7 December 2018

Test Flight

A Designer Journal on the FFG Game Jam

#DesignerJournal

Recently, the entire Fantasy Flight Games studio came together for our very first game jam—a concentrated dose of creativity and teamwork, spread over just a few hours. Today, to offer you a look at just what happened during our game jam, here’s one of the organizers, Board and Card Game Manager Andrew Fischer!

Andrew Fischer on the FFG Game Jam

I’ve always loved game jams. I’ve participated in the Global Game Jam each year and have sent in a couple submissions to Ludum Dare over the years. Every time I’ve participated, I not only had fun, but I felt like I grew and learned more in that two-day period than I do in an average month.

A game jam is kind of like a 48-hour film festival. People break into teams, get some kind of prompt to build off of, and create a game in a (very) limited amount of time. Jams can be intense. They require creativity, teamwork, flexibility, and hustle, all with the clock ticking away. But they can also be very rewarding and fun. They allow people to take risks and try out ideas that they might not be able to in their day-to-day game development.

I was inspired by my time in these other jams. On top of that, I’d seen the benefits that studios had gained from internal game jams (such as Double Fine’s Amnesia Fortnight), and felt that FFG could really benefit from a similar event. As luck would have it, Corey Konieczka had been thinking over a very similar idea. Together with senior designer Nate French and our Head of Studio Andrew Navaro, we worked to organize FFG’s first ever studio-wide game jam—which we called “Test Flight.” In today’s designer journal, I want to give you all a brief glimpse into this event and how we ran it!

The Setup

Most of the other game jams I looked to for inspiration were to create digital games, so I had to break some new ground in how to run the event for a tabletop-centric company. One of the first big differences was time frame. Tabletop games are (in most cases) much faster to prototype and test than digital ones. I wanted to keep a strong sense of time pressure on the event, so I decided to shorten the timeframe relative to most game jams, giving each group of four or five people only about sixteen hours (two days of work time) to brainstorm, develop, and test their games.

Next, came the theme for the jam. I wanted a jumping-off point that groups could build on to start. Constraints breed creativity, and I wanted each team to have a “seed” to build their brainstorming off of. I bounced around several ideas with Nate and Corey, but settled on creating a bunch of specific, quirky prompts. Teams would draw two prompts from a hat (or flight helmet), and choose one to base their game on. Some particularly ambitious teams ended up keeping both of the themes they drew, making their games fit both at once! In creating the themes, we tried to come up with ideas specific and strange enough to immediately conjure the question: “How would that even work?” while also leaving enough ambiguity to allow creative interpretation. Some highlights include:

  • “The players design the game.”
  • “The Emperor’s New Board Game.”
  • “King of the hill, from the hill’s perspective.”

Off to the Races!

Once teams had drawn their themes, they were free to dive right in! Given the tight time frame, I gave rough recommendations of how long they should spend at each step:

  • Brainstorming – Three hours
  • Prototyping – Two hours
  • Initial Testing – One hour
  • Iteration – Four hours
  • Content Creation – Four hours
  • Polish and Demo Prep – Two hours
  • Flex Time – Two hours

But these were just recommendations, and teams were free to follow their own process. Some had something on the table within twenty minutes, while others took their time doing high-concept brainstorming for several hours.

In the end, the sixteen-hour timeframe ended up being nearly perfect, keeping the pressure on while giving enough time to have a finished and tested deliverable. I was incredibly excited and humbled to see the creative ideas my coworkers put together in such a short amount of time.

Demos and Awards

After development was finished, everyone got a chance to play other teams’ games, giving each other feedback and filling out a score sheet for awards. We were careful with awards. We wanted to encourage a fun, collaborative environment, not a competition. So, instead of scoring games in categories from “worst” to “best,” each category was a spectrum:

The games that scored to the most extreme on each spectrum earned an award! This encouraged participants toward pushing their ideas further instead of spending time polishing their production values just to edge out the competition. The silliness of the awards worked really well, but in the future, we’ll probably do fewer of them to make them feel a bit more exclusive.

The Outcome

In the end, Test Flight was a big success! Across just two work days, we created thirteen unique, creative prototypes. People got a chance to work closely with coworkers from teams they rarely interact with, and brainstormed ideas that I’m sure will influence their designs to come.

To other game creators out there, both hobby and professional: I strongly encourage you to check out a game jam. Whether you attend a publicly-available event, or hold one at your development studio, I think you will find the creativity, teamwork, and ideas you build at the event endlessly valuable. I know that I have.

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