Thank You Hobo Postmortem

Posted by (twitter: @chrisz)
May 2nd, 2011 9:33 pm
This was my second Ludum Dare after failing miserably (but still submitting) my first time a couple years back.  Thank You Hobo was my entry, an arena shooter that really emphasized the “take this” portion of theme via the hobo swapping your weapon every 10 seconds.

 

WHAT WENT RIGHT
  1. The tools – I recently got back into 2D game development after focusing on 3D for a very long time.  I had used AS3 and Flashpunk for a couple of prototypes, but I was still worried about getting stuck on some functionality the engine might not allow me to do easily.  Thankfully, I was way off.  I don’t think I hit one technical hurdle the whole weekend. In fact, FlashPunk saved me more work than I thought when I realized it had functionality for moving and swept collisions, something I thought I was going to have to implement myself.  I told Chevy Ray on Facebook that I owed him a beer, I will probably be using FlashPunk for several more projects.  GraphicsGale, which I used for the first time for this project, was also the other reason things went so smoothly.  Being able to author, animate, and export assets in spritesheets quickly from one program was incredibly helpful.  And of course, Ogmo Editor and SFXR were really good timesavers.  The reason I am so happy about this positive is that this was the biggest negative for me the first time around.  I was using my own still-in-development engine and working in 3D, so I spent most of the time dealing with plumbing and getting Maya (although I use Blender now) to do what I wanted level-wise rather than writing the game itself.
  2. The art – This was something else I was worried about that happened to work out in the end.  I don’t consider myself a good artist, but I’ve been working really hard for the last year to improve through a lot of study and practice.  Most of that was on paper and pencil though and I hadn’t done pixel art, much less animating it, in a very long time.  Given that, I was happy with the end result and hope it’s at least a step up from programmer art.  Also, like I said above, GraphicsGale got out of the way for most part (although I dont like how it deals with alpha) and sped up my workflow.
  3. No stress – This may seem like a weird one but I only mention it because the first time around I found myself getting stuck on dumb stuff because I insisted on using my own incomplete tools.  This led to a lot of stress and almost no time to participate in the blog posting/reading and IRC part of Ludum Dare which I think is very important to the experience.  Due to the feeling of getting stuff done and not getting stumped on anything, I didn’t feel bad about taking time to read and participate in the IRC channel and the blog.  I was still pressed for time obviously, but was still able to keep up and even play with a couple of the games.  This led to a much more enjoyable experience overall, the way LD is meant to be done in my opinion.

WHAT WENT WRONG

  1. The theme – I did make my peace with what I’m about to say, but I put it in the negative because it did cost me time.  I feel that over time Ludum Dare has attracted more and more people, which is good, but along with that comes a lot of newer game developers that tend to shy away from the more narrow and challenging themes.  This has led to a lot of generic themes getting voted on and winning most of the time (“Enemies as weapons” was the only recent exception) which I think affects things negatively for two reasons.  First, the personal reason that probably others share: I tend to come up with better ideas faster with a good thematic constraint.  Themes like this one are very vague and apply to almost any game, so it’s very difficult to come up with a game from the set of every game imaginable.  I ended up wasting 3 or so hours because I couldn’t come up with an idea I was happy with and I do think that I settled because I didn’t want to devote any more time to brainstorming.  The second reason, which sounds superficial but it’s still important, is that the games don’t tie together very well at the end.  The theme isn’t obvious when you play all of the games like it is with themes like “Advancing Wall of Doom”.  Regardless, I don’t think I will ragequit Ludum Dares because of generic themes.  The experience of getting a game done in 48 hours and participating in the community far outweighs bad themes.
  2. Cutting features – This happens to everybody obviously due to the time constraint, but I think my game would have been more interesting with varied zombie types as I originally described it.  I would have also prefered more weapons to get done from my list, but I’m surprised I got through as many as I did.  There was also a few larger art assets I wanted to work on to vary the environment but I decided to improve a couple that were in there already instead with the little time I had at the end.  I also didn’t have time for music, but I predicted that in my intent-to-join blog post.  Regardless, I’m still bummed about that because I think music is very important to most games.  The bright side of this is that I have a pretty clear set of things to add or change if I work on the game post-compo, which I probably will at some point this year.

