This blog comes from Alice, a long-time GameMaker Community staff member and passionate jammer running the forum's own game jams.
The Jam Unlike Any Other
Have you ever heard of GameMaker Community Jam (aka GMC Jam)? Perhaps you are more familiar its cousin GM48
? Or Ludum Dare
, the leviathan among game jams?
With so many jams to choose from, one might wonder why pay attention to GMC Jam at all. One reason would be the special occasion - on August 31st, the 50th GMC Jam will be held!
Not only that, it features the "clash of gangs" system - participant may join one of available gangs and together with other gang members work towards collective victory. Additionally, GMC Jam lasts 96 hours, which allows more mechanically ambitious projects than usual 48 hour or 72 hour jams. At the same time, it doesn't leave much room for procrastination, which plagues longer competitions.
Since GMC Jam is run on a forum software, with separate topics for general discussion, games submission (which can be hosted anywhere), and voting.
The voting topic includes a ZIP archive with all entries, as well as a Jam Player application which greatly streamlines the process of playing and reviewing the entries.
The benefits go both ways - a voter will find it easier to write and organise the feedback, and the participants end up with plenty of quality feedback. Not only that, some voters decide to stream their Jam playthroughs, which gives a clearer overview of which parts are enjoyable, and which are maybe too dull or insufficiently explained.
If you are still unsure whether to join, you might want to take a look at what GMC Jam participants have to say about it:
Mercerenies: I've made so many great friends in the GMC Jams over the years. If you're a GameMaker fan, this is the place to show off your stuff and meet a ton of similar-minded folks!
Mavvy: I always look forward to the GMC Game Jam because it brings a bunch of creatives together to work within the same technical constraints and come up with all kinds of different games. My favorite thing about these is playing the games and seeing all of the things I didn't even think of making.
Yozoraki: I've tried various game jams now and I can say that GMC jams are the best there is to offer. Such a great community with talented people helping each other become better!
Cloaked Games: I've been doing the GMC jam since high school. What started for me as a way to practice making games turned out to be an awesome community of folks I've known for years now! I'm still here because of the people, and I don't feel so much pressure to make something really good - I can just have fun.
LucasSchachtMusic: Everyone is very supportive and it's more about fun rather than competition! Through these game jams I improved my GML skills drastically, because they actually motivate you to finish and polish a game, regardless of how small its scope is going to be in the end! You can see beginners, intermediates and pros submitting games, so don't be shy to try it out yourself!
Admittedly, it took a while before GMC Jam worked out the format it's now known for...
How It All Began
Long before the first GMC Jam, Darrell Flood (known on forums as dadio) put forward the idea of a community-driven GameMaker competition. It was meant as a counterpart to contests officially held by YoYoGames - they weren't held as frequently back then, and people wanted more.
Someone even suggested entrance fees which would then go into the prizes pool, but it was rejected as it would reduce the participation and lead to a legal headache. Instead, a user back then known as Theophilus suggested a more casual jam, focusing on a general self-improvement rather than monetary prizes.
Thus, the first GameMaker Community Jam was held on January 29th, back in year 2011, even before GameMaker: Studio was released! It was all carried out on GameMaker Community boards, without any specialised website - this aspect is faithfully kept even to this day.
Originally, the Jam was planned to last for 48 hours, but the community settled on 72 hours in the end. Various themes were suggested, and the winner was... PANCAKES!
Screenshot from Moose's Pancake Adventure, the game that won the first GMC Jam.
Eventually, the first Jam concluded, and 23 entries were submitted in total. The GameMaker Community Jam has proved successful, and it has been carried out nearly every quarter since.
While the first Jam was managed by Theophilus, later editions were hosted by various members of the forums moderator staff (you can see how the hosts changed throughout the Jams on this page
With more iterations, the GMC Jam gradually gained its own identity...
From the second Jam forward, the theme would be decided by the previous Jam winner (if available and willing). It worked well enough, until the fifth Jam ended up with two ex aequo winners!
This led to introducing the "handicap" system - one of the winners picked the theme, while the other chose a special condition a game could incorporate for extra credit. The very first handicap was "Include one or more achievements to unlock within your game, separate from the main goal or objective".
From that point on, the Jam winner would pick the next Jam's theme, while the second place ranker would choose the handicap. Sometimes, the theme would be overshadowed by an especially outlandish handicap, such as "Trains or locomotives must appear in the game at some time, and must affect the gameplay in some form".
Additionally, best-of awards were introduced along with the handicaps, starting with "Best use of Theme", "Best Use of Handicap", "Best Presentation" and "Best Devlog". The set of awarded categories changed over time, but the idea of additional awards mostly stayed the same.
