Game Jams – Game Design in Hyperspeed


It’s a pretty common complaint that there’s a dearth of innovation in the AAA gaming industry right now, and it’s a pretty common response that there’s plenty of innovation to be found in the indie scene, and I agree with both claims, but some developers have taken it upon themselves to not only innovate in the games they make, but also innovate in how they make them.

Imagine you have 48 hours to make a game – the theme has to relate to the death of a loved one – you have to do it completely on your own, and provide the source code to prove it. And GO!

I’d be familiarizing myself with this button, if I were you….

Game Jams are organized events where programmers and game designers get together to do just that, and they are becoming more and more popular lately. They can be small, insular events held at universities or conference halls, or they can be global events, connected by the internet, a theme, and a deadline. The Global Game Jam in January of this year saw teams at 242 sites in 47 countries create over 2,000 games – all in the space of just 48 hours.

MolyJam2012 was created when an extremely creative Twitter user made a parody account of Peter Molyneux (appropriately called “Peter Molydeux”). The real Molyneux is well-known for coming up with inspired and fantastical ideas for games and not always coming through – and the parody account takes the ‘inspired and fantastical’ part and turns it up to 11. Here are just a few of the recent game ideas put forth by “Peter Molydeux”:

  • Imagine a game where you instantly die if you see yourself? The enemy is reflection.
  • FPS where you must hold out a bowl of hot soup and must not spill a single drop of it whilst making your way through hostile environments
  • If I made a zombie game it would feature just one dangerous zombie, your child. You must sneak out avoiding society, trying to find help.

That last one blows my mind – I would play the holy hell out of that game!

In any event, someone eventually realized that the hundreds of offbeat ideas that had been tweeted by “Peter Molydeux” would be perfect fodder for a game jam, and thus, MolyJam2012 was born. Sadly, the fake Molyneux couldn’t make it, but the real Molyneux did put in an appearance, and the teams crafted over 200 delightfully bizarre games. You can play them yourself here.

Perhaps the oldest game jams, possibly the origin of the idea itself, is Ludum Dare. Latin for “to give a game”, Ludum Dare is a website that has held 24 two-day game development competitions over the past ten years, as well as a number of less-formal 72-hour ‘jams’.

It all seems to foster the idea that video games could be made out of anything and everything, and that’s a refreshing change of pace from the stagnation of an endless parade of military shooters. It’s experimentation in a field that could desperately use more of it, and I earnestly hope the AAA developers are sitting up and taking notice – but I doubt it.

They’re probably too busy putting quick-time events into everything and laughing.

Unless one of these games takes off and becomes uber-popular on their own, the big game publishers aren’t into taking huge risks, and in their defense, they probably shouldn’t. While some of the best games I’ve ever played have been experiments, in the end, they are businesses, and they have to make money. And experiments typically don’t make much money.

Still, as long as experimentation exists, the industry can benefit from it – a lot of lessons could certainly be learned from studying this micro-game-design phenomenon, and I’ve got to imagine a lot of great ideas are springing to life every time one of these game jams happens, so who knows?

Maybe the next great game that shakes the industry to its foundations will have been put together by one girl in two days with nothing but a computer, an inspired idea, and the drive to see it through.