The goal of Depth Jams is to come up with solutions for hard design problems on games that are already working.
While regular game jams are about solving a bunch of relatively easy problems until there’s a working game, trying to solve hard problems is hard work. Also because you are challenging somebody’s main project, it’s an emotionally tense interaction all along. Depth jams are definitely not about having fun!
Having other talented game designers think hard and exclusively about your game plus the cycle of implementing solutions and discussing them felt very different from what you get from casual brainstorming or playtesting sessions. It was the first time I could have this depth of discussion about my game with other designers.
My chosen problem for this depth jam was the dilemma of where to go next with Storyteller’s gameplay. After the jam I decided to explore a slightly different core mechanic that seems to be working better in the kind of space Storyteller wants to be in. Time will tell how well it works (will write about this soon!).
Thoughts on the format
- We had 4 games to work on, but all the game switching during the day prevented me from following a train of thought for very long until it was time to change again. Maybe 3 games works better?
- Since the jam is so exhausting and discipline-trying, making it a retreat in a place that is not familiar to anyone feels critical to me. Jon and Chris hired a catering service to keep distraction away and cut down on variables that could affect the performance of the jam, but I can say that it would have been totally fine (maybe even better) if we cooked our own meals, provided we made all groceries once before starting. Advice: avoid abundant and heavy meals!
- There must be some contract where everybody agrees to give the others freedom to talk openly about the games even if it’s hurtful to the maker. We had a couple of emotionally charged moments during the jam, but without the possibility of expressing openly it would have degenerated into tiptoeing around egos. Mutual respect as game makers is something we had in abundance, so it might be important!
- It would have been better if we spent even more time playing the games before the jam.
- A pre-meeting was necessary to propose the “question” for each game. We figured that each of us should really care about the subject, be specific enough to have a few answers instead of hundreds, and it must be possible to hack the solutions during the jam. We didn’t want to use jam time to figure them out, but we did change some of them during it. As a bonus, discussing the questions beforehand allowed us to start thinking ahead of time.
- We chose to add 1 day to the jam per game, and 4 slots of 2 hours for each day. Each game got one first-morning slot because it’s when everybody is at their most productive, but we were flexible with the rest according to how we were feeling. We shuffled shifts often. Breaks were crucial to keep productivity and sanity! Frisbee is proven to work. After dinner it was programming time, where we implemented the solutions discussed.
- Each slot was about discussing the problem until interesting solutions emerged, but I feel it was still too brainstormy. I would try this setup instead: 1) Discuss problem during slot 2) Stop talking and walk away to think during slot 3) Come back, talk and pick solutions before the slot is over. Slots would need to be longer though (that’s why I suggest 3 games per day instead of four).