One of the hardest things about any project is getting it started. At an event like a jam or hackathon this becomes incredibly crucial. Recently I had an opportunity to attend a Windows 10 game jam where I noticed that even though these events are more common its still easy to find yourself wondering just how to get started. So I thought I would write this blog to help give, at the very least, a general kick off point. Most of this knowledge has come from the many game jams and hackathons I have taken part in, but I think this can easily be applied to any of type of these events, game related or not.
Install any tools you need, beforehand!
Probably one of the biggest time sinks and the most common issue new hackers have is having all the needed software and tools to take part. Save yourself a huge headache. Having everything stable and installed is extremely important. Not only will you waste time waiting for the installs, but if the install requires a strong internet you could be completely out of luck. A lot of hackathons can require a special SDK or other software to be installed. If it is possible try and install it before hand. This will save you time and help you stay relaxed and focused on the fun part. Basically just don’t take any chances. Install and thoroughly test everything you might need before you arrive.
Try and build a balanced team
This one can be hard. Hacking with friends is fun and important, but if all your friends are strong in the same skills it could become a problem. If its possible you should strive to work with a balanced team. Find those who complement and extend your skills. For instance I am not a strong artist. When I attend jams I always do my best to connect with other hackers who have a stronger art skill set then myself. Another point that falls into this topic is connecting with other jammers. One of the biggest benefits of attending these events is building new connections. Don’t be afraid to reach out and offer to join other teams. In my experience most people that attend these events tend to be open and inclusive. I have made some really great friends and even found some bigger opportunities from those I have met.
Keep it light, easy and fun!
After you have connected with your team you inevitably need to start defining your project. When I give advice to anyone at this stage it usually boils down to this, keep the goal realistic. Most jams and hackathons have a finite amount of time. Keeping the scope of your idea within these timeframes is difficult, but absolutely crucial. Nothing can make an experience more horrible than trying to crunch in more features then time will allow. Try and keep it light. I don't mean that you shouldn't challenge yourself. You should always challenge yourself. Just make sure that you keep focused on the fun and the experience. In the end most of what is created at hackathons is the starting point of an idea or project, not the conclusion. Another big piece of advice I can offer to those in the idea stage is, while brainstorming is important and should be open and free, make sure you set a time limit. Once the ideas start to flow turning them off and getting down to work can be challenging. Setting a time limit and sticking to it will keep the team focused and moving forward. This is also the best cure for the dreaded feature creep. So remember to keep it realistic and fun, that's the real reason any of us do this.
Don't discard the project at the end
Like I mentioned, most of what is created at hackathons is just a starting point. A huge tragedy is that a good amount of developers just drop the project once the event is over. Its true that not every project created is going to turn out to be a marketable product, but it could lead to other things in the future. Some times the ideas generated will lead to greater projects or can even help drive breakthroughs. Some big named games have begun at events like this, think Surgeon Simulator. Honestly, a lot of what I have created at jams has been repurposed or chopped up for use in other projects. Don’t discard anything you create, you never know what it might lead you to.
Jump in, Codename GOA
Maybe just finding an event is an issue. Luckily I can help there too. Codename GOA is an amazing opportunity for Canadian developers to showcase their game dev skills and demonstrate what can be done when the cloud is powering game innovation and creativity. Regardless of what platform you build for, from Android to Xbox and everything in between, you can take part. With $10,000 on the line this is not an event you want to miss. Hacking has already begun, so make sure you sign up at CodenameGOA.ca. Remember a path to greatness starts with a single step!