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:


How to make games

Three years ago I was doing volunteer work on a farm in Costa Rica. I was pushing a wheelbarrow of manure when suddenly I thought “I should make a game”. That was three years ago, I’ve since made ten small games, and am about to release my first full-length game.

In case you’ve ever wanted to make a game, here’s what I did:

Pick an engine:

Don’t make a game from scratch (unless you’re turned on by boring, repetitive tasks like writing math libraries). There are tons of super high-quality (and free!) game engines that take care of 90% of development, so you can focus on making games instead of your boredom fetish. You sick fuck.

Google around and check out different game engines that have pretty showcase trailers before eventually settling on Unity. Great! Onto the next step!

In all seriousness, Unity is probably the best engine for beginners as it has the most tutorials and largest community out of all the engines (since it was the first free engine that was actually decent). But feel free to shop around and check out the other engines…you’ll totally be able to make a great game in Unreal without any prior programming experience (moral: C++ is a bitch).

Now onto the work

Looking back, I notice I went through three phases; I’ll call them Tutorial, Tinker, and Commit.

If you know anything about programming you’ll probably fly through these. Actually, if you already know how to program why are you reading this?

I will now guide you through these phases:

Tutorial phase

This is the awkward cringey phase where you’re a total noob. Embrace it. You will experience the ‘tutorial polarity’ as I call it; an emotional pendulum that swings from ‘warm and safe in the guiding hands of the tutorial god’ to ‘wait, shit how did he do that? what the f-?! *clicks back 15 seconds and rewatches* the screen just changes and he’s done! wtf?!’.

You will politely ask dumb questions like “Thank you so much for your help with this! great tutorial! Just one quick question; I’m getting an error that says *proceeds to list extremely obvious error that tells you exactly what the problem is and what line you can find it on and could have been solved in five seconds by googling it*”.

Learn to google.

Here are some tutorial peoples I recommend:

Brackeys (logo shown, I started with this guy’s tutorials; great teacher!): 

Sebastian Lague:

BurgZerg Arcade (this guy’s a classic; though, his starting tutorials are a bit dated):

PushyPixels (they do some neat livestreams where you can follow along and ask questions):

Master Indie (used to be Eteeski tutorials):

est. time to complete this phase: one month

Tinker Phase

This is the magical phase where you move beyond relying on tutorials and actually begin applying what you’ve learned to come up with your own unique creations. Your Google searches will go from ‘how to make rpg unity’ to ‘how to save stats unity’. You start comprehending smaller scale problems and how you can solve them.

You will now experience ‘tinker polarity’, the emotional pendulum that swings from ‘fuck yeah, I got this’ to ‘fuck, I don’t know anything’.

est. time to complete this phase: anywhere from a month to years (more on this below)

Now for the final challenge: commitment issues.

Commit Phase

After a certain amount of tinkering (less than you’d think!) you’ll be ready to make your own game to share with the public. But you won’t. You’ll start working on a game, then you’ll get a better idea and start working on that instead, then you’ll get a better idea and start working on that instead, then you’ll get a better idea and start working on that instead…This is pretty much what the tinker phase is all about. You don’t want to get stuck in the tinker phase.

What separates the tinkerers from the game developers? Having a finished game. How do you finish a game? Pick something small that you can do and do it. Do whatever it takes! (justdoit.gif) To finish my first game I set a deadline of one week and used public domain art; you can play it here:( it’s total shit but it’s still a game. The commit phase is all about training the ultimate skill: the abilitiy to finish things.

Here’s a great article on finishing games by Derek Yu:

This article was what inspired me to get past the tinker stage; I was like ‘oh shit, that’s me; I have to change’ and I did. yeah.

Here’s some places to get free, public domain assets for your games:

est. time to complete this phase: three games

Congrats! you’re now a level 2 game developer!

Good luck!


A guide to actually finishing games

For rookie game developers, a common habit is starting lots of projects and not finishing any of them. To clarify, this is a bad habit; the habit you want is the one where you finish lots of games. To help you along (assuming you’re a rookie game developer), I’ve written a handy guide to actually finishing games:

Know your abilities: Are you a noob coder?  Then don’t do some large-scale multiplayer procedurally-generated roguelike rpg; you’ll never finish that. Instead try making a simple platformer. If you want to make something with innovative mechanics, remember that some of the best inventions came from working around limitations. Don’t deny your limitations, embrace them.

The same goes for art; what are your artistic abilities? If you can’t draw an anatomically-correct stick figure, and you’re last notepad doodle was that strange ‘S’ thing, consider using abstract shapes. You can achieve amazing things with simple art and just a little bit of knowledge on color theory. Even black and white art with simple shapes can look good:

Screenshot from a jam game I made, ‘It’s The Room’.

Plan, plan, plan: When I start a new game I like to write down on a big piece of paper every mechanic, every possible script I’ll need, and every animation objects will use. I then draw lines connecting everything and short blurbs explaining what they do and how they’re activated or used. I divide everything into individual parts, and try to figure out what can be reused. E.g. a script  controlling humanoid movement can be used by both the player and an AI if set up properly. This way I don’t need to copy code between scripts, saving me time.

Get to work: For small games(which is what you want to start with), I don’t worry about creating a schedule, but it gets really helpful when working on longer-term projects. If you’re still a rookie developer, you’re going to want to stick to the old, reliable ‘make game when I have free time’ schedule. When you’re ready to develop, pick something off the design sheet you made, work on it until it’s done, then pick another part and work on that. Repeat until game complete!

Then just repeat this whole process five times or so and I’d say you’re ready for a big project.


Level Screenshot

playing with mechanics