Embrace Your Limitations – Game Jams Extended

why limit yourself?

In this post I present you the transcript from our talk "Embrace Your Limitations - Game Jams Extended" at the A Maze 2013. Actually, it's just a prettified version of our outline. By the way, we held the talk with a beamer presentation in the background showing some pictures, but as they weren't important for the talk and we're not sure about the license of each picture, you'll just have to imagine them. :-P

Description: "A two day game jam might result in a neat, even innovative little gem - why not expanding it until it becomes a full, polished game? It can be tempting to bloat a game with things it doesn't really need and make it a monster that never will be finished. Thus we want to talk about why you should fall in love with your limitations and how to create cool things with small prerequisites."

1) Who are we?

  • Rat King from Germany - Jana & Friedrich
  • making TRI, since quite some time
  • derived from an Ludum Dare entry, began with a simple idea, so we added a lot of stuff to it
  • became too big - we refocused and embraced our limitations

2) Why do we talk about this?

  • so that you learn from our mistakes
  • this is not about small or big games, but the avoidance of feature creeps
    • because they prevent you from finishing your games!
  • [picture of 1000 Ludum Dare games] cool to be one of them, but even better to have a finished, polished game
    • game jamming as production style
    • helps learning to limit yourself and sticking to your talent/profession
  • limitation is your boss (if you're indie)

3) Constrain your game design

  • gamedev often starts with the thought "I can do ANYTHING"
  • but: limitations help you creating ideas - just think of game jams (restrictions regarding time/theme/technical/etc.)
  • remove features / elements where possible
    • “Perfection is not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove." (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) - talking about perfection, but can be applied on design, too (designers often are perfectionists)
    • example 7-Day-Roguelike-Challenge 2012 (Me Against The Mutants): cutting off features before the development is easy; the later the harder
      • in the end we relied on the one cool idea it has (infinity rectangles)
    • throw away features when they're too much or not needed - never be afraid to cut stuff out that doesn’t add fun
    • often leads to clear design and a clear vision
  • the cycle of innovating and testing (= experimenting in a short time frame) only really works when you limit yourself, otherwise it becomes a growing spiral of death

4) Constrain your graphics design

  • good games are memorable and can be recognized with one screenshot
    • limitations help defining your art style so it sticks out
    • games full of prefabs, characters, features are harder to communicate
    • instead of trying to add lots of details - minimalism is win
    • find a visual trademark, for example a recognizable character
  • pixels are cool, but 3D is cool too - limitations are possible with every art style!
  • use a grid
    • necessary in TRI so people can measure distances
    • grids are fundamental, used in design
    • as soon as you are restricted to a grid you can’t add too much stuff anymore - this is good
    • everything becomes deterministic - you can put only one thing at one place (tile) at a time
    • but beware the almighty Minecraft - games get judged by images

5) Constrain your technology

  • KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid
    • must be in this presentation
    • search for simple solutions, even when the problem looks complex
  • only do stuff the player actually sees
    • you're making a game, not a simulation
    • even simulations are simplified
    • tip: take a step back as the developer, and imagine playing your game as a normal player
  • do not reinvent the wheel ...
    • ... but sometimes you don't really need a full-blown monster-truck wheel
    • if you have/need a simpler solution, go for it
    • avoid third-party-solutions that add too much stuff / features, because it's tempting to use those features
      • limit your project, not your brain
      • let your imagination run wild and the creativity flow, but sometimes it's easy to forget KISS - just remember limitation is your boss now
    • example: for Karoshi! I needed some pathfinding
      • downloaded an A* plugin for Unity with multithreaded, dynamic pathfinding
      • was too general and had some quirks
      • made the development overcomplicated and added a lot of hassle
      • better solution would have been to just roll my own

6) What is needed in order to successfully make a game with limitations?

  • "If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."
  • experience in your field
    • realistically evaluate of what you are capable
    • don't try TOO novel stuff, concentrate on one (cool) aspect
    • prevent too many construction sites at once
  • a small team
    • big teams automatically add overhead and the feeling of “you can do more”
  • ideally one cool, perhaps innovative idea
  • no idols
    • be inspired by others, but don't try to copy them
    • you will try to add more stuff if you clone another game, and might even bloat it
    • at least don't copy a whole game, but pick certain features you like

7) Expand your horizon

  • does it really need to be a “real” game?
    • example: Fibrillation only consists of walking around in changing scenes and experiencing a background story
    • even the little bit of voice-overs in the game are too much
  • tip: mix genres, or invent a new one
  • don’t try to fulfill expectations for a genre
    • example: FEZ doesn't need enemies in order to be a good platformer
    • leave stuff out and innovate elsewhere!

8) Cool game jams in YOUR neighbourhood

9) Thanks for listening / reading!

 TL;DR? Limit yourself so you can get things done.