A game jam is a gathering of game developers for the purpose of planning, designing, and creating one or more games within a short span of time, usually ranging between 24 and 72 hours. Game developers are generally made up of programmers, game designers, artists, and others in game development-related fields.
The term game jam is a composition of the words game and jam session. A jam session describes the musical act of producing music with little to no prior preparation in an effort to develop new material or simply to practice. In the same way, game jams are events in which game developers prototype experimental ideas into playable games.
In March 2002, video game developers Chris Hecker and Sean Barrett, interested in the capability of modern hardware in rendering a large number of sprites, worked with Doug Church, Jonathan Blow, and Casey Muratori in developing a specialized game engine capable of rendering a massive number of sprites Hecker and Barrett invited a small group of video game developers to meet in Hecker's office in Oakland, California for the purpose of creating innovative video games using this newly built engine. Hecker and Barrett named this gathering the 0th Indie Game Jam, a game design and programming event "designed to encourage experimentation and innovation in the game industry".
Some game jams are local events, taking place in universities, conference halls, or other private spaces. The Global Game Jam takes place on the same weekend in (as of 2013) hundreds of such locations in 60+ countries around the world. The Ludum Dare is an event where participants largely remain at home, but present their efforts at the conclusion of the jam.
Game jams typically have restrictive time limits, ranging from 24 hours to several days. This time constraint is meant to simulate the pressure of a deadline and to encourage creativity among ideas produced by game jam teams.
A game jam may be centered around a theme, which all games developed within the jam must adhere to. The theme is usually announced shortly before the event begins, in order to discourage participants from planning for the event beforehand and from using previously-developed material. In addition, themes are meant to place restrictions on developers, which encourages creativity.
Ludum Dare 24, a competitive game jam event, featured the theme of "Evolution". As stated by the Ludum Dare rules, all participants in the competition were required to create a game based on this theme. However, the rules also state that this theme is open to interpretation, which allows for exploration of the theme in an unconventional way.
The type of technology can vary depending on the type of game being developed, and among the different disciplines involved.
In a video game jam, teams are generally made up of at least a programmer and an artist. A programmer would work in a development environment such as Microsoft Visual Studio for development in a .NET Framework application or Eclipse for a Java-based application. An artist may use tools such as Adobe Photoshop or Autodesk Maya. Other tools used by developers include the Unreal Development Kit, Unity game engine, and Microsoft XNA Framework. In the last couple of years Unity has become exponentially more popular.
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