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Ludum Dare 28 – Post-mortem

So a couple of weeks ago I decided to put aside the weekend of December 14th and 15th to take part in the Ludum Dare 28 compo. Upon waking up early on the Saturday and logging on t’internet, found the theme was “You Only Get One” and set about brainstorming and designing!

Something I was really keen to avoid was going down the predictable route of only one life, only one chance, only one bullet etc. and try and make a game that didn’t involve violence/death/weapons. Since there are SOOO many of those and a jam is a chance to do something different, I thought I’d try something a bit out there – so I did! You can play my game, “Shades of One”, on the Ludum Dare site here (available in more or less all OS flavours 🙂 !)

Shades of One

Main screenshot for ‘Shades of One’

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(before I go any further, my stand out entry that I’ve played is this one –
“The Day the Laughter Stopped”. Hard hitting and very troubling to play, but by God it uses simple mechanics to make a strong point well. You’ve been warned….)
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So for this jam I used Construct2, Paint.net and Otomata. A restriction of taking part in the jam is that ALL resources must be created within that 48 hour period (unless you post the source code of a pre-made script to a blog post and thereby share it with the community), which was interesting.

This post is a brief post-mortem on my entry, now that it’s a few days post entry and has received feedback and I’ve played several other entries.

What went well:

  • I liked the theme of the jam. To be honest, I think I would like any theme set because I find that half of the fun is being creative and working out your own different spin on the theme. I was surprised at the number of people who complained about the theme and gave it as a reason to not finish/not get involved.
  • Using Construct2 was a good move since this is a drag and drop game making engine (similar to GameMaker and Multimedia Fusion 2) with better functionality, a good physics engine, solid modular design and all the export options you could wish for – meaning that more or less anyone would be able to play my game in the format most convenient to them. It also meant that I could get some core mechanics up and running in less than a day. Before day 2 I was onto blocking out levels, doing the graphics and generating the music.
  • People seem to have warmed to my spin on the theme pretty well. I was going for the more artsy take on things and wasn’t sure if people would be on-board with what I’m saying. On the whole, people have really enjoyed my take (which was about homogeneity within the video games industry – “You only get one viewpoint/kind of game”).
  • I was pleased with how the overall feel of the game came out. My main concern was how I put over the message I wanted to convey, but yet had some gameplay to get people playing the game and interested in playing to the end. Most feedback indicates that people really liked my little man on the unicycle.
  • Graphics and ambience was good. Construct2 has some great WebGL options for adding filters and Otomata was the right kind of music for the artsy, ethereal mood I was trying to invoke. Graphics were all the same 4 shades of grey with different colour filters on top to reflect much of commercial games design. Not sure if that got through though….
  • The game, although flawed, was complete. I had a title screen, the game transitioned from level to level well, it has a reset option and I actually told the player what they needed to do and the controls on the title screen! It had an ending that resolved and then exited back to the beginning. Having played through a number of LD28 entries at time of writing, I can see that some had some great mechanics but were not the properly ‘topped and tailed’ packages that I might have expected.

What didn’t go so well:

  • After playing several other entries (I’m going to try and get to 50), I found that I’m not the only one who’d used Otomata! Whilst I feel that the music actually suited my game and didn’t suit many (though not all) of the others that used it, this is the first and last jam game that I will use Otomata for the music!
  • The game was probably too hard for the kind of game it was trying to be. You don’t want a game with a message, which therefore requires a player to reach the end for the ‘punchline’, to be fiddly and difficult to navigate in the interim. Some of the platforming sections were, on reflection and further to feedback, a little tricky.
  • It was a difficult and potentially pretentious message to try and put across in a solo game jam of only 48 hours! That’s not a reason for not trying, but it IS a reason for why the message could have had more finesse. In particular, I could have worked more on getting the mechanics to mesh more tightly with the text messages placed throughout the game. 

  • Would have been nice to introduce a little more variety into the gameplay. I’m not 100% convinced that everyone would have liked the Unicyle physics enough to stay through to the end (even if the game is only 5/6 minutes long).

Conclusion

This was the first Ludum Dare and the first solo game jam I’ve taken part in. I’ve learned heaps and loved every minute of it and I’m really looking forward to the next one in April. I’ve learned that I can really get A LOT done in 48 hours when I really focus – although I couldn’t do that every day! I love having that theme, running with it and putting in something for people to play – it’s been a fantastic experience and the first of many LDs I’m sure.

I’ve also learned a fair amount about other people. Many didn’t like the theme or couldn’t get inspired (or, at least, that’s what they used to explain non-entry), which I find strange. Restrictions are what gives rise to creativity, and I find that one of the big ‘joys of design’ to be had in life is working within restraints and coming up with something new and different, rather than be paralysed with the bewildering choice of ‘anything’. 

I also discovered that I time-manage myself a lot better than many others. Several had some REALLY promising game mechanics, but they got lost in the 48 hours and couldn’t adjust and adapt accordingly to get a fully functional product entered. That’s a REAL shame, because I’ve seen some fantastic ideas which would have come across 100x better if they’d had a bit more time spent on the right things. Where appropriate, I’ve communicated this to the author and encouraged them to develop the idea further.

Finally, I actually found that my judgement on people’s creativity were both warranted and unwarranted. Whilst there are many games that took a brilliantly oblique view on the theme, there are at least 10 times the number of games that are just about ammo, killing or lives – which is a shame.

Having said that, game jams are for all sorts – especially Ludum Dare. All levels, all kinds of creativity, all kinds of personal goals (such as trying out some tech for the hell of it) are accommodated by the jam’s rules and that’s what makes Ludum Dare what it is.

In fact, that’s what will ensure that I’m coming back for another go in April!

 

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