Ludum Dare 29 — Ludum Dare And The Game Jam Ethos
Ludum Dare, the international ‘accelerated game development event’, hosted their first game jam and competition for the year this past weekend (25th – 29th April). The international brand, started in 2002 by Geoff Howland as a competition, now runs a concurrent game jam and hosts three regular events a year. Each year the numbers increase, the quality of the games increase and the buzz grows. Ludum Dare is becoming an important part of the Indie Game calendar.
Game Jams (and competitions) have been around a while now, but they seem to be growing in both size and importance. A Game Jam is a simple concept. A bunch of people get together for a set amount of time, generally 24 or 48 Hours, and in that time they make a game. Simple, overwhelming, exhilarating and quite frankly a little silly. Yet they work and they are fun. The model borrows from existing formats of cultural production like the 48 Hour Film Project and the 24 Hour Plays, both of which have had similar international success to Ludum Dare and made their way to our shores.
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Films, plays and games are all collaborative art forms and as such lend themselves to this sort of format. They invite groups of artists to work together in an intense situation and force themselves to produce an array of cultural products (the Ludum Dare competition is a solo campaign but the jam is co-op). These art forms need people to work together to function. Games, generally, are made by a team. And a play or film with actors and no director are generally quite shoddy. These jams are important in creating and affirming communities of both producers and receivers of art. After all, games are made to be played.
Though all these media allow for the constrained and intimate means of work of a jam, games in particular invite this kind of community driven creation. This is in part just because we work in the digital age and it is easy to share, to view and to partake in jams from anywhere in the world. But more importantly I think is that we like to play. And we like to play games. All games have rules and generally some sort of time constraint (whether that is until completion or, in games with no end, until we pass out). Game jams are in some ways just big games in and of themselves. We play at making games, with particular restraints, where we challenge ourselves to finish making a game before the game ends.
The time constraint of the game jam is particularly interesting. The jam crams what would otherwise take months into a ridiculously short period of time. And the fascination with this restraint? I’m not sure. I think in some ways the game jam is a means for challenging oneself. If you enter a game jam you are testing your craft. The conditions allow you to see your work ethic and ability under close scrutiny and you can then tell if you are bullshitting yourself or if you actually have talent. In another vein the jams are a way to actually produce something that daily life otherwise denies. A lot of the Ludum Dare participants are not game developers, or if they are, they do not have the time to produce prototypes as they are working on larger projects. Some people have day jobs and can only put aside 48 hours to make games 3 times a year. Often the pressure of the game jam prevents the developers from over-thinking their games: they enter, have to make a game and just do it. These games can and sometimes do become the seeds of much larger games or projects. And the time constraint is also a sort of masochistic pleasure.
I did not participate, but just playing the submitted games, following the posts around the event and seeing how excited the participants were, it seems that Ludum Dare 29 was a success. This year there were 2497 games submitted and though I’m not even close to playing all of those games, I have enjoyed freely playing some of the games that were created under these extraordinary conditions. There is a certain simplicity and pleasure in the creation that is evident when playing these games. Some of the participants are clearly trying to be clever and win the competition or jam, but those tend not to be the best games. The games that are a pleasure are the ones where the creators just experimented and made a prototype that they loved.
I have only participated in one Game Jam myself and I wrote some stuff for a game that was made at the jam. Unfortunately that game jam did not lend itself to the work of a writer, nor were the games produced dependent on the writing. But, that didn’t matter. In fact, it didn’t matter to those jamming if this was the first game you ever made. It was of no concern whether or not you could code, write, animate, think or anything else really. As long as you were present and wanted to play and make games you were welcome. The frustration and creativity were palpable in the room, as was the fun.
If you missed Ludum Dare this time, join next time. If you are feeling unsure about being a participant then go to their site and start playing the games. Keep your eyes out for local game jams or the bigger international ones. You never know, you may end up playing the next big game in its infancy, or create the prototype of your masterpiece. Whatever the case, game jams help to create and mould our gaming communities and they are damn exciting.
P.S. You should also head over to Make Games SA and you can see some of the prototypes that came from the South African participants in this year’s Ludum Dare.