This past weekend, April 25th-28th, 2014, a game programming event called Ludum Dare took place. I decided to participate in what was the 29th Ludum Dare event, i.e., Ludum Dare 29.

(I’ve participated in Ludum Dare before, and that’s how Be Tiny, World! was born.)

 

Straight to the Game

If you just want to play and don’t care much for reading about my Ludum Dare experience, here is the LD29 page about my game, with links to play in the browser, or downloads for Windows, OSX, or Linux.

About Ludum Dare

A screenshot of my progress at about 24 hours into LD29.

My progress at about 24 hours into LD29.

The general idea of Ludum Dare is that you have 48-72 hours to make a game based on a theme. The community votes on the theme, but the results of the vote aren’t announced until the beginning of the event. So you can’t exactly plan ahead and start thinking of ideas before the event begins.

Ludum Dare is actually two simultaneous events: There’s the competition and the game jam. The competition is more strict, requiring you to make almost everything from scratch, work entirely solo, and submit your creation after just 48 hours. Hence the abbreviation to LD48. The game jam is more lenient and relaxed, allowing you to collaborate with others, use resources created by others, and gives you an extra day–a total of 72 hours–to submit your creation.

This post is about my experience this past weekend participating in the more relaxed game jam, and some thoughts I’ve had in retrospect of the whole thing.

Postpartum? What the?

LD29_Screenshot_2

The giant worm eats the people while being shot at.

In the gaming industry, once a project is completed and released to the public, developers will often write an article called a portmortem. Really it just means the project is released and now they’re writing something about it. Personally, I think the title “postmortem” is a misnomer and often inappropriately used. Or at least it would be inappropriate for me to use in this case. The reason? “Post mortem” means “after death” (or perhaps more literally, “after mortality”). Death is often seen as an end, unpleasant, unwanted, perhaps even destructive–an ultimate finality. I don’t see game development in that light at all.

Developers will often spend months or years working on a project, building it up from practically nothing before releasing it to the public. In that sense, I see it a lot more like birth than like death. After so long creating something from nothing, you release your “baby” into the world and hope it flourishes and grows. It’s not dead. With feedback and care it can still be improved and mature. So that’s why I choose to say postpartum rather than postmortem.

Ludum Dare 29

Beneath the Surface

The worm stirs up dust as it moves around just beneath the surface.

The worm stirs up dust as it moves around just beneath the surface.

The event began with the announcement of the theme: “Beneath the Surface.”

OK, go!

I had 72 hours to come up with an idea based on the theme. What would I design?

Many people in the Ludum Dare IRC chatroom where the theme was announced were throwing out ideas:

<Norfenstein> please, everyone, please make a thousand inscrutable Dwarf Fortress clones

<domino14> i’m going ot make something inspired by the 30 pits in paper mario: thousand year door

<Chaoseed> You could do a psychological exploration game. Maybe like diving into people’s minds.

<%Cellusious> Time for a lot of dungeon crawlers and adventure games

<jasonlay> beneath the surface….  flappy submarine!

<Norfenstein> flappy deer tick >_>

<qorthos> lemmie go ahead and upload the Dwarf Fortress Lazy Newb Pack and claim it’s mine…

<Hempuli> !haiku Beneath the Surface / see the minecraft clones coming / or cave story, too?

I needed to think. I stepped away from my computer, grabbed my notebook, and laid down on the couch. What to do? I thought it might be fun to make a little mining/drilling game in the same vein (see what I did there?) as Motherload. But I wasn’t sure I could pull it off in 72 hours. I considered some sort of underwater or ocean game, but no specific idea solidified itself in my mind. Suddenly I remembered the Tremors movie series, and began wondering if it would be fun to incorporate an idea like that into a game. But how?

By the time K arrived, I had already conceived of the idea that I would ultimately use (though I didn’t realize it at the time), but I told her that I was considering a game idea about creatures like the Graboids from the Tremors films. We discussed an idea about a kind of top-down perspective game where you have to run from rock to rock to avoid getting eaten by a Graboid as you attempt to make it to safety or supplies. But I just wasn’t seeing how I could do that within the time limit and still have it be fun to play.

The Game Idea

The worm breaches the surface.

The worm breaches the surface.

I told K about an idea I had to combine the basic concept behind Snake and the controls in Ecco the Dolphin. That is, you’d control a giant worm-like creature that can move freely underground and breach the surface, jumping into the air (like Ecco jumping out of the water). You’d have to breach the surface to eat people, and each person you ate would make you grow one segment larger. There would also have to be some sort of opposition, such as the people trying to shoot you, or rocks that would kill you if you smashed into them while moving too fast.