Overall, this LD was a far more positive experience.  I can’t wait for the next one!

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7 Responses to “Thank You Hobo Postmortem”

  1. machinas says:

    You. me. of one mind on themes.

  2. hamster_mk_4 says:

    I have the same desire for a tighter theme.

  3. SonnyBone says:

    I’ve been let down by the themes since I started, which was LD16 with EXPLORATION. I think nearly every game that’s ever been made for Ludum Dare fits that theme. Then there was ISLANDS, which is just a setting (unless you get super creative with it).

    With this theme, it seems as though most people just went with the ides of “you get some type of weapon or upgrade at the start”, and that’s not all that exciting to me. Sure, it allows everyone to really branch out and make all kinds of games, but I’m like you and would much prefer something more specific. I was even rooting for GIRL GAMES, as you could really dig into some deep gaming stereotypes and interpret the theme in so many interesting ways. I guess you could say that about any theme, really. I dunno. I kinda just want a theme that’s so strict that it forces everyone to really dig for creative ways to differentiate their idea from the rest of the pack.

    With themes like EXPLORATION and TAKE THIS, we’re just gonna see more platformers and ‘metroidvanias’ (this is coming from a dude that has made 2 recent platformers for LD).

    The fact that we’re getting 350 + games is rad, and that means that there are gonna be some really solid games in there that push boundaries and stretch the limits of the imagination… REGARDLESS of theme. We could really go on and on about the theme issue forever, but I guess in the end… great game makers are gonna make great games no matter what the theme is, so LONG LIVE LUDUM DARE!

  4. Grungi Ankhfire says:

    Yup, agree about the themes. Also, want to say that I totally understand the feeling of having your tools get out of your way, and it being a great thing in a setting like LD.
    Finally, I also really get your “no stress” point. That was the same thing for me. Last time, I got bogged down in a problem that stressed me, ending up unsolved until the day after the compo ended, and even though I managed to post a couple of updates, the final stretch wasn’t much fun, but only a whole lot of stress. This time, I also got stuff done at a much nicer pace, and clearly, being able to take some time posting, but also reading and testing some early builds really adds something to the LD experience.

  5. It’s interesting that so many agree on the theme issue on the blog entries and IRC but we still end up with them. Is it because people vote but don’t end up participating or finishing? Or would like to play entries with that theme?

    I don’t want people to see my post or the comments here as theme whining, rather as constructive feedback for future LDs. Do you think maybe one of the problems is the “neutral” option in the voting? I tend to explicitly down- or up-vote themes to get my preference across, maybe that should be forced. I forget the numbers now, but there were an incredible amount of neutrals for a lot of the themes this time around. If I’m missing the point of the neutral option, other than apathy, please let me know as well.

  6. fishbrain says:

    I too wanted to say nice post, and I agree about the themes.

    I thought there were lots of interesting themes brewing, and was quite disappointed with the theme chosen.

    In fact, I so wanted to avoid any stereotyped game concept that could be derived from that theme, that i went out on a limb (in my submission a monkey gets given a trumpet). I spent the entire first day sketching, thinking, walking, scribbling trying to come up with an original idea… in the end (just as the seeds were forming of course) i ran out of time and had to expand on the existing (fairly simple) evolved implementation.

    …and, yes, once again – i agree – LD still rocks :)

    cheers,

  7. Spooner says:

    I was lucky that “Enemies as weapons” was my first LD and it became very central to the game-play I created. Last two I’ve skipped at the last moment, partially because the themes didn’t really do anything for me on the day (I want to explore actual game-play, not a generic concept that can be tacked onto just about any game). I suspect a lot of people have very strong game-play ideas before they start LD, so a vague/open theme is easier to slot into their existing plan. *shrugs* Maybe next time I’ll be inspired…

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