GLOBAL GAME JAME: WINNING AGAINST TIME
When it comes to a tight time-restriction as a main component such as the Global Game Jam where you only have 48 hours to execute and create a game prototype, I’ve learned from experience that there are certain things you can do to put yourself at an advantage. As much as competing against others as you think you might be, you are also competing mainly with time. The priorities are different and these are just some tips/tricks I’ve learned during my experience that I believe are adaptable traits that were helpful in helping us place first not only in the Global Game Jam-Atlanta 2014, but other timed competitions such as the ASIFA-Atlanta 12N12 Competition 2012, and the SCAD Generate Competition: Animation Category 2012.
DO YOUR BASIC RESEARCH
It is at least a fundamental to know what kind of competition you are competing in before enlisting yourself. As an animator, I was a bit wary at first joining the GGJ as it was a gaming competition and I did not know if I would have the sufficient skills to be able to pull the project off so I looked up the scope of previous projects, read the briefs, and talked to past competitors and organizers about what they would suggest having as skills in joining the competition. Sometimes all it really takes is a quick 20 mins of google search to do a brief research on previous winning projects and make a mental note on what you think was the strength or weakness as different types of skills may be needed and you want to make sure you can cover the bases of the essential basic skills.
MAKE A LIST OF ASSUMPTION/ READ DIRECTIONS
Although competitions like the GGJ usually has a theme that is only revealed on the day of competition, usually there are things you know for sure before hand which you can make into a List of Assumption. A competition may tell you things such as the project deadline, minimum and maximum people per team, or broad scope of skills needed. Knowing whether a competition has a duration of 12, 24, or 48 hours can make a big difference of allowing you to narrow down your choice of technique for execution and the skills you will need on the team.
For the Global Game Jam, knowing that the competition was only 48 hours long, we looked into what would be doable quality within 24 hours, when you break down general aspects that needed to be completed in the pipeline. it made sense for us to either go with a group of strong 2D animators/illustrators or have in mind a simple 3D animation with very minimal asset and find a programming team to work with us. Also reading the directions clearly helps to make sure you ask about things you might not understand and save you from doing unnecessary work that might not be needed.
KNOWING YOUR TEAM IS ESSENTIAL IN RECRUITMENT
For most of the competitions entered, we formed what I would call a half-team. For the GGJ, we did not have programmers in our circle and being able to have a large amount of people, we decided to settle for a team of 5 animators/illustrators and then look for 3-5 more programmers to form the other half of the team. This way, while we might not have been able to know everyone’s skills and speed, we at least had ideas of half of the team’s capabilities.
Going into a competition such as SCAD GENERATE 2012, where my roommate and we knew we had to have someone with a Z-Brush skills, we specifically sought out to find the last teammate who could fulfill the requirements. Even if you are going into a competition alone for experience, it is an advantage to do a little chitchat around and talk to other people and find out the strengths and weaknesses. For example, in GGJ a team with just animators would not work since there is gameplay testing involved and a team of pure programmers may have a harder time creating visual assets. If there is a balanced skill set, it is easier to gauge what type of game you are going for and what you can achieve in terms of complexity within the timeframe.
REMEMBER THAT DEADLINES ARE NOT GUIDELINES, THEY ARE THE RULE
In a competition where time is limited, finishing a project piece or submitting them on time can make the difference between winning and not winning. It is advantageous to aim to finish the project earlier than the deadline written to make room for Murphy’s law. I always aim to try and keep things as simple as possible and sit down with the group to set a quick time limit as to how much time we can use to discuss concept, stages of execution, and post production. Although in a project one might want to win with the most brilliant idea ever, if it is not completed, the work is usually worth less than something that is completed. Thus speaking, submitting an uncompleted work is still a higher chance than submitting nothing at all. A simple project that is completed usually wins over a complex uncompleted piece of work by default.
MIND THE PIPELINE/ BE FLEXIBLE
When working in a team with more than one component to execute, it is also a plus to know what process may be dependent on other aspects in the pipeline. Knowing if the programmers are able to work on dummy assets in place of finished ones or if they need at least a prototype from the illustrators/animators, means you might have to adapt your workflow a certain way to maximize the time you have. If the programmers are doing nothing waiting around for assets from designers in the first 10 hours, that’s 10 hours x amount of idle programmers you’ve lost in the competition already.
For our team, we had a designated illustrator who also doubled as a project manager who kept in line a file of things that needed to be done and assets to be made. Using google docs and spreadsheet also allowed us to work more efficiently with one another. If you have no time to make an asset checklist, there are many templates you can download and adapt to use. While in a smaller team the importance of a project manager or asset list may not be as obvious, when your team expands to over 10 people, it becomes the difference between how efficiently you are able to execute your work according to plan.
SET ASIDE TIME TO EAT/SLEEP
Usually time-based competitions can run long into the night and one of the things that might happen is people forgetting to calculate in eating/sleeping schedule inside their schedule. Resting is really important as it helps to clear your brain and if you don’t get enough of it, next best thing is to get food as fuel for your body. With a clearer mind, a lot of mistakes that can be costly can be avoided.
SCALE THE PROJECT DOWN
While it may be easy to get carried away with grandiose ideas of fabulous concepts that will rock the core of humanity, it is also good to balance it out with a dose of sensibility that keeps you mindful of the time limit you actually have. One of the rookie mistakes even I have made is to try to pull off something too extravagant and ended up with a very bad looking project. Scaling a project down to its essential makes sure things will get down at the core and with time, you can add more features to enhance the project.
In any group work, be it a competition or not, communication is key to working with people. Establishing clear roles and breaking down into smaller groups with a lead for each component helps to structure a communication hierarchy. A programmer should let an animator know what type of output file they would like, time needed to execute their parts, and compatibility limitations such as software output versions before the team begins the project and vice versa.
A FEW MORE TIPS FROM OTHER TIME-BASED COMPETITION VETERAN: DAVID HOWARD
- “When working in a high-stress, time-limited, environment there are a few things to keep in mind.” This is a lot like “when you’ve been set on fire, it’s a good idea to remember to stop, drop, and roll.” Whether it’s a film shoot with a crowd of people or a small team project, the importance of staying calm and focused cannot be overexagerrated. And yes, it takes practice. I would highly suggest throwing yourself into these fires as much as possible to get used to the flames.
- Organize what needs to get done and then focus each step at a time until you are finished.
- Learn to prioritize and delegate tasks. -When you’re working on a single task, do not think about what else needs doing but keep focused until your task is complete.
- Communicate and keep track of where everyone else is so that adjustments can be made to the pipeline in order to optimize productivity.
- And definitely stay hydrated (I run through a ridiculous amount of bottled water on-set)
All in all, there are a lot of components to be aware of in a competition and much of it has to do with experiences. Going in your first GGJ or similar time-limited competition, it is usually better to go in with a mindset of exploring and learning how it works without stressing too much. Having fun is one of the most important things about these type of things but overall, these are somethings I find relatively useful in any group type execution.
Here is our winning video for our simulated game play for Global Game Jam Atlanta 2014: Patches and Fudge. If you are interested in our other winning entries, here’s our winning entry for SCAD GENERATE 24 HRS Competition: Animation and the ASIFA 12N12 Competition for Opening Theater Credits for Plaza Theatre.