Simoroshka & games

Dec
18

Ludum Dare!

After all the hype has faded I guess it is time to finally write a huge post about my first Ludum Dare experience. All in all: it was unexpectedly good, and pleasant, and I like what I have done. And people seem to like it too, all the comments on the entry submission page warm my heart and make me smile.

PLAY!

I wanted to participate in Compo, not in Jam. First of all, it is more challenging and challenges make me work better and achieve more. Second, I didn’t have a team. Third, I had other plans on Monday anyway. And I already had a game jam experience that lasted less than 2 days, and I knew how it works for me.

I woke up at 6 am on Saturday and read the theme. IT’S A TIE! Hmm, strange theme, what can I do about it, a game about ties?.. After 30 minutes of trying to come up with something sensible I read the email again and this time got it. We had 2 themes! Growing and 2 Button Controls. I personally don’t think that the last one is a good one, too many people took it as a simple restriction of controls available to the player, not a proper theme for a game. But I was determined to, first, make both of the themes into a gameplay, and second, make a complete and nice to play game that I can actually finish alone during the weekend.

I finished brainstorming by 8 in the morning. The idea was a perfect fit for both themes and I decided to go with it, despite the fact that it was more about art than programming. But hey, games are not just programming!

However, I decided to start with a prototype, so I could be sure that all code things work and I have everything I need before I could jump into design. And also at 8 in the morning after 5 hours of sleep I cannot come up with ideas and art, but I certainly can code in javascript. By lunch I had my super ugly but working prototype. Most importantly, I made sure I could easily plug in all assets and add logic parts, so later I didn’t spend much time on coding or any on debugging.

prototype

My next challenge was to come up with game choices. And this is where I had to scope the initial thinking down. Having even one line of depth 10 would be impossible to implement in a weekend (and probably too much for a player to get through). After trying to manage the logic on paper sheets and spreadsheets I got a working solution that helped to finally fill the blanks and understand the scope:

IMG_5678

I was drawing in parallel with designing the game logic. Nicola suggested that I could use the huge blackboard in his room and I thought – why not? Otherwise, I would use paper and pencil because there was no way I could do so much digital drawing with the mouse I have. The blackboard idea turned out super well and gave my game a certain distinct style, and I just love the final look.

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I expected sounds and especially music to be the most frustrating part with the worst outcome since I had no experience whatsoever, but it went very smoothly. For three sound effects I recorded chalk sounds and a “poof”, which I edited a bit in Audacity. I also came up with a very simple music loop, using basic rhythm logic and my own intuition.

I finished at 8 in the Sunday evening, 7 hours before the deadline. There was nothing to add, nothing else to polish. I was happy and content.

What went right

  • Scoping. I knew how much I can do in a weekend with this kind of project. First I made a working prototype, then the main line, then I added other ideas in the time that was left. And I was working in cycles, making sure that the end product looks like I wanted and I can make it fast enough. The last bit is the reason why I have just one animation piece – it would be possible to have more, but it was time consuming and everything apart the one I have was not essential.
  • I decided to go for quality over quantity. It is a very simple and small game, but it is nice and people enjoy it.
  • I was relaxed, had walks and didn’t cram. You can probably see my mood in the game.
  • Using Javascript and keeping things as simple as possible. It’s a tiny browser game, one shouldn’t use Unity for things like this and it’s good to have a choice of tools.

What went wrong

  • I tried to save edited pictures in PNG, because I thought transparency will make things easier. Well, PNG is bad for photographs, they were so heavy, that I decided to redo them into JPG by fusing with a piece of the background, and spent at least another hour on that. But imaging working in a team and discovering an asset problem in the last moment.
  • I tried to keep it nice and tidy and in different files, but in the end my code was all scrambled and I was too worried about drawings to do anything about it. Code works, but it doesn’t look nice. The game does, though.
  • I forgot to make an opening screen. It didn’t even occurred to me! It would be nice to have one.

Takeaways

  • Sometimes it is not about advanced programming at all. It doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it. I had a moment when I though that I am wasting my time because game is too simple and even stupid.
  • Making something that you can finish and polish in the given time frame is extremely rewarding. Reading comments of people who enjoyed your game is the icing on the cake.
  • It is nice to have the code base or prototype done and checked as soon as possible, so you can be sure that the game is working. Then you can have all the time left to make it look great.

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