K hadn’t heard of Ecco, so I plugged in my Wii and showed it to her on the Virtual Console. While I was playing it, I realized that I had so much fun just swimming around and jumping out of the water that I didn’t even care about the actual game part of the game. It was just fun to play with. I wished that the level was larger and gave me more room to swim around and leap out of the water. And that solidified the idea in my mind that I could make a fun game if the mechanics of the game were just fun to play with by themselves.

So I got back to my computer and started coding.

The Timelapse

Here’s a timelapse of everything I did during that 72-hour period that was related to the game. Each second in the video is equal to about a minute of real-time. That means that this video shows off just over 28 hours of work, including the time I took to package up the game and submit it to Ludum Dare.

Ludum Dare Ends

There were 2497 games in total submitted for Ludum Dare 29. Browse, play, and rate them here.

Postpartum

So there it is, out in the wild, available for the whole world to see. View it, play it, and rate it if you’d like.

What worked well:

The worm gobbles someone on its way back to the surface.

The worm gobbles someone on its way back to the surface.

  1. The game is fun to play. I had a lot of fun getting my giant worm-thing really long and moving so fast it would be airborne for 15-20 seconds at a time. It was really fun interacting with the little people, knocking them around and into the air, and I thought it was especially awesome when (through no real skill of my own) I’d end up chomping one of them that had gotten knocked up in the middle of the air on my way back down to the surface.
  2. The game idea came to me pretty quickly and was simple enough to implement within the time limits.
  3. Thanks primarily to the ability to use art and other assets created by other people (due to being a part of the game jam rather than the more strict competition) I feel the game looks pretty good and sounds alright, too. I thought the music for the game was particularly fitting, too.

What didn’t go so well:

The worm gets blasted in half.

The worm gets blasted in half.

  1. The game is too fun to play. I had so much fun playing with it that instead of just testing for a few seconds to make sure the changes I made worked as they should, I’d find myself spending several minutes just playing around, chomping the people and flying through the air. I should have been working instead of playing.
  2. I didn’t have time to add  more sound effects that I really wanted in there, such as the worm making munching sounds or sound effects for the dust effects.
  3. There was one bug in particular that I encountered the first evening and spent way too long trying to fix, and even spent more time trying to fix it the next day. It wasn’t game breaking. I should have just ignored it and prioritized working on the rest of the game, fixing the bug later if I could. It turned out that later on I’d made some changes to how the worm was controlled and those changes almost completely resolved the bug, so all that time spent (unsuccessfully) trying to fix it was for naught anyway.
  4. I needed to spend more time on the menu but ran out of time. There’s no way to quit the game, and there’s not even a way to return to the main menu once the game has begun.
  5. The game isn’t actually a game. It’s more of a toy. There’s no way to lose and there’s no way to win. You just play. But on the plus side, at least it’s fun.
  6. I don’t like the title. Some time on the first or second day I added a simple menu and in my efforts to quickly throw something together, I picked a mock-horror title in the style of an old black and white horror flick. It was meant to be temporary, to just show something on the screen. But in the end I ran out of time before I could think of a better name of the game, so it got stuck with the dumb, tongue-in-cheeck horror title, “It Came From… Beneath!!
  7. Towards the end of the event, when time was quickly running out, I noticed that I was wasting a lot of time getting my game to a point where I could test what I wanted to test. Each second was precious time, yet I was waiting for splash screens to pass by or having to play for close to a minute before I could get enough people on the screen to test some changes to the physics or whatever. But by the time I realized this was a problem that needed a solution, I stubbornly kept doing things inefficiently because it just felt like I had no time left to do anything that wasn’t working directly on the game. I was wrong to do that. I really could have benefited from taking two minutes to create a single test scene that would streamline the process rather than having to start from the beginning each time. It would have saved me lots of time by the end when I was making and testing builds if I could have skipped the splash screens, main menu, and just started straight into the level with 20 people on screen all at once.

Summary

The title screen for my LD29 entry.

The title screen for my LD29 entry.

I made a new game/toy over the weekend. (Don’t forget to view/play/rate it here.) I had a good, fun experience. I learned some new things. I feel good about myself and feel like I accomplished something. I just may participate in these kinds of events more often (Ludum Dare events happen every 4 months).

All in all, it was a great experience and I’m glad I was able to participate. I’m especially thankful for the support of friends and family, whose understanding and flexibility over the weekend were greatly enabling to me. You all rock!