Anatomy of a two-week jam

Game jams aren't always easy. As anyone who produces software, or art, or writing, or music knows, the creative process doesn't always obey timelines. Now do all of those simultaneously, oh and throw some fun, original, engaging gameplay on top. That said, I guess I'm a glutton for punishment because I love game jams. Something about dealing with constrained resources makes creativity flourish in unexpected ways. Plus they're something of a gateway drug for game development.

I've done the popular Ludum Dare jam (which allots 48 hours) four times now, and I was getting ready for a fifth when I read about Adventure Jam. Adventure games deserve the credit for some of my absolute favorite gaming experiences, both classics and the modern resurgence. There have been a few adventure concepts rattling around in my head for a while now. It was time to get one of them out before it did some damage. Adventure Jam is a two-week jam, which I knew would give me time for a good exploration and to stretch my skills, but no time to procrastinate or second-guess. (Also there'd be time for sleep, which is a rare commodity in Ludum Dare!)

Mostly out of curiosity I tracked all of my butt-in-seat, fully-productive work hours using Toggl. I figured some of you might be interested in what goes into a two-week jam, or at least what it took to get Troll Bridge submission ready! So without further ado, let's hit the graph.

Chart of hours spent

Just over one hundred hours! (Let me know where to send the invoice.) I think my strategy was to not burn out immediately, which probably contributed to a productivity dip in the middle of the week. Hey, things come up! If I had to guess, I'd say this is fairly common and linked to human nature: staring at a distant deadline. By the end of the first week I had a pretty solid vertical slice done. In the art department, the bridge scene, the troll, and a peasant were done. The weekend was lost to the demands of the real world (and some D&D), and yes, I still agonize over what I could have done with just 16 more hours. Oh well. Save it for the sequel I guess.

Heading into the second week, I had to widen the slice into something that looked more like a whole cake. Encounter writing and a couple of rewrites of the DSL for scripting the encounters ate most of the week. By Thursday night I had a fully written and scripted game, but still just a single peasant. That's when this happened:

ZOMG Troll Bridge has an ending. Now I have 13 sprites to draw. ART ALL NIGHT! Let's do this! #adventurejam #indiedev

Ornithopter Games (@OrnithopterGame) April 17, 2015

A slew of peasants, a wagon, and a goat later, it was 5 am. I had Inkscaped as though my very road to salvation wound through the Darkest Jungle of B├ęzier Curves. I stole a few hours of sleep and then spent every remaining second of Friday cramming in credits, the intro sequence, music, and sound effects. I'm still not sure how it all worked out; usually a frantic, last-minute addition of so many things is a recipe for disaster. Either I unwittingly signed a blood-pact with the demons of software (who have yet to extract their price in misery), or there's something to be said for this whole functional programming thing I've been trying to do.

So that's my story. This Adventure Jam is about 80 submissions strong and voting is ongoing. Getting to play the other games is a major allure of game jams: I learn a lot and it's both impressive and fascinating to see what people can pull off and the different approaches they take. I really can't recommend it enough! And if you are an Adventure Jam participant, don't forget to get out there and vote!