WildStar Wednesday: Game Jam
We’d like to give you a glimpse inside the mad, mad world of game design here at Carbine Studios. In a typical week our designers work anywhere from 40 to 60 hours. They are hard at work doing all manners of different tasks: tightening up graphics on level three, planning out enemy placement and pull puzzles, crafting entertaining quests, developing path missions, bringing towns to life with flavorful vignettes. That’s our week. On the weekends though, from time to time, we like to jam, we like to Game Jam!
A Game Jam is a chance for we designers to stretch our legs creatively. It is an opportunity for us to try designing new things, things that we may not get a chance to handle in our day-to-day routine. We come in on a Saturday with a broad task at hand, and spend the next 8 hours working in small teams to create something fun and playable from start to finish.
Game Jams are also a chance for our artists and programmers to contribute with their specialized skill sets. Artists get requests from design teams and quickly create amazing props, sculpt terrain, light dungeons or complete a dizzying array of tasks that improve the visual quality of Wildstar. Programmers help tackle complicated engine-related issues tackle any bugs that suddenly crop up as design is rapidly pushing our tools to the limit.
So why do we Game Jam? (PROTIP: Game Jam may be considered a verb for the remainder of this article.) As designers, we focus on very specific roles. Sometimes the grass seems greener on the other side. The Game Jam lets us see how green that grass really is. It also offers an opportunity to improve our skill set as designers. If you haven’t made a dungeon boss but want to try, Game Jams provides our designers an opportunity to test out ideas in a safe and collaborative environment. It also allows our designers to focus on getting to the fun fast. A Game Jam lasts about 8 hours, so you have to nail the core design quickly and use the tools at your disposal efficiently. At the end of the Game Jam, the participants come away with a new respect for what they can do in a limited amount of time and some pretty impressive work.
Each Game Jam we try to tackle something different. We strive to ensure that a Game Jam isn’t just: “Hey, come in and do your normal work, but on a weekend!” We want to try our hands at tasks we normally wouldn’t attempt because it is not part of our day-to-day jobs.
Let’s look at Expeditions. Expeditions are scaled dungeons available via your housing plot. The scope of an Expedition is constrained, amounting to roughly 15 minutes of concentrated gameplay. The story is on the minimal side, the content is devoid of exterior context, there are no quests and the playable space is relatively small. It’s quite a different beast than the typical content piece which focuses on telling a fairly grand story that lasts hours, spans large swaths of terrain and involves fighting numerous different creatures along the way.
At the outset of Game Jam (Proper Noun also permitted… PROTIP) the group of folk that are here, break into small teams and begin brainstorming. There are no ideas that are off limits. They pick a setting, a gameplay hook and then they are off! For the next 7 hours they are Game Jamming, working diligently to bring their crazy ideas to life. Requests are made of art for tweaks, programming for support, lore for writing assistance. The Game Jammening (Also legit.) ceases briefly as we devour pizza, but almost immediately resumes. As hours pass we begin watching the clock more closely and then the cutting begins. Everyone is quiet, working with extreme purpose. Producers roam around making sure everyone is okay, because it is rarely this quiet in a game studio. They are quickly dismissed; time is at a premium as the clock ticks down.
When all Game Jamming is over for the day, food, libations and games are our rewards. Some head out to party, some stay in to play board games and some need to be pried away from their work.
We came, we saw, we Game Jammed.