#TAGJam16 postmortem

Last weekend (7-9 november 2014) I participated in The Arbitrary Gamejam. I have participated in a few gamejams and completed #1GAM 2013, but I don't have any solid gamedev experience or success stories (altough there maybe are two #1GAM games I'm actually proud of). Needless to say this weekend wasn't a success story either. In this blog post I will discuss what went wrong, what went right, and what might happen next time I'll jam (hopefully the next Ludum Dare this december!).

Let's get the unpleasant stuff out of the way first, and talk about what went wrong. The biggest and most obvious failure of that weekend is a simple one: too little time. And I don't mean the "I wish a day was 32 hours instead of 24" lack of time, but the kind of "I actually did something entirely unrelated to jamming this saturday". In short, I only spend about 40% of the available weekend on the game, and the rest on my family. Now, that's not a bad thing. But if I want to start achieving things during a gamejam I need to make sure it's the only thing in my agenda that weekend. Because now that I think about it, it has always been like this: join a gamejam, and proceed to spend only little time on gamedev because I also have three other things planned that weekend. Inconvenient.

Something else that went wrong was that I started out too complicated. I begun with individual item classes, and when they were half finished I realized that it was simpler to "embed" the items in the item manager. In the long run this is obviously not desirable, but keeping a simple UI and the jam in mind it was a better solution. Unfortunately this cost me about 3 hours, and ofcourse time is your most valuable asset. A thing that slowed me down (just a little) was my own immature gamedev-ish library, Nuts 'n Bolts. It's mostly a library where I put all the useful stuff that results from my projects. It wraps a few SDL concepts (textures, subsystems) and has a few useful functions of its own. The problem is that not everything is debugged that well - or at all, for that matter. This causes using it to sometimes feel more like debugging.

And now for some good stuff! I was actually quite confident about my game idea for this jam (which is mostly why I'll try to finish it these coming weeks!). Usually I just remember a fun programming concept I want to try out, add a score mechanic and programmer art to it, and call it a day. This jam was the first time I actually sat down and wrote down roughly what the game was going to be. Another thing that made working on the game fun was that I got to work on my library from time to time! It didn't speed up my development process but when I think how much the fixes will speed me up next jam I get all warm and fuzzy inside. This jam is also one of the first jams where I used zero assets from the internet and made them all myself. Not very interesting but still an exciting personal victory.

A positive result is that I will be able to use this project to test porting C++ SDL programs to web! As you may or may not know, I am mostly a C++ programmer. Now there just happens to be this tool Emscripten which allows you to compile C++ to javascript and port your bare-metal buffer overflows to web! My gamejam entry will (when it's finished) be very useful for testing emscripten, since it uses parts from my Nuts 'n Bolts codebase as well as lots of SDL subsystems. Once I'll be able to port my simple jam game, nothing can stop me! And last but not least, this jam was a big learning experience for me in respect to Point and Click game architectures. I like to sit down and think, "If I make a big point and click game, what systems will I need?". Lately the thoughts that pop up became a little stale but this jam freshed it up with new ideas and insights. It'll surely be very useful next jam, even when I'm not developing a Point and Click game.

Lastly, what's in store for the next time? I will keep polishing my library, add some functions to it I made during this jam, maybe add some documentation here and there (Hahaha sure, who am I kidding). I should also practice drawing with my drawing tablet (drawing with just a laptop touchpad is horrible, really) and make sure I know how porting to web works. Planning should also be a top priority next jam - I'm curious about what will happen if I actually use more of 40% of my gamejam capacity...

On to the next jam!

P.s.: I also made a timelapse of the jam! It's very simple to do and a lot of fun to watch when the jam ends, so I recommend it to anyone.


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