Podcast Ep. 64: Charlie Guse on Going From Zero to Game in 48 Hours

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Episode Description:

In today’s episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast, Dan Neumann is speaking with Charlie Guse, the lead organizer for the Global Game Jam event in South Bend, Indiana. And today, they’re talking about going from zero to game in 48 hours.

Agile teams—especially Scrum teams—have a notion of creating an increment within a timebox in Scrum between 1 and 4 weeks. Though this event is only 48 hours, there are many similarities and overlaps with one another. So in today’s episode, Charlie talks about how they go from zero to game in 48 hours, and the facets of Game Jam that translate back into the work that software developers do in their day jobs.

Listen on Google Play Music


Key Takeaways:

  • What is Global Game Jam?
    • A global event where everyone starts at the same time and has 48 hours to create a game based on a certain theme (this year’s theme is “repair”)
    • A great way to meet new people and have lots of new “a-ha” moments
    • Not a competition
  • How the Global Game Jam overlaps with day-to-day software development:
    • Having a theme/concrete idea to rally behind makes it easier to make informed decisions about building stuff and helps everyone come together and contribute ideas
    • A framework has developed for this year’s event so that next year they can iterate on the framework based on the feedback they receive
    • There is an emphasis on trying to find what each person’s interests are and having them focus on those as opposed to “shoving” them into a position based on their availability, skill and need
    • Cutting scope for the timebox (i.e. working together to find the core of what you’re trying to do and cut the excess until you have a core you can deliver on)
    • If people are spread out in their own rooms, there is less collaboration so open areas are better
    • There is rapid prototyping, iterations and cycles
    • Lots of opportunities for networking and making connections



Mentioned in this Episode


Charlie Guse’s Book Pick:

Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and not completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar]

Intro: [00:03] Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought, the podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:16]  Welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner. I’m your host Dan Neumann and today I’m joined by Charlie Guse, a co-organizer, actually the lead organizer for the Global Game Jam event location up in South bend, Indiana. So thanks for joining me today, Charlie. We’re going to be talking about zero to game in48 hours. What’s this global game jam thing anyway?

Charlie Guse: [00:40] Yeah. So, uh, the global event. Everyone will start 5:00 PM local, uh, on their time and uh, and they’ll watch the keynote, the global game jam provides and they’ll get told the secret for the, the secret theme. And then you have to make a game with that theme, uh, in any way you want. And it’s pretty loose. Like there’s no, there’s no judging, it’s just everyone here to have fun and just do it around a theme. And you can know that around the world a bunch of other people are doing it with you.

Dan Neumann: [01:11]  Thousands, thousands of people. And I like the fact that it’s a jam. It’s not a startup competition. It’s not a business plan competition. It’s more like a music jam. Get together and enjoy making the thing.

Charlie Guse: [01:26] Yeah, that’s, that’s what I really like about it too. I really like everyone coming together, splitting up into teams, kind of being able to talk to the other teams, see what they’re doing and know that you’re not competing against each other. Just having fun.

Dan Neumann: [01:37]  That’s cool. One of the reasons I wanted to get you on the podcast to talk about it is with agile teams, especially Scrum teams, they’ve got the notion of creating a timeboxed or an increment within the time. In Scrum it’s, you know, between one and four weeks, this is 48 hours. And so how do you get there and what lessons might translate over to software teams kind of doing their real the real day job?

Charlie Guse: [02:03] Yeah, I think, uh, I think my, in my mind, the, the first thing that comes to mind is, uh, uh, like in normal software development, if you stay up for 48 hours, making something, it might turn out alright.

Dan Neumann: [02:19]  So are you advocating for sustainable pace and some actual sleep?

Charlie Guse: [02:22] Yes. Even on, even for global game jam, I keep telling people they should get some sleep because sleep can help make everything better.

Dan Neumann: [02:32]  That’s true. Get a nap room for your team.

Charlie Guse: [02:35] Uh, should, don’t have one.

Dan Neumann: [02:37]  I love the nap room idea everyone.

Charlie Guse: [02:39] Maybe we’ll do that next year.

Dan Neumann: [02:40]  I have gone out to my car at lunchtime to close my eyes. I will. Yeah, I’ll admit that. Uh, you mentioned the theme being announced in this episode. We’ll go after game jams over so we can talk. So for this one, the theme is repair. And so people can take that and run with it.

Charlie Guse: [02:58] So, yeah, during the, during the keynote video, they’ll show, they showed about two minutes of different types of repairing, uh, whether it be the a, that the, I don’t know the name of it, but the Japanese art of fixing a ceramics with gold.

