June 8, 2012 1:00 PM | John Polson
Creator Andy Moore (Steambirds) expressed last week that this one-hour jam has the ability to motivate and constrain, bringing about an "innovation rarely seen in gamedev."
Ludum Dare's 48-hour, and even sporadic 8-hour, competitions bring games whose innovation catch the attention of the media and dev communities. They are so well-known now that the last jam brought over 1,400 entries.
Can a game made in extremely less time warrant such attention, too? I turned to Ludum Dare staff members Mike Kasprzak and Phil Hassey for their input. Additionally, QWOP, 2QWOP, and GIRP developer Bennett Foddy weighs in, admitting he appreciates games with long development cycles like Braid and games quickly developed in "violent, heavy brush strokes."
Mike Kasprzak: Full disclosure, we (Ludum Dare) are hosting the submission form for Jam O'Clock. He needed a place to host it, and we've got that whole infrastructure figured out. Also we've both known Andy for a number of years, and keep in contact regularly, so it was a no-brainer for us.
I caught and watched a couple of Andy's test 15 minute live streams. I found them entertaining, but Andy Moore himself already is a good speaker, so that may not be true of everyone broadcasting.
One hour is an extremely short period of time. If you're going to finish, everything has to go right. One big misstep can be the death of what you're attempting, but at the same time you don't really have time to think about it, so you wont overthink it either (which is probably the more common problem anyway). That doesn't leave a lot of room for explicit innovation, only accidental. You decide to explore something, walk it through to completion, and hope as you're doing it you made the right choice.
A lot of people doing Ludum Dare spend the first hour or two planning what they're going to do. Anyone planning to participate in Jam O'Clock has basically between now and the start time to decide what they're going to make, and solve some problems in their head before they even begin coding. That is the different dynamic here. Your decisions about what you're doing happen long before you start. The only decisions you have left are ones of implementation.
That said, I think Jam O'Clock is a good idea. Not for what you make during the hour, but what you learn in the process of making it. So from that, great for the developer (learning), but I don't think it offers much to gamers. Spectators however, there's much to gain observing another persons process. And with a good personality behind the lens, you can have a good time too.
One of the biggest things we as game developers are EXTREMELY bad at is time management. It's all too common to want to plan and overthink an idea before sitting down and doing it. You try to predict what will work and what will not work, when sometimes (okay, most of the time) the best answer can be found by just shutting up, sitting down, and doing it. If it looks right, it's right. If there is one extraneous case where it's wrong, maybe there's a hack you can do to fix it. And since the code was written quickly, despite what you may think, it's not going to take you long to figure out what it does. If you need to gut it and rewrite it, well it didn't take you long in the first place, so it's not a big loss. Less debate, more action.
I do like [Moore's sentiment "any decisions you make in game dev can be made in an hour"], but I would still say "many" versus "any" myself. A decision can be made in a moment technically. Prototyping at the pace of Jam O'Clock is what you do to make informed decisions to an overarching question. I think it's less about deciding, more about doing, and that doing gives us the data we need to make the best decision.
An alternative statement I would make is "any question in game dev can be answered in an hour, but it takes practice to ask the right questions". One extremely effective way we answer questions is by prototyping (jamming). That to me is what makes Jam O'Clock worthwhile; To get better at asking and answering the right questions.
Phil Hassey: I think it can all be a pretty interesting way to see the tools that are used to create games. It can also be a way to get a taste of what making games is like. I also think it could just plain be entertaining, in terms of watching people doing crazy stuff.
I'm not sure about Andy's ["any decisions you make in game dev can be made in an hour"] quote .. I think you can make a lot of decisions in an hour, but the full design of a game is really fleshed out during the whole development of a game. If you are making a 48 hour game, it's happening all the time during that period.
I also think to create a good 1 hour game, it'd be smart to do some good thinking in preparation, so to disagree with Mike's statement: " The only decisions you have left are ones of implementation." I'd say that even implementation details could be decided in advance. Then it really is just a matter of "doing the work".
At this point, anyone who wants to make a game has almost no excuse not to. Between all the different jams available and all the super easy tools, the barrier to entry is getting very low. I think it'll just keep getting better as the tools improve and even more opportunities arrive.
Bennett Foddy: I love games like Braid, Fez, Super Meat Boy, these carefully-polished five-year masterpieces where every pixel is hand-placed like one of Seurat's pointillist masterpieces.
But this is not the only kind of game I want to play! I also want to play games composed of a handful of violent, heavy brush strokes, like Franz Kline's black-and-white paintings. I want to play Matisse-style games, cut from paper and dropped on the floor. Warhol, Duchamp, Pollock, Klein: Many of history's greatest artworks were created in a matter of hours or even minutes. These carefree artworks can have qualities that are systematically erased from more careful, considered (sometimes tortured) work: violence, inspiration, joy, spontaneity, chance, élan.
The traditional publisher model supports the former type of game but it utterly excludes the latter. I'm excited about web games and app store games because we finally have a business model that supports carefree game development. If games are to mature as an art form, we have to get away from this idea that is so often put forward: that players shouldn't pay for a game that was made quickly. That is just false, and to my mind a harmful view that will result in the stagnation of the form. If painters had taken that view, we would have missed out on many (or most) of the modern era's masterworks.
Of course the business model for fast games must be different than the business model for slow ones. It would be a mistake to put Braid on the app store, just as it would be a mistake to put the original version of QWOP on Steam.