What’s a game jam?

This is a continuation of my post on ‘how to make a game’. If you haven’t read it yet, go check it out here:

In this post, I’ll talk about the wonderful phenomenon of game jams.

So, what’s a game jam?

First off, quick question, have you ever wanted to take a big syringe of sleep deprivation and stress and shoot it up your jugular? No? More of a nasal ingestion type?

A game jam is a challenge where a bunch of developers get together and try to make games within a specific time limit. The game also (typically) has to fit a theme.

The most popular game jam is probably Ludum Dare (held three times a year), where you have 48 hours to make a game (or 72 if you do the wuss version). Everyone suggests and then votes on the theme a couple weeks in advance, with the winning theme being announced when the jam starts. You get a lot of interesting and fun themes, but sometimes boring-ass ones as well (one time a unicode snowman almost won, seriously).

It’s a lot of fun, but also hella stressful. It’s like a creativity orgasm; it feels awesome, but you’ll probably regret when the weekend is over.

After the jam is over, everyone plays each other’s games and rates them, and the highest-rated ones get little medals that don’t really do anything.

It’s pretty impressive to see what people manage to make in such a short time; I’ve ended up playing some of these games for hours at a time.

Some examples:

Beneath the City

From Ludum Dare 29. Turn-based stealth game that works surprisingly well.


The Sun and Moon

Also from Ludum Dare 29. Probably one of the funnest and most challenging platformer/puzzle games I’ve ever played.



My crappy game that somehow made 3rd place in innovation. From Ludum Dare 30.


So, what am I getting at here? What’s my secret goal for this post? Why did I self-promote my crappy stuff?

If you’ve read my ‘how to make a game’ post and you’re feeling inspired to make games, then game jams are for you! My crappy game that made 3rd place in innovation (out of a couple thousand entries) was the third game I ever made (if I can do it so can you etc.).

So I’m going to teach you how to survive a game jam so you can get one step closer to fame and glory!

Step One, figure out your camp

Newer developers fit into the ‘finish a game’ camp. More advanced developers go into ‘make something cool’ camp.

When you’re starting out making games, a game jam is the perfect opportunity to figure out your abilities and limits and actually finish something you can show off (great for motivation!).

Once you get a little more advanced and have a few games under your belt, you can use game jams to experiment with new ideas. You’ll have a solid understanding of what you are and aren’t able to do within the game jam’s time limit, so actually finishing things isn’t much of an issue anymore.

Tips for ‘finish a game’ camp:

Make something simple, like a platformer. Focus on having a solid, working game as soon as possible, content and details come later.

Get enough sleep, don’t pull all-nighters.

Dear god, don’t make a multiplayer game.

Tips for ‘make something cool’ camp:

Use your 10th idea; brainstorm ideas and write them down. I guarantee you’ll see other people make games using the first three you come up with. the next six you come up with will be shit. The 10th will be genius, I guarantee it (probably). This seriously works though; I usually score pretty high in innovation.

Preferably come up with a cool mechanic based on the theme. E.g. for a theme of ‘Unconventional Weapon’ I came up with the idea of a room as a weapon, which you move around to kill enemies and try to bounce your character to the end (didn’t actually turn out like that, which is typical for jams :/ , still happy with how it came out though). Cool mechanics always trump cool stories.

Dear god, don’t make it multiplayer.

Finally, if you make something really cool, you can always turn it into a real game:

Remember my crappy game InterSection? Here it is after a year and a half of development.

The theme for that Ludum Dare was ‘Connected Worlds’.

Anyways, thanks for reading! I hope I inspired you to make games or something. If you liked this, I’m planning on writing more game-dev related posts. Next up will probably be on making art for your games.

If you’d like to see more of InterSection, here’s a link to the trailer:

Also, here’s a list of jam games and stuff I’ve made:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.