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.

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