Monday, November 7, 2022

How 2 gamejam (part 2- the issues with game jams)

Why are game jams bad?
If you haven't seen part 1 (how to do well in a game jam), click here.

Alright, now with that over with, some cold hard truth of game jams- I'd like to tell you not to bother with them. In case you're wondering, the jams I've particpiated are the Epic Games Megajams (and their lighting challenge), where the stakes are often quite high, but other popular annual jams are the same, and even smaller jams can see some of these issues. They limit time and scope in building a game, forcing people to jam development often in a week or less. Public jams can be filled with industry professionals and people with 10x the experience you have, taking away the competition unless you manage to hit some aspect of the jam perfectly. And in the end of the jam, now you got a game to stick in your portfolio or resume- but what else? This game is probably small, lacking, and unless it won an award, unimpressive. If you tried something new, then the game jam was a success for you if you feel like it; otherwise it could just be another thing that could show off the worst of what you're best at. Beyond that, in the end you probably won't end up with new connections because either the game jam is so big, the judges won't remember every single game they make (and what are the chances the judges are the people looking for people to hire?) or the jam is so small that you'll just grab the attention of a few indie developers.

And that's what my experience with game jams has been. The first jam I participated in, at the time I was getting started diving into Unreal Engine 4. My sister and a friend of hers both entered college for the first time in animation, knowing how to manipulate some polygons, but not much else. Now we're tasked with making a game with some ridiculous theme like "so far yet so close" (paraphrased more or less), in one week. We took the bold step of doing a VR game- you play as a student in a classroom during detention, earning points by destroying the classroom, but if the teacher comes back and checks on you, you're in big trouble! On one hand, for a first time VR game we did pretty well- being able to throw around objects, interacting with things like paint buckets, and drawing on the whiteboard. On the other hand, the packaged build couldn't even spawn the player properly, the white board drawing was glitchy and laggy, models weren't UVed properly, and frankly the obective and obstacle system lacked big time. "Schooled In" is the name of the game, and it was a failure. I would like to point out that this jam also interfered with (remote, from covid) lectures, because Epic Games couldn't host the jam in the summer.

Next year the Epic Games Jam came around again, this time right before I get back to classes, giving me a week and a car drive to actually make a game. Rather than overcomplicating the game, I came up with something simple- "Space Bar Defenders", a play on the theme "Running out of Space" which involved the use of the space bar (literally running out of space) to place turrets in a tower defense game. This game I actually felt good about- I made simple turret models all in-engine, even worked a bit with Niagara to make some simple yet effective effects. The turret placement was rather complicated but that was mostly working in no time. But still there were issues that plagued the game- plenty of sound issues from all the various turrets; a glitch with placing turrets that broke the game; issues with balancing because some computers ran quicker than others; and most importantly, each wave was slow and rather uninteresting to look at; as well as a few features I couldn't get implemented in time. All in all, this game went a lot better than the last, and I later even uploaded to the Google Play store (more on this later).

Once again this year I went with the Epic Games jam again, and this time it started during the second week of classes (I transferred colleges earlier this year). The game was "Fishing Ducks", which shows quite a technical feat in its design, but is otherwise plagued once again with disruptive issues. My sister joined again this time to make the amazing fish and duck models and animations, after having spent two years properly learning the tools needed to make good 3D assets (I don't know how the game would've turned out without her). I used the Quixel bridge to create a lake where fish swim around and ducks try to tag the fish, in a fish vs. ducks game. I created a really cool looking postprocess water effect, some nice niagara effects once again, and mostly got working different duck states for flight, diving, and swimming. But the end result struggled on graphics and optimization, being quite laggy in frames and input. In addition, the ducks colliding with objects would flail in a bad way, there wasn't enough time to get fish/duck selection in (even though both animals were programmed), and this game that was supposed to multiplayer, has yet to have a proper multiplayer test.

One more thing, over this last summer I took a go at the lighting challenge. It went pretty much the same as the game jams, except this time my PC couldn't handle my lighting scene, also I had more than a month to do it. Yeah sure, have us make a quality game in a week, but a 30 second lighting challenge in a month? So here it is in all its glory, the scene that made me buy an RX 6700 XT to upgrade my RTX 2070. I wanted to go with the 2 suns emphasis, but ended up doing a lot more, and cheaped out on the spaceship. Anyways, does this look like work done in 1-2 months? Does it???

What I'd like to say is I don't recommend game jams; I do recommend making games. One more thing about all these game jams, as well as games I'm now making in class after I transferred, is that they all feel like stuff that pushes back my own games. Remember Amazeing? Well apart from being overambitious, this game has been delayed for so long. In that time, I've started "GameBetaa" and a laser tag game (viewable on my portfolio), but then comes along another game jam and now these games are delayed even more. I'm busy, and game jams just add busy work on top of what I'm already doing or have to do. Plus, I feel that they're made for people who don't have inspiration, with the themes- now in addition to making an entire game from scratch rather than something I am currently working on, I have to relate it to this theme??? And work tirelessly on this game jam, as I said with industry professionals, just so it could be judged on some 1-5 point scale in 4 categories (sound, relating theme, style, gameplay probably) by biased judges (who in the 2021 or 2020 jam I remember awarding one game like 3 separate awards including best overall)? (And these games are indie-grade games, but indie vs. AAA games is a whole separate topic to discuss).

Everyone says game jams are a great way to get into the gaming industry. I don't see game jams to be a great way to get in the industry. It's a lot of pressured work to do what you already know how to do, and to eat away time. In the end of the day I have one more thing to put in my portfolio, without much good in networking (you know, professionally socializing, like trying to find someone relevant to actually get you a job as you look at but fear commenting on everyone else you actually see). Maybe if it's an in-person jam, or if you just manage to get in contact with judges, you can nail that professional relationship; otherwise, it isn't exactly any different than just posting a question or some fun project on a public forum. And on that note, are game jams worth more than self projects? Making your own game, but under restrictions, limiting creativity with a theme, and ending up not getting much visibility unless it's a winning game? That sounds like a personal project, minus the restrictions, required theme, and usually winning.

And on one more note- game jams encourage crunch time, last minute working, other unhealthy practices in an industry already plagued with such practices. Ok, game jams might prepare you to finish a AAA game in a month by making an indie game in a week. But again, that's unhealthy, and it's a bad stigma on the industry I want to break. Yes, it's important to maintain a schedule and keep on track, but that's important for a profesional project, when there isn't other more important and busier work to do like getting a good grade (and schoolwork takes up a lot of time, in fact too much time, that I just don't want it to take up). My own games don't have a schedule because I know already that I can't maintain that schedule unless I make it practically my job (and since I want to do AAA and not indie, I'm not about to drop out of college to ask publishers to release my games).

This is my thoughts on game jams; this is my blog, after all. By no means should you change your mind on game jams. If you disagree with me, say so in the comments! Have any tips or maybe I got something wrong? Tell me! Go out and put your best effort in these game jams, because what matters most isn't what I got out of trying to compete in large and difficult jams, but rather what you get out of anything that you choose to do. So if you want to learn something new, or improve on your own skill, or have nothing else to do, or need a theme to get started, then take a look at some amazing game jams out there; but if not, that's ok too.

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