How to Make Your Jam Game Stand Out!
Avoid naming your game the exact same thing as the jam theme. The reason for this is that at least a dozen other people are doing that too.
There’s something to be said for not getting too creative with naming; that is, don’t use your game’s name to “add in” a feature or narrative/story that doesn’t exist. Made-up example: someone makes a platformer and names it “Game Jam Dating Simulator” in an attempt to get more views/downloads, but the gameplay is, well, a platformer--not a tongue-in-cheek dating sim parody of participating in a game jam. Quite possibly, the name of your game is the only marketing you will ever do for it. You can get creative without being misleading.
Put your control schemes in-game, on your itchio game page, or preferably in *both* places.
Don’t require players to use an external controller as the only method of interaction. You can optimize your game for controllers if you want and that’s your intended design goal, but all players have access to a keyboard and some sort of mouse--not everyone owns PC controller(s) (or wants to get them out just to play your game), so there should always be a keyboard-or-mouse option to interact with your game, whether or not it also works with external controllers.
The most popularly used keyboard buttons for PC games are WASD, arrows, spacebar, shift, and E (for interaction with a game object), and of course, the humble mouse click. We’ve played a lot of games that not only did not include any control schemes, but which used other mysterious keyboard buttons we never figured out. If you’re going to use less common keyboard control schemes, at least include instructions for the player.
Have fun with this!
Go into this jam with a healthy mindset! “Learn something new” is a great goal to have in a game jam. When the unexpected arises, you’ll be able to take it in stride without getting too stressed.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you join a team, be extra communicative. Game jams are a good way to practice healthy “group project” behaviors, like making design decisions together (and knowing when to make compromises). If you need to leave a team for any reason, actually tell them (don’t go silent on them) and do your best to help them get the assistance they need to finish the game.
We do not recommend jamming for 100 hours. The level of polish that games end up having is the same range we would expect to see from a 48-hour jam, just stretched out over a longer period of time for your own personal relaxation and sanity. Do not crunch! Sleep, eat, play, and live!
Don’t spend time comparing your skills/your game to what other people are doing. Everyone else is too busy working to notice! In Extra Credits jams at least, we find that about 50% of folks are first-time jammers. Don’t beat yourself up. Focus on what you CAN contribute and learn!
Compared to other types of game bugs, it takes no time to fix a spelling or punctuation mistake. An overwhelming number of jam games leave them in anyway. Pay extra attention to spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Ask a friend and/or another jammer in the community to proofread. A single typo can really throw off the immersiveness of the player’s experience.
In general, if you want to have more immersive and captivating writing in your games: read a wide variety of books, magazines, blogs, news articles, etc. to increase your vocabulary. Write short stories, journal entries, social media posts, etc. to develop your own voice and tone as a writer.
User interface design
Text is always readable. Don’t experiment with very fancy or weird-looking fonts unless you know what you’re doing; there’s a reason why “boring” fonts like Helvetica and Georgia are very popular in design (they’re readable!). If you have long paragraphs, dark text on a lighter background is easier to read with less strain on the eyes, rather than light-colored text on a dark background.
There are many free websites that help you generate a color scheme for your game. Use them! They’ll help you avoid making accidentally harsh color choices, such as combining red and green (and they can even help make your game easily accessible to colorblind players--there are a lot!).
There are established principles of UI and graphic design that countless developers use over and over again across games in every single genre. Please don’t try to reinvent the wheel for your own game. Steal design ideas from other games if you need to--they’re based on common principles.
I finished my game! Now what?
Tell the world about it on your social media channels! #extragamejam
Commit to playing and leaving (constructive) feedback on at least 1 other game submitted to the jam. Stick around in our Discord to exchange playtesting comments.
Decide what your “next steps” look like. Do you want to keep working on just this game? Create a schedule for adding new features and improvements. Do you want to learn or practice your mastery of a particular game dev skill or software/tool? That’s also a great goal!
Celebrate that you made a game! You put some art and creativity back into the world. Thanks for being you and expressing yourself through game design!
As much as possible, add text/subtitles to accompany spoken dialogue. Even if all players of your game had absolutely perfect hearing, not everyone has functional computer speakers or headphones.
If audio/music is an important part of your game, include a note about enabling volume and/or using headphones.
level design and general gameplay
Err on the side of the player being able to finish your game, than not. One amazing level is more memorable and satisfying than 2-10 okay ones.
That said, we’ve observed that jam games that do successfully implement 2+ levels, almost always have extremely short levels designed for gameplay that lasts seconds, not minutes.
If you purposely want the player to fail/die/restart multiple times, this should be fun to experience, and not inherently frustrating. We see a lot of platformers and action games that are difficult because the levels seem haphazard (e.g. platforms that are spaced too far apart to complete a jump unless the player-character is standing on the exact correct pixel). This is not “true” difficulty, and is something that would have been caught and remedied if any playtesting had happened (it most likely didn’t--don’t underestimate the value of playtesting for this exact reason).
“Difficulty” can be intellectual, social, mechanical/physical… if your goal is to design an intentionally difficult game, don’t limit yourself to only one definition of what level difficulty looks like.
Games with complex mechanics
Introduce each mechanic and gameplay instruction one at a time. Don’t require the player to read a wall of text as their only introduction to start playing and learning the game. Most if not all of your “vertical slice” might just be just tutorial stuff, and that’s 100% okay. You want the player to actually finish your game and not immediately give up, right?
TABletop/Board game/Print-and-play games
To give people a quick idea of what your game looks or plays like, snap a photo or two of a game in progress. If you're writing a TTRPG, include some art pieces to get across the mood of your game. Just small visual flourishes like fonts can also do a lot of work to set a tone. You don't need to be an artist, but a good layout can attract people to read your rules. Your game might be the most clever thing in the entire world, but if it's a brick of text on a word doc, very few people are going to look at it, let alone try it out. UI and UX is just as important to a tabletop designer (sometimes even more so) than a video game designer.
Order of Operations: Go grab a few tabletop rule books and read through them. Take note of what order information is presented in. For the most part, you're given the theme, win condition, and then how to achieve that win condition. RPGs tend to start with character creation rules, play rules, and then whatever the GM (game master) needs to know. They tend to be ordered that way to get the players into the game as quick as possible. You don't have to follow that format, but if you do, think about why you're breaking that pattern. (Also, if you want a view of a REALLY well laid out rulebook, download the rulebook for Gloomhaven. The back of the book has an amazing visual index!)
Get heckin' crazy! It's still a game jam, and it's a great time to experiment. Is there stuff you can do with dice other than rolling them? Cards? Scraps of paper? Potato chip crumbs at the bottom of the bag? We don't know! Make something wild! You don't have the time to make something refined or to playtest as much as a regular tabletop game should get, so just throw the spaghetti at the wall and see what eldritch worms slip through the gaps.
Conversely, if you want to increase your chances of having people test it, make sure it only requires materials most people can reasonably get their hands on. Do not use authentic eldritch worms as player pieces (for multiple reasons).
PDF files are the best. That's less a tip, and more just a fact. Whatever lets people access your game with the least amount of trouble, that's what you should format for.