network cabling will take a lot of time to get right. Internet access is critical for a successful jam.

Admin people will, depending on your organisation, be important to involve. The most obvious ones will be PR/Marketing who will need a good deal of notice to get involved. Also, if you are opening up the venue to outsiders (our jam is Newport students/staff/graduates only) then there will need to be someone fielding calls and queries. In my case, this was me, but having someone else involved would have been a good idea.

TIP: Warn/inform your PR people that the event is happening at least a week in advance, and instill on them the fact that this is a unique activity that local press/radio will be interested in. We got national coverage from Radio 5 and Radio Wales last year!

Fellow employees/volunteers are possibly the hardest to recruit. Many see giving up your weekend as madness! However, a few hours cover on the Saturday Night are a god(dess) send! I got through the first night on raw nerves. The second was major crash time, when the students were very stressed and working flat out to finish the basic builds. Fortunately, a colleague who visited to “see how things were going” was pursuaded to stay and give me time to go to bed. This really helped.

TIP: I “employed” helpers, who were students who wanted to take part, but could not commit to the whole weekend. We had a couple of artists and programmers who filled skill gaps in a couple of teams, and really helped them get off the ground.

Third Lesson: During the event itself, there are two things that an organiser has to accept:
1) You won’t be able to take part yourself, but there will be loads of problems to help solve, by letting participants talk you through what they are doing.
2) You will need something to do, so your wandering lost round the room (when there aren’t problems) doesn’t stress the participants.

My original motivation for organising the GGJ in Newport was because I wanted the chance to take part. This was quickly abandoned, thanks to advice from previous jam organisers. However, I did find that keeping the students focussed on simple ideas, basic game play implementation, and suggesting small stylistic changes and feedback, was probably more satisfying. However, after the initial set up and start phases, things got rather tedious – even with the often hillarious banter on the skype chat with other organisers – so I had a video and still camera and set about voxpoping the event, with my spare time taken up with editing them in near real time; all these videos are up on YouTube if you are interested.

Make sure that you have something to keep you occupied that can be dropped immediately there is a problem. Being huddled in a corner, apparently busy, will mean that participants won’t approach you (no matter how much you tell them it’s alright!). You need to be always accessible, and to also check up on people regularly, in case they are stuck and not admitting it yet. Spitting out bits of “news” from other jams – “Hey everyone, the West Coast has just started!” – and using the live stream is a good idea to set the context of a global jam. Twitter was used to a small extent last time, but is likely to be more popular in 2010. Remember, this is a social event as much, if not more than, a technical one.

Most of my comments so far have been general. The following worked for me, but may not work for others.

Fourth Lesson: The first hour was critical for us. Some of the students wanted to get cracking on code and art ASAP, and this is understandable. However, it was more important to my mind for team members to all be on the same page. We got from brief and keynote to formed teams and building VERY fast (judging by comments from other organisers on skype), by me adopting a fairly dictatorial style of organisation early on. Here was my timetable of the first 60 minutes:

10 mins – keynote and discussion of the constraints
15 mins – individuals to come up with a game proposal
15 mins – elevator pitch and show of hands votes on instinctive appeal
10 mins – further discussion of the top ideas*
10 mins – voting with feet**

We had 18 participants, so I aimed at 5-6 most approved ideas, out of nearly a dozen initial ideas, to give a chance for reasonable team sizes. Some ideas were similar enough to be amalgamated. Some were outright rejected because they just didn’t get sold well. Primarily, I focussed attention on “doability” and adherence to the constraints.
I asked people to choose which game they wanted to work on and why, and teams were allocated accordingly. Where one or two ideas had more support than was needed and others were lacking a skill, some negotiation was used to get the teams about right.

This worked really well, with two exceptions:
1) One game idea was rigidly held to by three participants, who had clearly come to the event with the idea that they would be working together. This was bad! The team ended up not having the skills to pull off their idea, which had been generally rejected by their peers, and they all lost out on experiencing working with people they didn’t know and with a blank slate. Preconceptions killed their game in my opinion.
2) Two teams ended up being all artists and all programmers, even though their ideas were very similar. I didn’t manage to pursuade the teams to swap members or combine, but this was where the “extra” helpers (programmers and artists) really helped, as they were able to get the two teams working on a game.

I hope that this has been helpful. It's not the "official" advice piece that it was originally intended to be, but it may help some to avoid problems for 2010. The most important message being:

1)Don't take on too much, or if you do, don't do it for too long!

Mike


TimWay4

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laurieg

This is very helpful - 2 thumbs up

Thanks for putting this together, as a first timer, there will be lots of surprises I'm sure.

I am going to read this several times as there are some must do things and great tips in here.

Laurie

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