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Recap: GAMERella Game Design Workshop

Posted by charlottefisher

GAMERella held its first workshop on Thursday evening and what a turnout! The room was full of game lovers; some looking to try their hand in game-making and some just  to learn something new. Many were a bit nervous, but by the end, everyone was thrilled–we had made a simple platformer game in only one hour!

48-hour game jam? Here we come.

For the people who could not make it to the workshop on Thursday evening, here’s a recap:

1 – Game Design

We began with a crash course on Game Design, led by Tanya Short, Pixelles Co-Coordinator and Game Designer/CEO at KitFox Games.

Tanya’s first piece of advice: how to come up with great game ideas at a game jam, where you feel the pressure to think of something good, fast! She recommends leaving the space with your team to have a chat in a more relaxed atmosphere. If you have your team already set before the jam, this is an easy thing to do! If not, you should stick around, listen to other people’s ideas and express your own, to see who you might like to work with.

When thinking of your game idea, the main questions you should be asking are: “Why is the game interesting?” and “What is the player experience?” For example, in the game Tanya and her team made for the Indie Speed Run, called Sculptorgeist, the player experience consists of going around scaring little clay figures, which is really funny. The game was based around this. If at any point during the jam your team is really getting stuck on something, put the game down, go to a meal with the team and come back to it with fresh eyes. Have that initial meeting all over again in a new state emotionally.

There are many different things to consider when designing a game. The team should figure out how the player moves through the game, what features you want to include and, if there is a story, what the background of the game is (a simple example: Mario has been kidnapped and only Princess Peach can save him). These are all important, but in 48 hours, you may not be able focus on everything; you and your team will need to figure out what is most important to your game.

Game design is all about knowing what you want to accomplish and HOW. Set immediate, achievable goals and keep track of them. Asset lists are actually a lot more useful than you might think. Keep a list of all of the things you need from art and audio (Post-Its, Google docs, list on paper) and scratch them off as you go.

Make sure your game jam team shares your goals. Are you there just to learn? To make a game, any game at all? To have a good time? To prototype something for later use? Be sure you’re on the same page; otherwise it may be a source of conflict and it will make the game feel as less of a success as a whole.

In a game jam team, there are three production stages:

1 – Pre-Production (What is the game?)

2 – Production (Making the game)

3 – Post-Production (Bugs, polish, wrapping)

Tanya’s recommended schedule for these stages is:

Friday – pre-production: coming up with an idea. Follow your excitement!
For Indie Speed Run, Tanya’s team discussed ideas over dinner and by the time they returned, they had their game idea.When they got back, they began setting up the game space; before they left for the evening, they were able to look around the house in the game. This was pre-production success!

Saturday – dedicate this day completely to making the game.
By the time you leave or go to sleep, you should be done; everything at this point should be working.
Anything NOT working: slash and burn! By the time Sunday comes along, whatever works, that’s your game. And that’s okay! The sooner you figure out that certain goals aren’t realistic, the better off you are. Look at your goals and decide if you can achieve them or not. Get it as close to your idea as possible, but if you don’t get completely there, that’s fine.

So: whatever works, keep it and adjust. Your game may transform into something else–this is completely normal.

Sunday – Add audio, fix bugs, add text/splash screen so players know what to do.
RESIST the temptation to put in more features!!! This time should be spent polishing.


Are you supposed to stay up the whole 48 hours?
Some people don’t sleep. Whatever you decide to do, make sure your whole team agrees on how you will approach the workflow. In Tanya’s opinion, it’s much better to sleep! This way you are focused; if you are tired you won’t think clearly.

How many people are in a team?
Beyond 5 it’s a high overhead of getting everyone synced up. 2 or 3 is the best.

Do you come to a game jam with your game idea ready?
It’s fine to have an idea ahead of time, but make sure you come to the jam with an open mind; you need to be able to leave some room to make changes.

2 – Stencyl

Rebecca Cohen Palacios, Pixelles Co-Coordinator and UI Designer at Ubisoft, led the second half of Workshop 1 with an introduction to Stencyl,  free game-making software.

Stencyl is incredibly easy to use once you get the hang of the workflow. Code is put together like pieces of a puzzle and testing the game while you work is easy and rewarding. Stencyl also provides example games that you can play and open up to see how they were made–they even have their own Stencylpedia and forums, where you can find answers to all your game-making questions. There is also a library, where you can find a plethora of code ready for you to implement into your own game.

By the end of Rebecca’s tutorial, everyone had a basic platformer working, where a princess saves her boyfriend from impending doom.

Want to try it?

Download Stencyl here
Get Rebecca’s notes here

All in all, GAMERella’s first workshop was a huge success. We all had a blast and look forward to Workshop 2: Sound and Pixel Art.
Interested in joining? Come on down! Click here for details.

Want to see some games made at jams? Check these out:

Sculptorgeist, Indie Speed Run game made by KitFox Games (with Tanya Short)
Legacy, Global Game Jam game made by Jessica Rose Marcotte, Carolyn Jong, Charlotte Fisher, Sahar Homami and Mathieu Montreuil.

Or, browse Indie Speed Run games, Global Game Jam games or Boob Jam games

Want to know more about GAMERella?

And don’t forget to sign up for the jam!