Thoughts about hack-a-thons

So I attended a game jam this weekend.  I  haven’t done any flash programming for about 2 years, so it was fun to take a trip back into the past and write some Actionscript again.  I went with my friend and we were paired with a couple people.  There are a few things I’ve learned from these 8hr hack-a-thon style events.  And I’ve made a little list, I’ll discuss these individually.

    1. go with a small determined team (or team of one)
    2. have an idea already
    3. have a design, or at least a start
    4. have a game plan – roles and project organization


Determined Team

Some hack-a-thons like to have someone pitch their idea, and then anyone interested in it can join.  This presents a problem, particularly at public events, you get a wide variety of skill levels and motivations for attending.  If your goal is to create the best product possible in the shortest amount of time, it’s best to go with a pre-defined team where you know the capabilities of everyone involved.  Getting thrown in with random people at varying skill levels can create dead weight on  your team and potentially even reduce the output.  Larger teams in this environment can become distracting and wasteful.

Have an Idea

Coming up with a good idea can take time.  Unless you’re willing to commit to working on someone else’s idea that you may not like for the whole time, it’s best to take the initiative and take your idea to the table.  Even if it’s a rough idea, have something you’re interested in working on and seeing through.

 Have a Design

Design is another one of these things that can take a long time, as well as asset creation.  Unless you have a stellar designer on your team, who can knock out awesome stuff quickly, you’ll want to have the general design of the game together.  This means ideally having a whole comp of the gameplay and maybe even some animations.  Design is really important and most people don’t put a lot of effort or thought into this.  Your game will be judged on design whether or not you have amazing gameplay or ideas.  If you have a designer on your team, all they should be doing that day is making extra assets or tweaking existing visuals as well as consulting implementation.

Have a Game Plan

Knowing how the project is organized and who should do what.  If people aren’t sure what to work on or are trying to figure out how things are organized a lot of time can be wasted.  It’s best to have clear roles and expectations of each person and to have a common understanding of how the project should be organized to expedite the process.  You really want to make the most efficient use of everyone’s time in this kind of setting and having a clear plan and roles will help in this effort.

The bottom line is, for some people, taking a whole day to dedicate to a project like this is a big commitment.  Unless you’re willing to waste it, it’s best to have a plan and be as efficient as possible to have the best results.  That being said, it’s often very hard to make these efficient and a lot of it depends on who is on your team.  You can check out our game, which likely suffered from a few if not all of the issues listed here.  It’s available on github, and is a sort of shooter game that plays off the theme San Francisco, in a way that pokes fun at silicon valley startups.