Creativity truly shines under pressure. Game jams, which are short-term game developer competitions, take this idea to heart by asking devs to create a brief game using limited resources, usually on a theme. Using time, theme, and other constraints, jams force developers to think creatively and try new things, which can produce truly unique games that emphasize story or artistry in ways that AAA games tend to bypass. While not all games produced through jams are great—the time constraints often mean things have to be rushed or sacrificed—there are some truly wonderful and innovative creations coming out of these competitions.
The Best And Biggest Game Jams
Global Game Jam is the definitive game jam—it's the largest event, with participants in 75 countries producing over 3,000 games in just 48 hours. Global Game Jams happen at physical locations, allowing developers to work together in whatever capacity they like. The theme is announced at a keynote speech shown at the event, and past themes have included "An image of Ouroboros," and "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are". Themes like these allow a broad range of interpretations, and with so many people competing, there are huge numbers of radically different games to play as a result.
Global Game Jam also incorporates extra challenges, by adding achievements called "diversifiers". These achievements add an extra level of complication, such as creating a game that can be played without hands, or games that are meant to be played by cats. But unlike many other jams, Global Game Jam isn't a competition—it's meant to encourage creativity through teamwork, not by giving out awards. You can play 2014's games via the Global Game Jam website, and registration is open now for the 2015 event, which will take place January 23 – 25 of 2015.
Ludum Dare is one of the largest and longest-running game jams out there. Developers have a weekend to create a game based on a theme. The most recent competition was themed "Entire Game on One Screen," and developers were free to interpret this as they wished—some, like Zi's Escape Character took it literally, while others, like Yaroslav Kravtsov's Fill the Bar used the limitation to make a larger statement. The competition winners are ranked according to overall score, as well as individual criteria on the Ludum Dare website—where most of the winning games are available to play for free. If you're looking to get involved, the next competition begins April 17, 2015 and is open to anybody who wants to participate.
For a better taste of what gets produced during jam competitions, check out the top 10 overall jam winners from Ludum Dare 31:
- SimonLarsen's 90 Second Portraits
- Zi's Escape Character
- Victory Garden's O-Inari Origami
- Guldlock's Cuberot
- Pestel Crew's Case #31
- Wolve's The Broadenlands
- Noah Ratcliff's Omni
- Zerocreativity1's 1 Screen Hero
- Mechamew's Bionic Bliss
- AtomicVikings' Atomic Space Vikings
Developing Skills Under Pressure
Thanks to the wide availability of information online and the openness of game jams, game development is no longer a skill reserved for a select group of people. With resources like PixelProspector.com, anybody can take a video game from concept to finished product. It used to require years of education in computer programming or similar fields to make it as a game developer, but game jams and new developer resources are changing that.
Whether you've never considered game development, or you have a few games under your belt, game jams can help you push your limits and try your hand at something new. Even the White House has seen the potential—in October of 2014, the White House hosted a game jam dedicated to exploring the learning potential of video games. Global Game Jam encourages people of all experience levels to participate, including writers and artists who may be entirely new to working with games. And the competitive pressure of Ludum Dare can give anyone's skill set an extra boost. So don't let lack of experience in game development stop you from getting involved.
Game Jams Give Back
By leveling the playing field and opening up the world of game development, we're now able to see more diverse games—games that explore unique stories, imaginative gameplay, or wholly new concepts for what gaming is or might be. We're no longer restricted to playing the next clone of whatever franchise is most popular at the moment. And while not every new game is to everyone's taste, having a wider range of games to play is a win-win for everyone.
Have you ever participated in a game jam? What's your favorite game-jam game?
Ludam Dare art by @Wittionary