One Year of Extra Credits Game Jams
Highlights and Advice From A Few of Our Extra Jammers!
We’ve run four game jams in the past year, and as we celebrate our fifth one, we thought we would ask some of our most regular and accomplished jammers for their insights about what they’ve learned from their game dev experiences.
The following 10 profiles feature jammers who participated in at least 3 out of the past 4 jams (as of this writing), and/or they have published and showcased their jam games.
Published August 25, 2019
For some reason, the old 2D games have always stirred my imagination: what if you could do this, or that? I always thought the level 2 of Super Mario Bros was amazing; you can walk outside the level where the score is, and reach the craziest shortcut!
As a jammer, I want to innovate, but somehow I always end up doing side-view games. Toying with expectations of what side-view games are supposed to be is too much fun. I really do hope that I have the guts to craft a non side-view game in the fifth EC jam!
I did finish the third EC jam (Gas Dwellers), but I got mixed feelings. On one hand, I am quite happy with the graphics I was able to produce. On the other hand, the gameplay, once implemented, was not satisfying at all and felt unclear. I used pen and paper to lay down ideas, but I felt pressured by time and rushed forward. I ended up doing something I did not really believe in. Next time, I really need to take as much time as necessary, at the cost of the scope of the game if necessary.
I am also quite happy with what I made in the fourth EC jam (PhoneThat); it is the first and only one I participated in since having a daughter.
However, I am most proud of the first EC jam game, The Power of What. I feel I really had a breakthrough as a gamedev with this one. The theme “Awesome Per Second” was very free and inspiring. Whenever I participate in a jam, I always keep this sentence in mind, and try to find an angle to introduce a wow effect. After that, I posted the game on other websites to broaden the audience.
I always wanted to make games as a job, and I had participated in game jams before, but during the first EC game jam I realized that participating in a game jam felt like a weekend of going on a holiday. I have since started to participate in game jams on a somewhat regular basis. I try to do something new during every jam, be it developing for a new platform or using a new language. I have also started to share my experience with others, giving advice or just jumping into conversations. I will be giving a talk on game jams at my old university later this year, and I am hoping to co-host a location for next year’s Global Game Jam.
My games usually end up getting a small post-jam update, and then stay as they are. The “try something different” is the one thing my games have in common, even though they are all vastly different from each other.
“Workshop Elves” is the one game I would have wished to be more finished that it was, but my friend who was working with me got sick midway through the jam. This is nothing I would change, since it is not something one can plan for, but I have since tried to scope my projects even more carefully.
I am most proud of TextCycle, since it was written during a holiday, using what free time I had during flights and bus rides. Since I did not have any time to make graphics, the whole game is essentially code, and I ended up writing a small engine for text-based games which play similar to “Oregon Trail.”
Profile: Hot Girls with Broken Legs (team)
Over the past year of our game development journey, the main thing we've learned, and will continue to learn, is the "secret sauce" ratio for making a good game. How long should be spent on the main mechanic? How long on juice? Sound design? How much time is a tutorial worth? For our first game, even including the ending of the game or listing the controls for the player was an after-thought. But in our most recent jam game, the core mechanics of the game were done very quickly, and a great deal of time was spent beautifying and tuning the game to be the best it could be.
It would be very easy for us to make different themed platformers every jam, but instead we try to use weird or abstract mechanics each time. That's why we've made a 1D stealth game, a political satire puzzle game, and a pong/asteroids/farming simulator mash up. While we don't always succeed, we try to put a high level of polish into the games we make.
We’re most proud of Phytocene Cycle! Despite having 100 hours to make the game, about half our team was unavailable for that weekend. Despite this, we still think we made a really unique and polished game.
When the first EC jam rolled around I was still somewhat of a beginner in game design. Participating in jams, and more specifically EC jams, really allowed me to understand how much of an intricate science game design is. Previously I had absolutely no concept of scope, feel, depth, complexity, or any aesthetics for that matter. But being able to condense the time spent in the process, and actually see a small project through to the end, taught me all of these things. Game jams taught me how to make games, but also taught me how much I enjoy game design and how much I would love to make it a career some day.
Of the four games I made for the EC jams, one I decided to not publish since I didn’t think it was good enough to be seen by anyone (I now understand that this is rarely a good thing to do). But, for INNST and Quincunx, which actually followed a proper design loop and went through many iterations, I noticed a pattern; they are games that are entirely mechanically driven, and based around a single, simple mechanic or idea. I always end up finding inspiration in Downwell’s design, just because I think I work better following that “mindset.” And game jams happen to lend themselves perfectly for that style of game making!
One of the things that EC jams taught me was how to scope properly. The games I made had to be very focused prototypes that containerized the core design in an environment, with only things that were strictly necessary for the core to work, or for the core to be approachable by new players, but nothing else. I decided to continue developing both INNST and Quincunx because I naturally wanted to discover what else those designs can offer, and because I was motivated by the great feedback and comments from the community.