Dan Neumann: [03:18]  That’s about how far I know.

Charlie Guse: [03:19] Yeah. So, so it showed that off and showed off. Um, uh, building things showed off. Uh, they took pictures of buildings getting demolished but reversed it to show you building back up. Uh, yeah. So the idea of repair.

Dan Neumann: [03:35]  Have you ever found any software efforts like in the real world, in the professional development you do, where there’s been a theme or a lack of a theme that’s been helpful or kind of challenging, made it more meaningful maybe from just churning up backlog items to something a little more interesting?

Charlie Guse: [03:54] Hmm. Yeah. That’s interesting. Yeah. I feel like, I feel like when there’s something, when there’s like a concrete idea to rally behind, it really helps make a, it helps, helps you be able to make informed decisions about building stuff in a way that in a way that if you just kind of have an ad hawk list of tasks that you just, it just might not be helpful.

Dan Neumann: [04:19]  Yeah. And it can, uh, I found just like when the game we were discussing here, it helps other people contribute ideas too because now there’s a unifying theme. There’s a little bit of yes and the, you know, where somebody has an idea and uh, other people are able to build on it.

Charlie Guse: [04:36] Yeah. It’s not, it’s not, it’s not everyone kind of just throwing random darts and seeing what sticks. It’s like, Hey, we have a theme. We have this theme. Let’s continue around this idea and start there. They also have a, they also have diversifiers so they have, they have other ideas to help you narrow your idea down for, for your, for your theme.

Dan Neumann: [04:58]  That’s called different ways to add flavor to it. Team formation has been one of those challenging facets for this event. I think we had just over 40 people register this year and a lot of those people are coming in here not knowing each other or showing up, um, with an insufficient set of skills in their people they came with to actually deliver.

Charlie Guse: [05:21] Yeah. Yeah. So that is, that is really definitely one of the problems that, that we’ve had a trend to figure out over the years is how can we help people, how can we help facilitate making teams that have all the skill sets necessary to build a game and also enjoy the people they’re working with? Because everyone has different personalities. Some people really can clash, some people really can work well together. Part of it is trying to find ways to get the people that work well together, working together while also still having the same skill sets. And historically that’s been very hard to figure out, uh, especially with a random group of people that you might only, that, that you might only know for like 15, 30 seconds. Really. Uh, this year we tried something a little different. Um, we had one of our, one of the other organizers help come up with kind of a, a framework on how to organize people. It’s, it’s nothing, nothing fancy but just a, just a way to start. And so the idea is that after trying it this year, next year, we can take those same framework and iterate on it and try again a different way, uh, based on the feedback we get after the game, after the game jam, see if people like the idea of how we form teams and if not, we can iterate.

Dan Neumann: [06:34]  Yeah. So I was flying back from a client and I missed it. I think what I heard was it went well and some of the facets that maybe worked better was, um, asking people, Hey, what, what types of platforms are you interested in? What types of games are you interested in? Physical game, card game, you know, do you want to use unity? Other platforms like that.

Charlie Guse: [06:56] So, so historically what we’ve done is tried to theme people around a game idea and in practice that didn’t work as well. Uh, so, so towards what you’re saying Dan. Yeah, this year what we did was we were trying to theme people around skill sets along with uh, what they know and where they might be strongest and tried to form teams with like the strongest people in mind. First is in the people that had been to game jams before the, the developers that knew the most about unity, the different people that could be tech leads. Try to start with those people and then create the team from there.

Dan Neumann: [07:38]  Yeah. You dragged me along with my a, I haven’t written meaningful code in long time but yeah, last year’s game was an Alexa game and yeah, you dragged me along and stuck my head in the water of the technology we were using.

Charlie Guse: [07:50] That was fun. Yeah. Using, we use the AWS Lambda and set up an Alexa skill and there was a lot of fun.

Dan Neumann: [07:56]  That’s very cool. One of the things that to translate that back to kind of every day, like the paying jobs, really trying to find not just resources, hate the term resources. I just cringe when I hear people talking about other people and calling them resources, but really what is their interest? Where do they want to go? What projects might they be interested in as opposed to somebody has some availability, they have the skill, there is a need and you just shove them into that effort. And I think that’s, that’s a huge deal cause you’ve got people who have worked all week, they’ll work next week and they’re effectively working from Friday night until Sunday afternoon. That’s pretty cool.

Charlie Guse: [08:38] Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It really comes down to people really being interested in doing this event. Uh, I think, I like to think that if, uh, that it had happened more than once a year, I’d probably only still do it once because of how tiring it can be. But yeah, you’re right. People come in from their day jobs, they’ll come do this event and then they’ll, we’ll leave and go back to their day jobs on Monday and, and so, yeah, it’s all about really finding something that interests them.

