Brace yourself; Ludum Dare #33 is coming

in Games & Prototypes, Personal update

It has been a while since I last posted a blog post. On Twitter I already announced that due to some personal circumstances and vacation I was unable to keep up with my blog. However, starting from next week I will go back to my schedule of publishing a new post every other week.

The upcoming weekend I will be participating in the latest instance of the Ludum Dare. I am still really happy with my result from last time and it will be really difficult to top that, but that isn’t stopping me from trying. I’ll be posting my progress on Twitter, try to post my day one builds here, and I may even livestream my process over on my Twitch channel, so keep an eye out for that. Below I will give a short overview of my plans for this Ludum Dare specifically, so read on for some tips and whatever if you’re interested.

So, from the last few times I participated I learned a few things and so there are a few things I will continue to do:

Be adaptive

The first few times I participated I used to go over the themes from the final round and come up with ideas. I didn’t think of something for all themes, so I ended up with some themes that would work for me and others that won’t. Of course, the theme is always something you did not anticipate.

Last time I did not even know for sure I would participate, so there was no preparation at all. The only reason I entered eventually was seeing the theme and coming up with something cool. Out of the blue. This works a lot better than looking at your list of ideas and trying to fit them with the theme. Not only does this result in some idea being forced onto the theme, but also coming up with something new is going to give you something creative, and that’s what the theme is for.

Does that mean I don’t have a list of game ideas ready. Sure I have. I think every game developer has a long list of ideas for games and there are some concepts that would fit perfectly with some of the themes that are still possible (oh, I have such a cool idea for the ‘Day and night’ theme; please let it be ‘Day and night’), but unless it is a perfect fit, I will throw the list aside and come up with something new.

Get the basics right

Last time I thought I had a great idea. At the end of the first day, the game was basically done and I only had to work on some small additions. But… the game wasn’t as fun as I anticipated. I made the difficult decision to throw some things around and spend time on changing the gameplay instead of polishing. It also meant ignoring my family for most of the day on a birthday party, but by making the changes to the gameplay, the game turned fun.

I knew I wasted several hours of time. I even already had spent some hours on small effects that I had to omit from the gameplay again. I learned that making this decision was the right one. Getting the core of the gameplay right is a lot more important than all the cool extras. This is a 48 hour contest. People won’t expect a fully polished game: if it’s fun to play, you will get good scores anyway.

Looking back at my past submissions, I think the problem with them becomes clear: their core gameplay is not enough to build a good game on. That is something I want to get right this time. I want to come up with a good concept. I will start with prototyping and only when I am sure the core gameplay works out and is fun enough to play, I will start working on the extras and polish.

As a personal reminder, and as an important lesson on game design for everybody who doesn’t know it yet: a game only needs a way to lose to be a game. Think Pong, Tetris, Space Invaders, Roche Fusion. These games would keep going until you lost, and they’re a lot of fun to play!

There are also some things that I will be doing a bit different this time, or focus on more:

Be part of it

The thing about the Ludum Dare that makes it so interesting and fun to participate in, is the fact that you are doing it with thousands of people worldwide. This is what differentiates it from just spending a random week coding on a prototype. I usually leave quill18’s stream open during the Ludum Dare. He actually got me into using Unity and can be considered my example when it comes to Ludum Dares. I also like checking out news posts on the Ludum Dare website to see what ideas other people came up with. And then there’s of course the rating of the games afterwards.

This year I’ll be expanding on this a bit. I am hoping that with my new and improved sound quality I can keep a few people interested in my stream if I decide to livestream my work. I also am going to hang around in the IRC chat a bit more. Finally, a friend of mine will also be participating (check out his Twitter here for pretty pictures), so we will probably end up having a few nice chats about our games and hopefully resolving some issues in the process. Talking to somebody when you’re stuck can really help you to get going again. Even just nodding and ‘hm’-ing already helps a lot, because it’s all about speaking your thoughts out loud.

Stay healthy

A game jam, 48 hours of no-life game development to finish a game. That is a way of looking at the Ludum Dare, but I don’t think it’s the most productive one. First of all: the Monday after works starts again. Second of all: it’s not going to give the best results. Going to sleep in time is going to help you a lot more than the extra few hours of work. As I said before: it’s all about getting the core of the game right, and you need your wits to do so. It’s not about the hours of polishing you put in. A good concept for a Ludum Dare game can be easily implemented in the two days without impairing your sleep pattern (too much).

I am used to having my own food at home, and I like to plan ahead because I am too lazy to go to the grocery store too often, so I made sure that I have enough food at home to get me through the weekend. No, not just snacks, but also enough fruit and vegetables. Of course, having food delivered still is a viable option to (1) save you time and (2) still eat healthy.

Finally – and most importantly – I will be taking a more severe approach to breaks. I find it really easy to work on something for a long period straight, but I end up getting more tired more quickly, both physically (eyes, wrist) and mentally. This time around I will be very strict and take a short five minute break every hour. I will also try to go out for a short walk at least once a day. Hopefully this will keep me more refreshed throughout the weekend and give me some cool game at the end.

Well, so far the story on how I prepare for this Ludum Dare. I think game jams are a lot of fun, but I also see them as important learning experience. That is why I take the time to evaluate each time I participate, and why I am setting some goals for myself this time around.

I wrote this so other people can learn from my mistakes as well. While I don’t think I am telling anything that hasn’t been found out before, I hope you find it at least interesting to read my personal experience with the Ludum Dare. Stay tuned for pretty pictures of my entry, and don’t forget to check out my Twitter @tomrijnbeek for the latest updates.

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