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  • Writer's pictureYasen Dokov

Planning in game jams

Background

In the beginning of the year, I participated in Ludum Dare 52. Theme was "Harvest". Here's a link to the game I made. The full Unity project is available here if anyone's interested!


Inspiration

Usually when doing game jams, I keep a list of things that I want or have to do in my head, and I go with the flow. It’s actually not that bad when I’m only doing the programming, because it’s reasonably simple and it’s what I’m most experienced in.


This time I decided to do Ludum Dare's COMPO format - the one where you do everything by yourself and you have 2 days for it. So I also had to consider visuals and audio, both of which I know pretty much nothing about. 😄 (I’m excluding game design, because to a large degree it happens on the stage before the planning. 🤷‍♂️)


Inspired by one of the game jam tips in candlesan‘s video, I decided to do some proper planning - write down tasks, estimate them, split them into mandatory and optional, etc.


Tools

I used WorkFlowy for my task list as I just love that tool, but you can use Trello, notepad (probably), or some physical thing - whatever works best for you!


WorkFlowy allows you to do lists of lists of infinite depth! It has tags, images, text colors / highlights. You can easily moves items around to reorganize, you can mark them as complete... It's an awesome tool! 🤩


Approach

I started with brainstorming ideas. Once I got 2-3 that I was reasonably interested in, I wrote them down in WorkFlowy and made sublists with the tasks, giving each of them a rough estimate. I delved deeper where it was necessary, added subtasks or more details, until I felt that all main things are covered.


After that, I picked one of the ideas, and started working on its tasks. As I was doing it, I marked them with "indev" and "done" tags for easier visibility, and I also wrote down how much time they actually took, to validate my estimates and see where they’re off, so I can do better in the future.


How it helped

Initially I had 3 main ideas. After doing a 20 minute tasks+estimates pass on them, I got a much clearer view on the scope of each one, as well as which parts need more work and things that I’ve missed while it was all in my head. That helped me choose which idea I want to go for, and gave me confidence that even if I’ve underestimated some stuff, I’ll have enough time to do everything I consider mandatory, and complete the base game!


Another useful thing - once I got to the execution, I had a clear path of things I needed to do to make the game work! It helped with staying motivated and on track!


The plan itself

Here’s a screenshot of the “amazing” task list for my game 😄 (the “(real - X)” part is how much time a task actually took):


Conclusion

I love doing game jams, and writing down a plan and executing it made the experience even better! I can't say this was entirely unexpected, but for some reason I hadn't tried it on a game jam before. It could be just luck that it went so well this time, but I'm definitely gonna try it on future jams as well, to see how it goes! 😊

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