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Molyjam: Building a game jam for everyone

Building a better game jam with Molyjam

Double Fine programmer Anna Kipnis hosted a wonderful GDC panel about her time creating "What Would Molydeux," a 2012 game jam inspired by the Peter Molyneux twitter parody, Peter Molydeux. The jam was a rousing success, spanning 32 cities worldwide, with Peter Molyneux himself even showing up for the London event. Rather than trying to encapsulate the whole panel here, I suggest you watch it for yourself.

After the panel, Kipnis told me that one of the most remarkable things about Molyjam was that it attracted so many kinds of people. "We really wanted people who had never worked on games to come, because there was such a wide variety of disciplines," she said. Sound composers in particular, she said, were reticent to come and were worried they wouldn't have enough to do. "People die for audio, and what ends up happening actually is that you have one audio guy working on like five different games."

"I get the sense that, with other game jams, people wonder about it and then ultimately decide not to go," she said, noting that many interested creators are intimidated because they don't know how to program. With today's tools, however, programming knowledge isn't essential. She told me the story of a husband and wife pair who attended Molyjam with a game idea, but no programming knowledge. "They had hooked up with some programmers and they were ditched. The programmers just totally bailed on them".

Building a better game jam with Molyjam

Secret Dad, a game created by a couple with no programming experience

You might think that the couple left Molyjam disappointed, but that's not how it turned out. "I gave them a code for Game Salad, I think, and they basically figured it out. The whole point is that you don't really need a programmer to use some of these engines. They've really come a long way, and it's an amazing time to do games right now, because there's not such a high barrier to entry." (Incidentally, you can try out the couple's game, Secret Dad, right here.)

On the other end of the spectrum, she said, programmers who aren't artists can use crowdsourced assets and sound libraries. "You can find some really cool free stuff out there."

After successfully launching Molyjam, Kipnis has been wondering what made it attractive to so many people, from fans to independent developers and even industry veterans. "I think a lot of that is the theme, right? Because there are several things about it that took the pressure off, because it's so ridiculous." Another component, she said, was announcing the theme in advance. The themes of other jams, she said, usually aren't announced until the jam actually begins. Even then, they're often abstract. "They leave a lot to your own imagination. They give you just a slight push in a direction, but maybe not enough of one for people who have never made a game before."

"And maybe one of the things about Molyjam is that the theme was so obvious, and that if you get stuck, just look for more ideas, you know, just trigger something. You can take your own path with it." After all, if one tweet wasn't working, there were plenty more to choose from.

Having seen the panel and talked with Kipnis, hearing the stories of people coming together to make games, many of them with no experience, I can't help but want to try it myself. Her advice: Download Unity (it's free!) and get started. Now I just need to find the right Molydeux tweet...