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This jammer doesn't like themes

I don't like themes.

Context

We're talking about "game jams". A game jam is a time-limited event, where the participants create a video game. The goal is to spark creativity, learn more about making games, have fun, and bring the game development community together in a spirit of mutual support and friendship.

Most game jams have a theme, often in the form of a short phrase or a word (sound files, pictures, bits of video and other things are sometimes seen too...)

A typical theme could be "Beneath the surface" (Theme of Ludum Dare n°29, April 2014).

Why am I talking about that?

@moshboy: is a game jam a still a jam if it doesn't have a theme? 'make whatever the fuck you want' jam   
@DrJarajski: I don't like themes.   
@moshboy: care to elaborate? i'm interested in knowing the whys   

Here goes

There's this idea that "constraints drive genius" (Forbes). And while I mostly agree, I don't think ALL constraints are good.

A GOOD constraint gets you thinking in new ways. Like trying to build a tower out of marshmallows and toothpicks, or running a three-legged race. The fun in these activities is that you're solving problems in novel ways.

But a theme like "Beneath the surface" doesn't do that. I can use ANY tech, I can make things in 3D, in 2D, I can use realistic or abstract art, I can be story-drive or mechanics driven, in fact, I can pretty much take ANY game, give it an "underground" or "underwater" paint-job, and we're good to go!

Obviously, doing things this way isn't the idea. The idea is to find a game design that is inspired by the theme. But we're doing this in a literally infinite design space. The only constraint here is what the goal is, not what the methods, design limitations or tools are.

An exercice

Next jam, ignore whatever theme is given to you, and make a game for SHARECART1000.
Observe the difference.
With the requirement to use a uniquely structured save file that will be manipulated by other games, you come up against some really strange constraints.

MapX and MapY go from 0 to 1023, that means 1024^2 map tiles. That's either tiny (if the map is a single screen) or HUGE (if each MapX/MapY coordinate is a unique level).
Maybe procedural generation is the way to go? But what if the player spawns in a place they can't escape from?
Hang on, there are 8 switches? Should I give the player exactly 8 item they can use? What if the player doesn't have ANY? Can they still get to a safe place?

I'm sure that reading this, your brain is already firing off a bunch of things, and while we are in a very limited design space, our imagination space is still huge. I challenge you to find a Ludum Dare-style theme that achieves this.

Fu(nky|ture)

I'm one of the founders of a group in Montpellier, France, called Baptême du Jeu. We organise a yearly jam called "Fu(nky|ture)" (or "Funky Future" for people who aren't regex nerds).
The constraint for Funky Future is "multiplayer games". That's it... It's always the same constraint, and probably always will be.
We're pretty laxist about what "multiplayer" means. It can be online, local, competitive, cooperative, asymmetrical, whatever... Also, you can come with a game you've already made, and add a multiplayer component, that cool too...

We find that games made during this jam are very diverse in terms of style, we've got abstract games, games about experimental aircraft, games about ghosts fighting off hordes of knights, or a face-off between the Jackson Five and thugs that want to "Stop the Funk", and even (I kid you not), a game about squids that lay eggs that eat grass and hatch into samourais. All of these in the same weekend, 48 hours, from 8 teams.

Now look at the Ludum Dare find games page. Games about something happening underwater, or underground.

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