Thoughts on a HealthyJam™

The last 2 weeks have been pretty busy for me as I was mentoring / organizing / producing a workshop for a german kids TV station where we worked on 4 game prototypes in 9 days. These 9 days have been exciting and hyper productive and as a logical consequence of that also exhausting. That’s when I really realized that having a HealthyJam™ maybe the best way to have a jam at all. And that thought led to this (finally a new) Blog post!

What is a HealthyJam™ ?

We’re talking about a variation of the regular GameJam. A GameJam is an event where people gather and form teams (or not) to develop a small game in a fixed amount of time. Usual time frames are 24h, 48h or 7 days. There are hundreds of events where you can have jams with a lot of other people simultaneously like 7DRL, LudumDare, 0hJam, CastleJam, LystGameJam, BerlinMiniJam and many many more!

All these Jams share a max time frame for the final product, like for example 7 days to create a rougelike. Now this is a max time of 7 * 24h = 268h but of course you usually will spent less time than that working on your game as you need also time to eat, sleep, use the bathroom and so on. But still – there is a lot of potential to reduce the time spent on such mundane tasks in favor of the game. And that’s exactly where the HealthyJam™ comes into play.

The basic concept is pretty easy: Do not (and i mean it) work more than about 8h on your project per day. This rule becomes exponentially more important with each day the jam takes place. If you have a 2 day jam and work an extra 3-4 hours on the first day, that may not be that much of a problem, but: you shall never underestimate the energy that developing fun games takes from your mind & body so keeping that extra 3-4 hours per day for a week? Well I don’t think that’s a good idea.

Why should I embrace the HealthyJam™ ?

I actually don’t know if you should embrace it and use it as your only JamStyle, but – I urge you to at least try the HealthyJam™. Keeping a fixed time schedule for each day and strictly avoiding putting more than 1-2 hours of extra work per day in your game will keep your mind fresh and body rested. Of course this will cut your time for some extra features on your game, but will also force you to focus on the core features and polish them. Because usually implementing a new feature (stable!) will take more time than putting a bit more polish on your core feature of your game. Also having a fixed daily routine like breakfast at XX, than jam till XX (4h), go out for lunch and jam again till XX(4h) helps you to have some sort of time planning already done by the circumstances. For me that helps a lot to keep a clear goal for each step.

So back to the workshop I mentioned earlier: Working nine days with a flexible timetable would of course lead to working open end for 9 days straight. That would have totally exhausted us by day 3 or 4 which would have ruined the following days. So I had a very rigid timetable for each day: Breakfast at 8am, start jamming at 9am, lunch at around 12:30am, back to jamming at 13:30am and ending it at 6pm. There were two days where we put 1 or 2 hours more work into the projects, but other than that we held on to that schedule. And the result? We had to cut features but in the end we did a polished set of features which were very polished for being done in a jam. And the playtestings went great!

tl;dr

Try out a short jam. Cut features in favor of your core features and try forcing yourself to use your time after the jam for other things in order free your mind of your problems you encountered in the jam. They tend to solve themselves.

Your HealthyJam™ advisor,

Pepe

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