Learn 2 Game-Jam Jam Becomes Official

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Barely 24 hours after the idea was fished for interest, the 2014 NJoystic Learn 2 Game-jam Jam has become official! Thanks to positive and swift response from interested parties, the Jam will move forward and it set to run from April 15, 2014 with projects due by May 15, 2014.

This is not a competition, so aside from the start and end dates for the jam, the rules are more of a guideline than a strict set of laws to follow. Interpret and adhere to them as you see fit.

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FAQ

Who is this Jam for?

Everybody! Never written a line of code before in your life? Great! Are you a millionaire AAA game developer with more than a decade of experience? Welcome aboard. Are you a group of lawn gnomes who come to life each night with the lone goal of competing in a game jam challenge? Weird, but come on in!

How many people can work on a project?

How many people you got? Want to go it alone (despite the danger)? Go for it! Have a group of friends who want to collaborate? The more the merrier (unless they’re particularly un-merry folk.) One, two, one-hundred. Whatever you want.

What kind of games can we make?

Anything. For many, this is a first-time learning process. Want to make a Pac-Man or Tetris clone? That’s a great way to learn to program. Or go completely original with it and attempt a rhythm-based, massively-mulitplayer dating sim. Whatever.

Is there a theme?

No. And yes. The theme here is “learn 2 jam,” which doesn’t dictate a type, style, or theme for the individual projects but should dictate a community theme for involvement. More on that later.

What tools can we use?

Anything! We have some free tools to recommend to those with no prior experience (see below), but if there’s something else you have and are experienced in (or want to learn), go for it. Ideally your games should be for PC, but I’m not going to not tell you to develop for, say, Mac. Or Linux. Or whatever.

Steve, it sounds like there aren’t ANY rules! What’s wrong with you?

I don’t like rules. Down with the man, man! And the woman, man! Anti-establishment and yadda-yadda.

Seriously though, because we’re helping eachother rather than competing against each other, and because this is meant to be a way for both experienced and completely-new game makers to participate, there’s really no need for rules.

Just don’t work on your game in any way outside of the jam dates. That’s cheating, and grounds for us to feed your soul to the “I cheated at a non-competitive, community-oriented, learning experience” demon. Trust me, you don’t want that.

What happened to the “Hour a day” time limit you talked about in the initial post?

Some feedback suggested it might be a bit much to ask those with little or no experience to adhere to a one-hour a day limit. I agree. That said, it’s a fun challenge for those of you with prior experience, so if you want to self-impose such limits, go ahead! (We dare you!)

How will we communicate?

The NJoystic forums (Yes, that is a thing!) will be the main spot for game-jam communications. You can also utilize the L2Game-JamJam comments sections in these posts, or tweet @Njoystic with #Learn2GameJam.

Sounds good! Where do we sign-up?

Right here, good sir and/or madam: Learn 2 Game-jam Jam.

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Brand new to development, programming, etc?

Okay, so I kinda lied when I said you can’t work on your game jam game “at all” prior to the April 15 start. You really shouldn’t start creating assets (graphics, sounds, etc) or writing code, but by all means, start brainstorming, sketching, thinking about mechanics, art styles, etc.

Also, don’t wait to pick a game engine (recommendations below’er) and start fiddling with it! I’d never ask you to wait until the jam to start learning, and assure you that I’ll be knee-deep in Unity testing new methods for doing game-things!

Once the forum is back up (hopefully soon!) feel free to get active on there as well. We’ll be posting tips and answering questions and all-around community-tackling the challenges of game-jam game development and basic information for those with no prior experience.

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The Tools!

Programming

Unity 3D offers a free version of their renowned game engine. The features in the free version are limited, but it’s plenty of engine there to make one heck of a game. Seriously. And it’s what I will be using, so there’s the added benefit of being the engine that we’re commenting on personally. Unity utilizes both C## and JavaScript scripting languages. (If you don’t know what that means, fear not! A language is simply the set of rules, conventions, commands that makes the computer “do stuff.” It’s part of what you’ll be learning, so it’s okay if you’re not yet familiar!)

GameMaker Studio also offers a free version of their game engine. It is also limited in features, though I’ve not had personal experience with it to comment on how exactly those limitations might affect your game-making jam session. We do have a few people participating who are using this, however, so there should be some help available. GameMaker uses it’s own scripting language.

HTML5 was offered as an additional recommendation, which is a language rather than an engine. Here is a list of suggested HTML5 based engines, many of which also support JavaScript. Note that while some of the engines on this list are free, some are not. Of those, many do offer limited-use free versions.

Art

GIMP is a free, photoshop-esque paint program for Windows that offers many of the same features as Adobe’s paid counter-part.

Blender offers a free tool for making 3d models. 3D modeling, animation, and rigging is a complex process in and of itself, but it’s also the thing I’m most academically experienced with, so hopefully I can help offer guidance if you need it.

Wings3D is a personal favorite of mine, and is free. It doesn’t do animation or rigging (which is related to animation.) I’ve seen people do some amazing and complex things with it, but it’s really great for quickly creating basic geometric objects like buildings.

Windows Paint. No, really! If you’re going for that retro-look, windows paint may be all you need.

Suggestion? Let us know in the comments! And again, you are not limited to these tools. These are simply suggestions.

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But wait, there’s more!

Actually, there’s not much more to say right now. But there will be in the coming days so stay tuned! And remember – if you’re new to this (heck, even if you’re not), parts of learning and trying to make a game will be mind-rendingly frustrating. Trust me, I’ve spent three days trying to fix broken code only to discover it was simply a misplaced punctuation or a letter with the wrong capitalization.

Don’t get discouraged if your game isn’t Skyrim. Or even if your game isn’t Pac-man. Your game can literally be a box that runs around the screen and jumps. That’s a start! Besides, we’re all here to help. Because, to use the same tired reference for a second time, it’s dangerous to go alone.

Now let’s Jam! … (on April 15th…)