We had the opportunity to set up and promote WVU's game offerings and our studio last weekend. This post is a summary of what we offered as part of this convention.
After a 3 hour drive, the team arrived early Friday, September 18 to set up our table at Natsukashii Con in Gettysburg, PA. As usual, we provided information on the West Virginia University game design programs offered at both the undergraduate and graduate level as well as on our community game studio in Morgantown, WV. Additionally, this time we hosted a small bake sale featuring a Spy Cat, a 50/50 raffle, and our latest build of Spy Cats, Remastered. Both the vendors and participates of this con were highly passionate and creative individuals of whom we had the pleasure to speak with all weekend.
At 3:00 pm on Friday we hosted an international panel between our founder, Heather Cole and the director of MiTale in Finland, Natasha Skult. During this session, we initially offered advice for starting a studio. However, after conversing with our audience, the subject shifted to methods of starting on a game making path. Recommendations made included participating in game jams as well as jumping into direct project work.
For those unfamiliar with game jams, these are short periods of time (1 hour to a week) of which a team or individual creates a game together based on the jam's theme. There are many reasons why game jams are listed as one of the best ways to start a game development career. The first of which is the community and spirit of a game jam. There's generally a mix of emerging and experienced game makers that start a jam as strangers, but in this short time become bonded by their experience and project.
Within this format, a participant can focus on a specific aspect of game making, while the team helps out in other areas. It is also encouraged to experiment in new areas and learn to make games by diving into the process. Beyond building your connections and community connections, game jams teach you to "narrow your scope."
Many times new game makers start their path because they have an idea they want to make real. Unfortunately, that idea is usually a grand one that even a veteran would struggle with fully fleshing out. This is because we want to make games like the ones we play and so often set high and unrealistic goals for ourselves as learners. It's unlikely that a learner's first game will be a AAA blockbuster. It's just as unlikely with the second, third, and so forth. However, practice makes progress and the more we practice by making games the more likely we can get to a place in which we've made a fun, playable game that an audience outside of ourselves will want to play. There's a mantra in the development community as a whole that we like to repeat and remember: release early, release often. It prevents a maker from getting stuck on a feature and collects information as soon as possible from players on making the experience better.
We have to realize, as new game makers, that we must take many small steps forward to get to a bigger goal. Game jams, due to their time constraint, force us to think small and on the question, "What is my minimum viable product?" and "How can I explain my game in a short sentence?" Then, we celebrate each small achievement, such as getting the player to go from point a to point b, and can expand from our basic mechanics.
Are you interested in participating in a game jam? There are many and there is usually one going on at all times. A good place to look is https://itch.io/jams as well as https://letsmakeagame.net/game-jams-calendar/
Another great way to start into making games is to find a community of like-minded individuals. Maybe that's us or maybe there's one closer to you that is part of IGDA- International Game Developers Association. This organization has many chapters throughout the world. We've recently been able to help set up a chapter near us- IGDA West Virginia. This will be open soon to both students and community professionals to join. Board members include our founder, Heather Cole, Jeffrey Moser, chair of WVU's GDIM undergraduate program, and Douglas Barkey, chair of WVU's Game Design online Master's program.
At 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 19 members Ted Eicher and Heather Cole led a game design workshop. The workshop started with game design theory and ended in a small physical game jam. Participants of the workshop or those curious about the theory we introduced can view our presentation here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1SEqiaCXoWQXuo2o5aebs299sz1Lq1rJFOw85h_m-i3I/edit?usp=sharing
Participants first came up to us and spun a special wheel we put together with themes on it. After the theory segment, they were then grouped up to talk about their themes. Finally, they explored the pieces we brought with us- meeples, dice, cubes, notebooks, etc. - and came up with their physical game ideas together.
Watch the video below to see the short pitches and ideas they came up with together.
If you are in Morgantown, West Virginia come see us Saturday, August 26 in Mylan Park for a panel we will host at 4:00 pm and all of the fun other events at Morgantown's Pop Con.