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Getting ready for Game Jam Weekend, part 1

Global Game Jam 2017 is coming up soon. I’ve been talking with my fellow game developer friends about how to prepare. It seems like a good topic for a blog post or two.

Preparing mind and body for the game jam

In this article, we’ll cover the mental and physical preparation you should think about doing ahead of time, and during the weekend, to maximize your performance and your potential.

Approach Jam Weekend like you’re getting ready for a major athletic competition.

(Normally this means a season’s worth of training on specific skills and physical conditioning, but we only have a few days, so I’m going to skip that part of it. It is what it is.)

A game jam is more a mental activity than a physical one, but the same ideas apply. Just as you would prepare for a chess or poker tournament, or a triathlon or ultra-marathon, you should strive to enter Jam Weekend at your peak. That means healthy, well rested, energized, and in top condition.

Be well rested and well nourished. Jamming for a whole weekend is seriously taxing on the mind, and the brain needs energy and rest, just as the body does.

Sleep

DO count on getting good sleep during the weekend.

Some people will stay up all weekend, but I don’t recommend it. You’re more productive when you’ve gotten adequate rest. If you can’t sleep well at the Jam site, and it’s pretty unlikely — there’s a lot of noise and chaos and activity going on at all hours — I recommend going somewhere you can get good sleep when it’s time, and if that means off-site, then so be it.

“Crunch time” is a common anti-pattern in software and game development, and is almost always unnecessary and detrimental in the long run. In the short run, people can and do get away with it — mostly when they’re young enough that their bodies and minds are able to withstand such stresses and recover from them.

Because it’s only 48 hours, a lot of people treat Jam weekends like they’re crunch time, and will stay up 36 or even 48 hours. I did that during my first Global Game Jam (in 2011) and learned from it that I wasn’t a 20-something college undergraduate who could pull consecutive all-nighters anymore.

My brain was determined to complete a project by deadline, and due to buggy beta software corrupting my project files, I ended up having to start over twice, redoing my entire project, which really sucked, and meant I basically had no choice but to stay up all weekend or else drop out, and I elected to stick it through to the end.

I finished my project, but my mind was not working anywhere near optimally during the last 12 hours or so, and at times I could’t keep a train of thought going. I’d stare at the keyboard trying to remember what I was trying to do, and what the next step was. If I’d just taken a couple hours for a power nap, I probably would have been better off, made fewer mistakes, and gotten more done. Although my project compiled and ran, I discovered that it was buggy and unwinnable, and had to fix it after deadline. Every project is likely to be buggy, of course, but working under extreme sleep deprivation is only going to make that worse.

Still, some people do seem to thrive on short term sleep deprivation, and become more creative, more focused, or just more crazy, and if that’s you, and you know what you’re capable of, do what works for you.

Nutrition

Eat good food beforehand, and bring or order good food for the weekend.

At my local Global Game Jam site, there will be food provided, and probably they’ll take orders for delivery from somewhere, but a lot of it is junk food or comfort food, and not necessarily what’s best for being well nourished. So consider doing better by yourself.

Preparing a healthy balanced meal is a lot better than eating convenient junk food and caffeine. I wouldn’t dream of specifying a recommended diet, but if you don’t know what’s healthy, look at physical trainers and what they recommend for athletes. A lot of starchy food like pasta or potatoes can be good for storing energy. Fresh vegetables and good lean protein is also an excellent choice.

You don’t want to spend a lot of time on prep and cleanup during the jam, so if you don’t have non-jammers supporting you with food service, then either order out for yourself, or prepare meals to bring that you can reheat easily.

No outside distractions

It goes without saying, perhaps, but try to have your outside life well in order so that it doesn’t intrude on your weekend. Anything can happen of course and if you have to bow out due to some family emergency or something, well, you do what you have to do. Always have your priorities in order, and follow them. If something comes up, hey, that’s life. But plan ahead, and do what’s necessary to keep your plate clear so you can focus on the one thing, and keep yourself free of distractions and other responsibilities as much as possible.

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