Starting with GMC Jam 16, a "Secret word" mechanic was introduced to reward the third place as well! The bronze medal winner would pick a secret word, with only some letters revealed during the Jam, and participants would try and reference whatever they believed the secret word to be.
From the 19th Jam forward, it would be replaced with "Hype object", which was known from the start and would be used as an informal theme of the discussion before the Jam. All in all, multiple things were tried out to make the Jam even more exciting, with various results.
The GMC Jam 20 had "Pets" as its hype object.
Eventually, 21 of these community-run Jams were carried out on the GameMaker Community forums, before they were closed down...
The New Era
It was not the end, however. The community boards were eventually ported over the Xenforo forum software, and following a one quarter break, another Jam began.
It featured a new Jam host, and to mark the new beginning, the Jams numbering was reset. Thus, the 22nd Jam overall was marked as the first Jam on new forums.
Just like only the best adapted species survive an extinction event, the Jam, too, scaled down to the most reliable mechanics. The handicap and hype object were no more - while they weren't strictly mandatory, the voters still rewarded their inclusion, so entrants having to juggle the theme and the handicap and the hype word was becoming too much.
Another experimental mechanic took their place - gradually revealing three themes, and community voting on one of these during the last day (this mechanic would be scrapped a few Jams later). The theme of the first new Jam was EVERYBODY IS DEAD, which fit quite well with the post-apocalyptic landscape of the new forums.
It was also the first time the Jam Player application was introduced. It was included in the entries ZIP archive, and it allowed quickly playing, ranking and reviewing many entries, as well as exporting a nicely formatted voting post. Gone were the days of switching between the entries folder and reviews documents/spreadsheets - the Jam Player provided the integrated voting experience.
And such a tooling was much needed indeed, as about 100 people participated and submitted 81 entries total! Overall, ever since the introduction of the Jam Player, most voters end up playing and reviewing all entries, something that wasn't so certain in the past.
The Jam Player allows playing, reviewing and ranking the Jam entries, then exporting it to a voting post - all in the same place!
After that, the Jams continued without major hiccups. After the 8th Jam on new forums, the original numbering was restored for the 30th Jam overall. There was some experimenting with having three themes to choose from, or with having a week longer timeframe for the 31st Jam.
Both of these ideas were dropped after the 32nd Jam; the extended timeframe in particular didn't seem to result in higher quality games one would expect from longer development time.
What did work was adding only one day instead, so that the Jam would run from Thursday noon to Monday noon, for 96 hours total. This timeframe was much more successful and thus - barring a few exceptions - it has been consistently applied from the 33rd Jam to this day.
Eventually, the time had come for the 40th Jam and the 10th GMC Jam anniversary...
One Big Party
The 40th Jam was very special indeed! Unlike all the previous Jams, it featured the clash of gangs! Most participants aligned themselves with the Red, Green or Yellow gang.
Then, the gangs were be judged on how well their games ranked, as well as the participation in voting and reviewing. Fittingly with the anniversary celebration, the Jam theme was ONE BIG PARTY.
It has been interpreted as a social gathering, a political organisation and the group of adventurers alike, leading to a great variety of games!
Adding the gang mechanics already made the pre-Jam discussion a lot livelier, with different factions poking fun at one another. The Red Gang - also referring to itself as the Crimson Guild - took the gang mechanics to another level.
Gang members coordinated the format of their games progress data, which would be used in the "Crimson Festival" entry to affect the state of the festival. Reception of the core gameplay was mixed - the game was more of a visual novel, and it was mostly linear because of time constraints.
Nevertheless, most voters appreciated the idea of linking other entries together, earning the game awards for both the best use of theme and the best concept.
Whether Nightmare Bard makes his appearance in Crimson Festival depends on the progress from his original game.
In the end, the red gang made its way to the victory, with getting both the best score for overall rankings and the highest multiplier for reviews participation.
Overall, the clash of gangs was well received, but it also involved a lot of work on the Jam hosts side; not the kind of work that can be done every quarter, at least...
The Present Day
Since then, nine more Jams were carried out. There might have been some more experiments with Jam timing and participation rates varied, but the familiar community spirit remained throughout.
Now, the 50th GMC Jam is about to start, and the gang mechanics are brought back! This time featuring five gangs - Red, Yellow, Green, Blue and Purple, most of them raring to take the victory from the previous clash of gangs champion!
If you would like to try a new Jam experience with broad-scope teamups, now is the great opportunity to do so!
On the other hand, you may find that gang mechanics are too complicated or otherwise overwhelming. You can still enter as a neutral party, maybe learn something within the 4 days of jamming time, and receive quality feedback from other participants as well!
Are you ready to enter the GMC Jam