Dan Neumann: [09:06]  As challenging as it is for a Scrum team to deliver an increment, I hear at times people say, Oh, two weeks is, you know, it’s such a short time, we can’t do very much, which may be true. You know, here we’ve got 48 hours and we can’t do very much, but we still get a minimum playable game of some kind done.

Charlie Guse: [09:38] Most of the time.

Dan Neumann: [09:39]  Most of the time trying to think of, I’ve seen it just a complete flameout.

Charlie Guse: [09:44] I feel like there was once or twice, but like, uh, during like, well, Hey, let’s load the game up. And it’s like, Oh, Hey he wasn’t using source control and their most recent version just didn’t make it.

Dan Neumann: [09:57]  That’s true. the technical. Yeah, definitely. Definitely. We’ve lost some current updates, but um, one of the things then that comes to mind is cutting scope for the time box.

Charlie Guse: [10:08] Yeah. Yeah. And that’s a, that’s been a theme. So every, every year. One of the main things I like to tell everyone that comes to, comes to the, uh, global game jam to say whatever idea you have, you’re gonna cut at least half those half of the features from it. And then you can look at that and you can cut have another half of those features at least. Uh, so you’re going to be left with at least a fourth of your original features, um, or at best. And then you probably still going to have bugs in that and maybe not even get all those done. But if you can find that core game loop that is really fun and really, really engaging, then you’re going to be in a good spot. Because at the end of the weekend you can show that off. And that’s where, that’s where some of the games really find their, uh, find their first ideas and then become real games later after the, after global game jam is over.

Dan Neumann: [10:58]  True. And that’s another area where I see translation over to the real world work that we do is product people working with the team to really find the core of what they’re trying to do and cut and cut and cut until they have a core that they can deliver. And then you get feedback on it, you show it off in your sprint review or you take it out to customers and they start to play with it and then you get feedback on that. So it’s a huge deal. So keeps slashing. It’s a great opportunity, a game jam to practice cutting scope to fit the time box and still maintain that core to have a really playable game at the end. So feeding people talk about food.

Charlie Guse: [11:41] In the past, uh, in the past we would do, we’d have, uh, we do stuff locally. We’d have a, we’d go to local places, we’d bring pizza in. Uh, the last, last couple of years, uh, we’ve had, uh, we’ve had, uh, one of the organizers cook all the food and bring it in and uh, it’s been, uh, tasty. It’s been going well.

Dan Neumann: [12:05]  That’s cool. And I love that that common gathering point is a really great way for people to connect with each other and build new relationships, have “aha” moments and their games.

Charlie Guse: [12:16] Yeah. Very cool. Yeah, it is a great place for meeting and kind of thinking about towards that. It’s like, another thing that we’ve noticed across the years during these global game jams is that if, if people are spread out in their own rooms, then there’s less collaboration, uh, over the weekend when there’s not that much time. It just, it can seem very deserted, uh, as you walk around. But if, but if everyone is, has to work out in the, in like open areas together, then you can kind of see what other people are doing. You can kind of get a peek, you can kind of just talk to them about it. It’ll be easier to do all those things, uh, then when, when they’re in closed off offices. Um, I mean that makes sense for this weekend and might not make sense all the time, but definitely this weekend.

Dan Neumann: [13:03]  Yeah. And there are times, I know, um, so the teams here, if you imagine there’s, there’s clusters of people. It’s an open space, but there’s room still to separate. There’s some, um, some structures in the open space that give some level of privacy. Uh, and then when people do need quiet, there are some rooms available. Um, similar to a they well-designed office space. Prototyping I think is another facet similar to the immediate minimum viable product or a minimum playable game in this case. Um, what kind of prototyping have you seen folks do? Low fidelity or otherwise?

Charlie Guse: [13:39] Yeah, unity just made, has made prototyping so easy. Uh, it’s, it’s been fun because I’ve started doing this. I started hosting global game jam at Southbend eight years ago and, and back then it was, uh, it was mostly X and A C sharp. It was a unity was starting. I th if I remember unity was around, but it wasn’t quite there yet. And then throughout the years of global game jam, you just kept getting bigger and bigger. And part of that is really, it just makes it so easy to prototype ideas and try things really quickly. It’s been very impressive to see the kind of things that by the end of the weekend people would come up with because of the game engine like unity.

Dan Neumann: [14:19]  Yeah, it’s, it’s an amazingly powerful tool and for folks that are making something physical, then there are prototypes going on and rapid iterations on the gameplay and refinement of that afterwards so they’re not building it for a couple of days and then seeing if it works. It’s a lot of rapid iterations and a lot of cycles.

