Wow, I’ve got the best food, and the second best journal.
I can’t say I expected that, but I did expect EIR! to land just about where it did in the other categories. 14th overall, with my other places in that ballpark. That’s top 24% which really isn’t bad, and I said to myself after playing everyone else’s games, “it’s one of the better games but not one of the best games.” And I was right.
One thing that I learned from this whole experience which I hadn’t gotten from my previous game ventures was a chance to see what’s successful. After creating them I think I have a good feel for which of my games have something really good going for them and which don’t, but that’s different than being able to specifically point out what gets acknowledged by the community as “good.”
So, what is good? What does that really mean? In Ludum Dare 13, it means something that looks complete, and not something that looks like it was made within a time limit. The vast majority of the entries to LD13 were more like demos and attempts than completed games (mine amongst them), because people would finish an engine and time would be up. The top 5 places in overall could all be described as games that set out to achieve something and did it. Complete products, no holes anywhere. That, I believe, is the most important piece of doing well in a 48 hour competition.
There’s more to it than that, obviously. The game needs to have something unique in it to set it apart. Some of the games submitted were complete but didn’t do amazingly well, mostly because they didn’t stand out enough. Increpare, the big winner of LD13, made something that any one of us could have done. His gameplay is crazily simple, the execution of it not at all complicated. But his idea is so standout and brilliant that he went away with 5 medals, all of which were gold. Then there is PsySal, who weaved an engrossing story, and bluescrn who who executed incredible gameplay. All of these approaches are different, but the key point is that they all stand out.
Similarly, you also need to have a sort of minimum level of execution in every other category. If there is one part of your game that is memorable because it’s bad, then you’re pretty much out of the running. When I saw the initial screenshots of these games I thought Fiona’s entry was a surefire winner, because the presentation is so slick and the idea so cool. But when I played it the controls were so difficult that this potential was immediately eliminated. Meanwhile although increpare’s gameplay was ridiculously simple, there was something about creating that movie length time limit and the maddening screw-you-over mechanics that made the gameplay good, and some people spent a lot of time trying to get to an “end.” His gameplay certainly wasn’t the best, but because it wasn’t at all bad, his game was able to seem like (and become) a winner.
So, in the end, what you need is:
1) A complete-feeling and polished game.
2) Something that makes your game stand out.
3) No major or easily noticed problems with your game.
Easier said than done, of course. But the most noticeable thing to me is that bells and whistles and complexity of gameplay are completely unimportant. It’s much better to take a simple idea and make that work perfectly.