Long term tips for multiple short game jams for programmers

I see multiple blog posts around the internet for tips on just doing a single weekend game jam, these tend to be pretty obvious like drink water and get sleep. What I don’t see that I think is harder is strategies in getting better after doing several and how to stay motivated to keep doing them as a programmer.

I keep motivated doing gamejams/hackathons because I find it’s the easiest way to follow some great advice in The Pragmatic Programmer. The book suggests learning at least one new programming language or big tool every year and reading one technical book a quarter. Easy to remember and great advice. Even if I’m not doing a deep dive that weekend, I still get a good sense about what makes engines or platforms different and get out of habit. This is different from the common designer motivation of using the tool they’re most comfortable with so they don’t need to spend a lot of time in tutorials and can focus on a mechanic.

I assume that most people’s 1st or 2nd gamejam is consumed just by trying to complete a project so these tips mostly only apply to once I started being able to scope and complete projects.
Strategies I use for making progress on my 3rd+ gamejams and still feel like I’m growing as a programmer while still having a finished concept others can give feedback on:

  • I don’t focus on multiplayer if people need to judge it on the internet. The friction is too high, you can’t keep a populated server and even in the case of local MP most people don’t have friends around.
  • I prefer working with tools that making having an online build easy. When trying to get others to play quick games, low friction is even more important than in a f2p game. This isn’t to say that I don’t play around with native stuff, but it factors in that I won’t get much feedback.
  • I timebox myself when I feel like I’m “going down a rabbit hole” and trying to make a new tool do something it doesn’t want to do. When I feel like I’ve sunk more than a few hours into a feature like getting water working or glow shaders, and it just isn’t happening I try brainstorming a replacement once a set time has past so you don’t waste too much time. If I get it done within that time, great, if not just come up with an alternative
  • If no good ideas come to me for the theme I just start playing with tutorials. Official new tutorials often showcase the strengths of a new tool you might not know, so it gives good direction.
  • I figure out where my resource holes are before starting. This gives me some idea of how much time I’ll end up looking for art or sound, or whether someone else can fill those in.
  • If I have friends that tend to like to have ideas but haven’t made a game before, I try to help them make their own game in twine or something similar before being on a formal team together. It helps when everyone learns scoping skills before working on a bigger team.
  • The biggest motivation is doing things you’re not allowed to do at work.For me that’s my cynical based humor.

This is by no means a complete list I’m sure. These are just the things I’ve found that other people have disagreed with me on but I feel work really well personally.

Molly’s GaymerX3 talks

This year for GaymerX I did two different talks “Not just a Queer in Gaming” and “Localizing Games for a Worldwide Audience” (slides) (videos) As I gain experience I’m trying to do less panels that just focus on my own existence as a gay/women game programmer and more things on specific topics, so this con was a good step towards that goal. I think the existence panels are good for total new people. However, there are enough of a backlog where there is nothing new to say that a new person couldn’t easily find online and they don’t cause me to think and grow when writing them.

Not Just a Queer in Gaming I was invited on last minute with the famous David Gaider of BioWare fame, Wes Schneider of Pathfinder and Gordon Bellamy moderated. It was a casually moderated panel on motivations, career paths, and minimum bars for portfolios. Since GaymerX is an older crowd than something like PAX ( 18+ required ) it can focus less on school requirements. The main takeaway I had from this panel is the fairly obvious, being on a panel with famous names who have accomplished awesome stuff gets audiences to show up and is super cool.