Charlie Guse: [14:39] It’s like try, try in the next hour kind of thing rather than the next week.

Dan Neumann: [14:46]  We talked about a number of the activities or facets game jam that translate back into everyday life. So the team formation, having a vision to rally around or a theme really paring down the scope to get to something minimal and rapidly prototyping. I think those are some of the key points, but then it’s also a wonderful place to network and make connections with other people. So there may be some direct applicability to professional work.

Charlie Guse: [15:19] Yeah. So, uh, so every year we try to get a few sponsors and the tech, uh, tech industry around here to sponsor so that maybe they can help find someone to come work for them. And that definitely was the case. We, I know for certain that was the case a few years ago. Uh, one of our sponsors got, uh, hired someone out of global game jam and it was really exciting. Uh, so yeah, so that definitely is a possibility and it’s definitely something that we try to make available to people. Uh, so and then try to get the sponsors to them to help them with it.

Dan Neumann: [15:50]  Yeah. I don’t think anybody comes here looking for a job per se, but it’s a nice way to build a portfolio. We’ve got some awesome music folks that participate every year, hopefully to contribute to their professional portfolio as well. And, uh, it’s just a great place to play with some technology and make some new connections. And you know, who knows, you get out there, you show your skills somebody might find you.

Charlie Guse: [16:14] Uh, some new people would be new to the area and they, they’d come to this because they were like, Hey, I just wanna meet some people and just be the way to meet new people network.

Dan Neumann: [16:23]  That’s awesome. So just wanted to in this episode talk about going from zero to a game in 48 hours. And then Charlie, we often end the podcast by asking what you’re reading that might have inspired or has you thinking a little differently. So I’m, I’m looking forward to it cause I actually have no idea what you’re gonna say.

Charlie Guse: [16:42] This is actually really perfect. This is, uh, this book is about an MMORPG. The book is called.

Dan Neumann: [16:50]  Wait MMORPG. Just spit out a bunch of letters. Some people might not know about.

Charlie Guse: [16:54] Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. So think World of Warcraft. That’s the big one in the area. But there are a lot of others. Uh, the, the book I’m reading is Reamde by Neil Stevenson and it’s about a guy that helped create an MMO and his, uh, and he has a niece that I don’t actually, I’ve only, I’ve heard, I listened to it on audible. I’ve listened to eight hours of it I think. And there’s another 32 to go, so I’m still, I’m still,

Dan Neumann: [17:31]  Did they record gameplay? How do you end up with 40 hours of audio about the MMO?

Charlie Guse: [17:37] There’s, there’s another story, but I don’t, I don’t, I don’t want to spoil it for the audience. The uh, the MMO part. Yeah, the MMO part. It talks. So the part of it is, uh, about building this world about world-building, about creating a sandbox world, about creating a way for the users to create new entertainment. Uh, one of the, Eve online is a good game that does that, uh, as an example.

Dan Neumann: [18:04]  So where players are contributing to the world that they’re possessing?

Charlie Guse: [18:08] Yes, the lore and the action that’s going on. Uh, and so, and so that’s really a big part of the book. The other part is that they try to turn it into like a real world, uh, that, that people can be a part of in a way that other games that other games don’t do. Um, and so yeah, that’s, that’s what it is.

Dan Neumann: [18:30]  That’s interesting. You know, uh, with the use of technology where that leads me to think is a lot of times companies are trying to connect to people, not just let them finish the goal, but to build that relationship and MMOs definitely. Well they’re not going to hang around if they aren’t building a relationship with, with the people. I know a guy used to work with back in the day, he bought his wife an additional computer so they could play world of Warcraft together. It was like she was mad cause he was playing too much. So he got her a computer and then they just both played too much. So it’s kind of awesome that way.

Charlie Guse: [19:04] I, I had a couple people I knew from college that were gold sellers for EverQuest back when, uh, back when that was much more of a thing.

Dan Neumann: [19:16]  Awesome. So, um, yeah, building an immersive experience for your users, your customers. It’s kind of cool. So then, uh, you folks are listening to this and they’ve got experience around, um, kind of team formation or want to hear more about how to trim scope, get MVPs out. Uh, let us know that and we’ll look forward to bringing you some more episodes in the future. We have a handful of external guests coming up in a couple of more scaling agile topics and using data for transformation. So those will be some things come up in the near future. Thanks for joining Charlie. Appreciate it.

Charlie Guse: [19:56] Thanks.

Outro: [19:58] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought the views, opinions, and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips from this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.

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