When the first EC game jam was announced, I was. EXCITED. It seemed like the best possible way to get some experience and actually make a game. The thing is: I still didn’t know basically anything. I went in with what I thought to be a reasonable idea, a two player top-down arcade shooter, where one player always steers the enemies’ ship. Looking back, it should have been obvious that I was in over my head, especially considering I had other plans during the jam. It ended with 5 pages of notes and a bunch of research on star systems where this could take place, but nothing playable.
+ 5 “knowing how to scope”
+ 5 “don’t use what you’ve heard of in passing”
+ 10 “don’t do barely related research during a jam”
The second EC jam brought something amazing I personally didn’t have during the first one: a community that supported each other. At first I wasn’t even 100% sure if I wanted to do a jam again. I decided to at least join the Discord and lurk, but before I knew it I was excited to make a game again. One thing I realized, was that I was using the wrong tools for a problem I was not equipped to solve. At some point, a user named Marshy dropped a link to sortingh.at. That was a turning point for me, and I’ll always be grateful for that. That is how I found Construct 2. I managed to find a tool and motivation, and actually made something that was kind of resembling a game.
+ 15 “tool use”
+20 “anyone can make a game. really.”
+ 25 “motivation”
+30 “stop comparing yourself to others”
+ 10 “sense of accomplishment”
For the third EC jam I got some of my friends to participate, so that I could have slightly more room on what I could do. I had my first experience working with a small team, and the first time I used some material I found online, specifically music.
+ 5 “teamwork”
+ 5 “take things! (with permission!)”
Going into the fourth jam, I wanted to scope extra small this time, because the last games I made, while technically finished, always felt unpolished and unsatisfying in a way. The theme (Connect) got me to my idea pretty quickly: cables connect to things, there we go. Then I thought: hang on, there is no way I can draw cables, heck, I’m pretty close to failing at drawing stick figures. So I did the thing that would save the most time: photographs. Doesn’t look too great, especially the way I did it, but hey, it gets the job done, saves a bunch of time, and feels more polished than if I had tried to draw cables. I felt really good getting that thing off the ground, especially because every other jam I had to rush to meet the deadline, but this time the actual game was done quickly.
+ 5 “time management”
+ 10 “mechanics aren’t all that matters”
I am so glad I found this community. For now, game dev has firmly established itself as a hobby in my life, but who knows what might happen next. I mean, about a year ago I was about to give up on making a game, but now? I have four published games on itch.io, a website I had never heard of before all this. I now know what I can make, and what tools I actually can use. And somehow, me and a thing I made are in a video from one of my favorite YouTube channels. I’m still just sticking things together and seeing if I can pass them off as a game—but I’m glad that I am.
For all four game jams that were hosted, I have participated and successfully submitted an entry for each of them. I worked on The Population by myself. For the other games, I worked in a different team for each of them. I am currently 16 years old and have used Scratch, Stencyl, and Unity in my games; I published my first Unity game when I was 14 (Dashing Blue).
Over the past year of game development, I learned not to be too ambitious in creating my games and to be more realistic. I have also started working in teams, instead of creating games only by myself. Working in teams forced me to collaborate and cooperate with other people, and sometimes proved to be chaotic and messy, but it was an experience more entertaining than working by myself.
An interesting note regarding my later game jam entries, is that they seem to use the game jams’ theme more appropriately and suitably compared to my earlier game jam entries. The game Habits skillfully used the theme Cycles, with a time loop device in a story of a man who had a hard time breaking bad habits he repeatedly performed. The game Magnetic Attraction used the theme Connect by having the player and magnet components be physically connected to each other. But in the past, for example, my second jam entry minimally used the theme Present, by putting two present boxes inside the game. Despite all the chaos and limited deadlines, I am proud of the fact that I managed to complete and finish all of my games.
Of all my game jam entries, I am most proud of Magnetic Attraction. This is because the development of this game was relatively smooth. Compared to the first three entries, I think Magnetic Attraction had the highest entertainment value.
Profile: Ryan Wires
Over the past year, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to start with one idea, and build up. It’s easy and fun to think about all sorts of cool features you want to add to a game. I do that all the time. But the useful part of brainstorming is drilling down to a single good idea you can build everything on top of. If the core of your game doesn’t work, nothing you build on top of it will help, and if it does, you’ll be able to see what needs added as you’re building and testing. Don’t over-design ahead of time—it just leads to wasted effort.
My games are pretty different from each other (especially the most recent one, having moved from Gamemaker 2 to Twine), but in general, I like letting players explore. I'll make one large, continuous level instead of several small ones, and I reward going back and trying again with more knowledge than before. I also like to strictly limit my color palette—it’s an easy way to make your graphics feel thematic and cohesive, even if they’re not strong on their own or were pulled from multiple sources to start with.