The second panel being “Localizing Games for a Worldwide Audience” with Gordon Brown with Carbine Games, was one I had been thinking about for awhile. The idea was to get people from the typical “how to make your first game” talk to showing best practice steps for an area of game development not shown much to ship a real product. It had a secondary goal of exploring “English speaking” as an under examined privilege and bias I believe people should be more aware of. One immediate problem with this panel was scheduled for the early first slot 10AM on a Sunday at the same time as a Dragon Age panel, I’m not sure how to ensure better timeslots I believe this had but a strong negative impact on attendance. In addition, localization is inherently a niche topic, one that is so hidden people aren’t aware that they don’t know they don’t know. GaymerX is a very unique venue in that there are both a significant amount of gamer fans and developers of all levels so you can appeal to both. I was hoping this would pique the average gamers curiosity by talking about both why games from Japan were hard to bring over and teach something about how much work games were, but it didn’t quite work out that way. The good thing is that localizers themselves are very supportive of each other and we ended up having an interesting conversation with others working in various aspects of localization.

I started attempting to overcome my stage fright about 2.5 years ago and after about 6 small talks or so I no longer suffer from nervous fear of public speaking about a subject I know. Your mileage will vary but I found numbers comforting when I was first starting out on what seemed like an impossible goal of overcoming nerves. I’ll be moving onto bigger conferences next.

Ludum Dare 33 “You are the Monster” Entry

I wasn’t really inspired by the theme this Ludum Dare and I think that always tends to show. You can see the game here and vote on it here. Since it’s just html, css, and non-obfuscated js feel free to look at the code.

My main takeaways were:

  1. Keeping a blog makes me significantly better and showing my progress.
  2. CSS animations have gotten WAY easier to work with since I last did them.
  3. Kind of obvious but when making games in niche genres it’s easier to get attention from the hardcore fans. My game got a fair amount of hits from the clicker/idle subreddit.
  4. I managed to finish something even after I sort of lost motivation and had several other things to do during the weekend, so that’s a big improvement over previous jams.


  • Visual Studio Express 2012 Web
  • jQueryUI

A few in progress shots of the order I did things in:

  1. Skeleton layout
  2. 1Layout

  3. Button Handcursor And Satisfying number animation complete with formatting of dummy info
  4. 2HandcursorAndNumberAnimation

  5. Stats Popup
  6. 3StatsPopup

  7. Dynamic Button inserts and Tooltips
  8. 4DynamicButtonInsertAndTooltips

  9. Button content updates
  10. 5ButtonContentLiveSite

  11. Logic working on everything
  12. 6LogicWorksCostsGrayedTitleBarUpdates

  13. Real art
  14. 7RealArtIsFun

  15. Floaty Text!!!!!!
  16. 8FloatyTextInAllBrowsers

  17. Toast Popups and Save load
  18. 9ToastPopupsAndSaveLoad

  19. Win condition
  20. 10WinMenu

  21. Final  including weird css bug fixes.
  22. 11Final



What happens when you’re really tired and google for transparent images because you’re trying to figure out a really dumb IE fading bug:

Waves of Rocket League Games

Whenever a game becomes an unexpected hit there’s a flurry of “Well it’s like (recent hit game) but with…”
Partially this happens because it’s an easy way for people to understand/pitch a new concept in relation to a known idea and partially because people who fund games easily fall into the trap that they can compete with an existing product by having their own. It’s different than cloning in the sense that there is a value add, but usually not enough to really stand out and usually years later consumers only remember the one that made it big.

The hit game doesn’t need to be innovative enough to found a new genre, Everquest was around before World of Warcraft but not many companies were rushing to crank out their own spin on that. It’s hard to think about social games before simulation-Ville games and the spin-offs that followed.

Rocket League spin-offs just strike me as something that could get more comical.
I’m hoping in a few months we end up:

  • Cars play Basketball
  • Cars play Volleyball
  • Cars play Baseball
  • Cars play Poker ( vs dogs and cats or licensed characters from Telltale Games )
  • Cars do synchronized swimming
  • Cars do dressage ( Stephan Colbert’s Sport of the summer 2012 )
  • Cars do track and field ( including foot sprint races! )
    • bonus if this variant features surgeon simulator/QWOP style controls

… Actually after typing all those I’m fairly sure I would enjoy a gamejam with this theme.