So in preparation for Global Game Jam (happening January 29-31st), I thought I would write up a handy blog post to get everyone ready. This post is particularly geared towards game audio people, but it can be applicable for anyone.
For those of you who don’t know, a game jam is when groups of people get together, whether in person or online, and make a game in a set amount of time. Sometimes jams can last for a week, and sometimes for 48 hours. Global Game Jam lasts for 48 hours, from Friday evening to Sunday evening. It is the biggest jam- as the name implies, people all around the world get together to make games. And it’s really, really awesome.
You may be thinking “oh jeez, 48 hours isn’t nearly enough time for me to make music for a game!”. And that’s the best part about Global Game Jam. It teaches you to get something done. No matter what it is. Sometimes, finishing something is the hardest aspect of our creative endeavors. In the mad dash to get a game done in 48 hours, you will certainly learn how to finish and accomplish something. And that is a great experience. +2000XP. Level up!
So why would you want to go through this ordeal? Well, besides getting that sweet 2000XP, you will meet developers, artists, other audio people, all sorts of people who love games and want to make games. When I first started trying to make music for games, I was rather discouraged, as I would feel all the games I would see would already have a composer/sound designer attached. How was I supposed to get my foot in the door if there was nowhere for me to go?
I’ve already spoken about the importance of networking in previous blog posts. Scroll down just a bit to see all that good stuff! It’s not too far down, I promise. Anyway, if you are trying to break into game audio, game jams are a fantastic avenue for getting your feet wet. The benefits of participating in a game jam are as follows:
- As I just said: you will meet people who want to make games. This is super important. Everyone starts somewhere, you, the other people at a game jam. You’ll make friends who are in the same boat as you. Remember, working on games doesn’t have to stop at the game jam. I hope the friends you make at a jam will be people you continue working with. Making those friends alone is worth going. You’re not going to make music for games if you don’t know people who make games.
- You will get work you can add to your portfolio. It’s really difficult breaking into games when you don’t have game work in your portfolio. Most developers want to see that you have worked on at least one game, that you know what it’s like to create audio for a game. Showcasing your game jam work in your portfolio is perfectly valid. Hell, even I list my game jam work in my credits list. Trust me, you will look far more desirable to a developer if you show that you’ve worked on at least one or two games.
I found myself inspired to write this article after teaching another audio class for Playcrafting this past Tuesday. I found that I always am sure to recommend game jams as a great way for aspiring game audio designers to get into the industry, but that those people still aren’t sure what to do at a game jam, or that they are worried about what will happen. Well, worry no longer! I am going to recount my experiences at my very first Global Game Jam, and give all of you some survival tips.
DAWN OF THE FIRST DAY, 48 HOURS REMAIN
So now you’ve learned all about why game jams ROCK and can level you up as a game audio designer! Good! So now that you’re determined to dive headfirst into Global Game Jam (and hopefully get some free pizza out of it), let’s breakdown the timeline of Global Game Jam.
First things first, you will need to find a jam site. Global Game Jam requires you meet up with your team in person and work together that way. That’s not to say you can’t duck home and run to your studio, but the idea is that GGJ is encouraging face-to-face planning for your game. Plus, meeting people is half the fun of a game jam, remember?
If you are unsure where there is a jam site near you, check this link.
Before you head to your jam site, make sure you have the following:
- Laptop/Computer with a DAW
- Portable Midi Controller
- Field recorder and compatible cables for your computer
Beyond that, you’ll probably want to make sure you pack a cell phone charger, and some snacks/drinks too, even though most jam sites provide food.
You are not required to stay overnight at a jam site. In fact, I would recommend you go home at some point to get sleep. Please sleep during game jams; no one gets good work done at 3am after a ten hour work bender.
Typically, you will arrive at your jam site in the late afternoon. Take this time to chat with people, and get to know who is going to be at that site. You’re going to spend a lot of time with those people. Also remember, even if you don’t end up working with everyone there, you should try to at least get to know as many people as you can.
At around 5pm local time, the people running the jam site will announce the theme. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that. Game jams are almost always centered around themes. This is to help you spark some creativity and get your mind thinking in ways that you normally wouldn’t. You will be quite surprised what you can come up with when given a theme.
At this point, you should form small groups for discussion, because you’ll start pitching ideas for a game (if you’d like). Then the pitches are presented to everyone at the jam site. Teams are officially formed, and the game’s development starts.
