Last weekend, game developers all over the world made around 5000 games in 48 hours at Global Game Jam.
This was my first Global Game Jam and really first hackathon experience in general. Another member of Capsule Cat and myself participated and joined two others to create a game. It was a great experience and I’m very happy with what our team was able to accomplish as newcomers.
Here are some lessons we learned during our experience and some tips on how you can do your best at the next hackathon that you participate in.
Stick to What You Know
This is an important factor in getting your game done in 48 hours. Find some common ground and stick to technology that everyone knows. You don’t have time to learn tons of new stuff in 48 hours. You’ll barely have time to get a working version of your game completed, let alone learning new frameworks or platforms.
This mainly applies to languages and platforms. Don’t try to make an Android app in Java if you have never done neither before the hackathon. Trying out new plugins or hardware is fair game, though, since most plugins are plug-and-play. The less you have to worry about learning something you don’t already know, the more time you can spend developing.
Aim for an MVP
You’re going to have a lot of cool ideas – so are your teammates. Someone is going to need to step up in the group and make sure everyone understands that what you are aiming for is the MVP – the Minimum Viable Product. Start cutting features that are not core to the gameplay. Get the core game done by the end of the first full day so that you have time to polish and fix bugs the next day.
I’m very thankful that I was on a team that understood that we needed to focus on the core of the game first, before we even started thinking about how to implement any additional features. We ended up with a simple prototype at the end of the first night and spent the next day polishing it for the demo.
Get Everyone Together
The only way your team is going to make it through the 48 hours and not fall apart is by keeping everyone together. It keeps everyone on task and provides instant feedback for any members who have questions or concerns. It also helps keep morale up because everyone can see everyone else working hard and focusing.
I know that even though my team – myself included – said they would get additional work done when they left the building and went home, none of us did. The longer you stay together in one room, the more work you will get done. It’s as simple as that.
Aim for Good Enough
“This animation looks kind of dorky.”
“The multiplayer code isn’t very stable for lousy connections.”
“The icon is a bit off.”
Don’t worry about it. Keep going. Write down what you want to fix on a sticky note and get to it if you have time. If you have something that works but isn’t perfect, just keep going. Trust me, no one is going to notice or care during the demo.
Get Ready for that Demo
Make sure that the 10% of the game that people are going to play 90% of the time during your demo is polished. That’s the only part of the game that should be a bit better than “good enough.” The point of the demo is to show off your game. Play test your game an hammer out any obvious bugs (non-obvious bugs become features 😉 ). Plan how you will present your game to the judges and to other hackathon participants.
And especially make sure your game works! Try it on the computer you are going to demo on. Try it again. You really don’t want to find out your game doesn’t run minutes before your presentation or live demo starts.
I hope these tips help and good luck on your next hackathon!