I’m most proud of space/time, and I think that’s because it feels the most complete of all my games. The idea behind it was the simplest I've had so far, and that gave me two advantages. For one, I had more time to refine and iterate on what was there. But it also means that the game doesn’t feel like a prototype of something bigger. It stands on its own and invites you to judge it for what it is, not what it could be with more power-ups or polish.
I've been working in the industry since 2012 as a programmer, but the first Extra Credits Game Design Jam was the first game jam I took part in. Since then I've participated in all 4 jams and am looking forward to the fifth. This also got me started with jamming in general, and we participated in the Global Game Jam 2019, Ludum Dare 44, and the recent GMTK Jam.
Jamming has really helped me up my game by letting me focus on the things that really matter. In my work experience, it has been fairly common for Feature Creep to happen—and doing jams is a great way to learn how to counter it, and a good exercise in preventing it from happening. Can't really do a short duration jam if you don't complete the game! I also worked with a team for all the games, which helped me improve my management skills.
The Extra Credits jams also gave me an opportunity to make short music loops/melodies which is something I've always wanted to do. This really helps in communicating the vision of the game to the rest of the team—assuming I do a decent job at setting the mood.
All our EC jam games were done in 2D, even though we had teammates who are well versed in 3D. It just made more sense in terms of production for us to do this—prototyping was quicker, as was creation of assets.
I am most proud of Keeping Demons at Bay. This was the one where we were able to collaborate really well as a team, although we can definitely do better. We were able to nail the gameplay quickly, and distribute level creation and testing among ourselves. Personally, I really like the music theme I was able to come up with, and it was also my first attempt at a dynamic score—with the music changing slightly based on threat. I definitely want to do further work on this one (and Dr. Lick, to an extent).
With Short Awesome Idler!, I had literally just discovered LÖVE a fortnight beforehand, and I was away from home when the jam theme announcement came, so I had time to basically think of the easiest way I could do it. This is also the only one I have polished, with the help of a friend, to add more mechanics, improve the art, create clearer descriptions in a more helpful AI, and add a secret ending that has a really low chance of being unlocked. I just published the more polished version to the itch.io page, and left the original as version 2.
"Nothing Can Harm You" is what I'm most proud of, as it is my most ambitious solo project and one where I had to work out a LOT of different ways to do things. In the game’s files, if you can get to them, I even added some extra worldbuilding, because I decided I wanted to include something hidden in all my games—which ended being somewhat irrelevant for the next game jams, because I signed on to be an artist on other teams.
For Repetition, I was mainly the background artist. I just wanted experience working as a team for once, and it was fun discussing what we wanted to do. It was literally the first time I was involved in a game team, and not just doing everything myself.
For Annul & Void, the project lead, who also is an actual professional in the industry, had a definite vision around which the whole thing was built. We all pitched in, and I learned a thing or two about how artists tend to do things in the games industry, and the very useful skill on how to make autotiles—which is a pain to do, but I'm certainly going to need it!
There's a definite pattern of me using grayscale in all of these (and it wasn't even my decision in the ones I was in a team in!).
In the past year, I've learned how much I like LÖVE, more about art, and even, despite not actually using it for games yet, a bit about music-making.
Profile: OVERTIME (game)
OVERTIME was produced during the first Extra Credits game jam. It has since received showcase awards at multiple games events around the United States, including:
“Indie Selection MineFaire” – Chicago, August 2018
“Student Selection DreamHack” – Atlanta, November 2018
“Official Selection alt.ctrl.GDC” – San Francisco, March 2019
“Official Selection alt.ctrl.PARTY” – San Francisco, March 2019
“Official Selection INDIE GAME PARTY” – Chicago, May 2019
“Student Selection DreamHack” – Dallas, May 2019
“The positive feedback from the Extra Credits coordinators and participants of the jam prompted us to keep working on it,” said Josh Delson. “The comments we got on the itch.io page really resonated with us, and we wanted to polish OVERTIME to submit for MAGFest 2019.”
Daniel Song explains, “We jokingly discussed how a toy basketball could be used as the controller for the game. We soon realized that a member from our Junior Developmental Experience group (JDE) was capable of bringing that into reality.” The addition of the basketball controller after the jam ended helped OVERTIME get accepted into the highly competitive alt.ctrl.GDC 2019 showcase.
That member was Thomas Newsome. “I was approached by the team after the jam to develop the controller for it, as they were inspired by a desktop basketball toy they found on Amazon. I've made two iterations of the controller so far, working for about two months total during school and work. I manage a makerspace which has helped me learn skills like 3D printing, laser cutting, wood working, and basic Arduino implementation.”
Eric Moen says, “I wish we had spent a bit more time on the design of game as a whole. Right now the progression makes sense and the mini-games are fairly intuitive, but when the game is completed you don't really know whether you've won or lost in the game. Also, when you lose a mini-game, the player doesn't really know what the punishment is for losing. So I wish we had focused a little more on making the game as a whole more coherent and understandable.”
“We have a lot of camaraderie in our group. Everyone is in it to produce a product that they can be proud of,” said Don Herweg.