Now here’s the good news: In my experience, game jams are usually hurting for audio people. During my first GGJ, I worked on two different teams because there were so few composers on hand. I’m not sure if I would recommend doing two different games- just take on the amount of work that you feel comfortable doing.
So once you are officially on a team, you’ll want to spend some time discussing the game in more detail before you all start working on it. Even as an audio person, don’t be shy to contribute to this discussion. You may think that game mechanics are outside your purview, but you never know what ideas you can contribute. Also, it’s important that you are part of the team, not just someone outside of it making music.
Here’s another reason why you need to participate in the planning stage. You’ll need to learn what kind of music you should be making. Think about sound effects as well- as your team starts figuring out that your game is about monster trucks in space shooting lasers at Donald’s Trump’s disembodied head, you should be creating a list of all those things that are making a sound:
- Donald Trump literally spewing garbage out of his mouth
One more thing- please try to be aware of the scope of the game while it is being planned. A common pitfall for jammers is to try to create a jam with too large of a scope. If no one says the word scope once during planning, it may fall on your shoulders to (kindly) remind everyone to keep the scope small. Friendly reminder: you have FORTY-EIGHT HOURS TO MAKE A GAME AND YOU WILL NOT BE CREATING THE NEXT (insert name of game you find incredible here). At least not in the span of the weekend. Maybe later on, you will go back to your game and do more with it.
After you and your team solidifies the ideas for the game, it’s time to get to jamming!
So now the time has finally come! Time to get working on your game. I would recommend getting started on some of those sound effects while the team is getting the rest of the game ready. As far as music, you will want to see a bit more of the game before you get there. Make your sound effects, and give them to the team so they can implement them when they are ready to.
At this point, you will want to remember something. You should be in constant communication with your team. Say you make the three sounds, but then they ask for some UI sounds for when the player clicks “Start Game”. It’s good to find out as soon as possible that you’ll need to make more sounds.
I would also like to encourage thorough communication if you do some work offsite, as I did. At the time of my first Global Game Jam, I really didn’t have any portable gear for audio creation. I brought my laptop so I could do work on Finale, but I went home periodically to work at my studio. It helped a lot that the jam site was a ten minute drive from my house.
At some point, I would also stress getting a good night’s rest, and coming back in the morning. Also, shower. Please.
So yeah, you’ll basically work through the whole weekend, getting the work done that you need to. You’ll make your music, and mix it as best as you can. And don’t worry too much, nobody is looking for polish and perfection in ANY aspect of a game jam. As long as you can get your music done and make sure it sounds good, then you’ll be ok!
By the way, back in 2014 at my first Global Game Jam, I tried pulling all nighters (I guess I was able to do that at the young age of 27ish) and I almost starved to death. Don’t do that! My boyfriend burst into my studio to find me writhing around the floor muttering something about brain slugs and trying to eat my piano because I was so hungry. Well, that last bit is a little exaggerated. He took me out for burgers and a beer, and the break was really good. I needed it! I was able to come back to my work refreshed, and with a little sanity regained. Remember to restore that HP!
Seriously, please take breaks during the weekend. No one is designed to work for 48 hours straight. You will starve to death and then explode.
Try to break down your tasks intelligently, plan your work ahead, and get those little breaks in. Frequent ten minute breaks away from your computer will give your brain a little refreshing. Stepping away for an hour or so for a meal is also a good idea. Breaks are important for your brain.
Global Game Jam will conclude on Sunday afternoon with group presentations. This is it! The moment you’ve been working all weekend for! There’s nothing more exciting (and nerve racking) than showing off the glorious trainwreck of a game you’ve spent all weekend creating. Honestly, don’t get too bent out of shape about it. Everyone’s game is going to be a glorious trainwreck. What did you expect after spending 48 hours making a game?
So get up there, show off Monster Trucks In Space VS Donald Trump’s Head, then check out everyone else’s games. Go home. Shower again, eat a nice dinner, and think about the cool stuff you just accomplished! +2000XP! Level up!
Wait wait wait, there’s still more you need to do. Don’t forget to PROMOTE your work. Link to your game on your music portfolio (you can do this through the GGJ website), and be sure to show it off on your Facebook, Twitter, whatever. This is really important- you want to show the work that you have done. Don’t just keep it to yourself.
Also, please keep in contact with the friends you made at Global Game Jam. Try to do more work with them. Often times, teams will want to polish games that they created for game jams. So there will be more work to do!
And that’s it! Hopefully this article gave all of you some good insight into what you should expect at Global Game Jam.