It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
When Paul Forest asked me to sign up for TOJam matchmaking so he could “test the registration form” I did my duty of being a good IGDA Toronto steering committee member to help him out.
On matchmaking day, I found my name on one of the “dance cards” that we were handing out to the participants, outlining their evening’s matches.
“Paul!” I cried out. “I only signed up because you asked me to test the form!”
He shrugged and smirked and said, “Well, guess you’re doing it now.”
I immediately felt bad for the people who had been matched with me. My TOJam team was already set and we didn’t need anyone else. Well, we hadn’t completely locked down our artist, but still. I hated the thought that a match with me potentially took someone away from a match-made in game jam heaven.
Little did I know.
Two of my matches were people I already knew and our meetings were mostly just playing catch up. I had one no-show, so I created an impromptu meeting with those sitting around me who were in the same situation. Two were great artists, eager to find a home with a fitting TOJam and one already had his team set.
Then I met Daniel Orellana and Jamie Tucker, my last match of the evening. These two artists were former students of indie dev friend and OCAD instructor, Benjamin Rivers, and as soon as they said they wanted to make a fun, multiplayer co-op game, my ears perked up. That’s exactly what my team wanted to do. And our artist hadn’t been totally confirmed yet… maybe, just maybe…
A follow-up e-mail from Daniel and Jamie arrived in my inbox the next day, expressing a keen interest in working together. It wasn’t long after that my team — consisting of my brother Andrew Afan (programmer), Jon Remedios (programmer) and Matthew Reid (composer) — soon discovered that our original artist couldn’t participate after all.
And so it came to be that Team There Is No I in Teim and our subsequent TOJam game Piñata Slaughta was born, along with our piñata mascot Jorge.
Not bad for a completely accidental matchmaking.
We had our team and some of them had never participated in a game jam before. What could they expect from something that should to be experienced first-hand to understand what it truly entails?
Luckily, IGDA Toronto had prepared a TOJam Pre-Mortem in addition to the matchmaking, a series of short presentations by TOJam veterans who generously donated their time to give the packed house the dos and don’ts of participating in a game jam.
Everyone participates in game jams for different reasons, said Andrew Traviss of Golden Gear Games, be it simply for fun or to gain experience. If you’re forming a team, particularly if it’s the first time you’re working together, it’s crucial to meet in person at least once before the jam to suss out all your ideas and schedules to avoid losing valuable time during the actual jam.
Traviss’s partner Alex Bethke chimed in about the importance of communicating your expectations — he recalled an unfortunate situation with an artist who had joined his team, but ended up going out of town for most of the jam weekend and was only able to work on the final day.
“I didn’t clearly explain the time commitment,” admitted Bethke.
So can prioritizing your tasks and communicating that properly to the rest of your team, an especially important piece of advice for teams with members who may be working on opposing schedules. Bethke and Traviss recalled working with an artist who didn’t prioritize and worked on a tree instead of moving on to bigger tasks.
“It was the best pixel tree I’d ever seen,” said Bethke. “But he was still working on it hours later.”
Also, if you’re thinking about doing everything on the fly when you arrive? Don’t do it, warned Paul Forest of Forest Games. It’s just a bad idea.
“Learn your tools and pipeline inside and out before the jam,” he said. “Otherwise you’ll fail.”
But don’t let all the preparation overwhelm you before you get to the actual jam. You will make mistakes and that’s okay. Really. “You learn these things by doing them wrong first,” added Forest.
Troy Morrissey of D.A.R.C. Productions was also on hand to offer some floater wisdom, having participated as a sound floater at last year’s TOJam.
“Don’t think a floater will do exactly what you want,” he said. “Be realistic with your expectations — if your game is heavy on art or audio, you should have a dedicated person on your team instead of relying on a floater.
Echoing an earlier point of Bethke’s, Morrissey advised prioritizing the game’s needs with a floater and “the more direction, the better.” Better still, assign a single member of the team to deal with the floater.
But above all, one of the best things you can do for yourself during a jam? Sleep.
“People fail during jams for social or biological reasons,” said Forest, drawing chuckles from the crowd. “Plan for food and sleep.”
Photo credits: Brendan Lynch (TOJam portrait) and Paul Forest