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Questions for LD48 veterans

Posted by (twitter: @ericdpitts)
December 14th, 2011 4:47 pm

Hello all,

As I am a first timer to LD, as well as any sort of time restricted game jam, I’m interested in discovering best practices from those more experienced in this type of competition.  Any tips or pointers would be greatly appreciated.  Reading through a lot of the introductory posts here, I’ve noticed an overwhelming amount of first timers like myself, so I think this information will be valuable to a large number of participants.

Some things I’m specifically seeking advice on:

  • Time management – Specifically, I’m wondering if you’ve found that spending some time thinking through the design of your game before starting work (perhaps even writing down a few things about the gameplay, story, characters, etc.) was most helpful, or if diving right in and prototyping your idea(s) worked better
  • Art assets – Personally, art is my biggest weakness.  I honestly can’t draw at all.  I’m planning on either doing A) pixel art or B) a very sparse/minimalist art style, akin to Asteroids.  So I’m wondering how those less gifted with all things art related have dealt with this weakness and how it has worked out for you in the past.  Judging by past successful LD projects, having good art and presentation is immensely important.
  • Scope creep (or, overambitiousness) - Obviously, trying to do “too much” in a game in 48 hours would be a killer, but it’s kind of hard to judge or quantify what “too much” would be.  Any past experiences would be greatly appreciated here.

Thanks so much for any responses!  Certainly feel free to pass down any other advice you may have that I have not specifically asked about.

10 Responses to “Questions for LD48 veterans”

  1. Sos says:

    Time management – It’s 48h, so basically think up an idea you can finish in 4h, or 8h, at most. Only do more stuff when you have something ready.

    Art – http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-20/?uid=1865
    This is a perfect example that art is not the point :) But about the presentation – just have a startup/menu screen and an ending something, it pretty much completes any game.

    Overkills – Just…. don’t :P Keep it stupid simple. If you have time left, take up from that and do more!

    Hope i helped :)

  2. RedWater\wzl says:

    well, time management and scope creep is kind of the same issue.
    it entirely depends on your skillset and how well aware you are of it. if you can accurately estimate how long it would take to implement a certain idea and you are familiar with your tools you should be able to tell what is out of scope and what not.

    if you’re not familiar with estimating your work/time very well, try anyways and multiply that by at least 2(better 4 if you’re really inexperienced) to get quite a safe timeframe.

    Also while implementing you should constantly reevaluate your time left versus what you have done/what’s left to do and scrap unimportant features as early as possible.

    As for Art assets, well, needing to draw or be good at arts is not necessary to make a good appealing game, minecraft being a prime example of that. it is important that your art style is consistent, so if you have a pixel character, dont use a hand-drawn background, except you explicitly want it like that.
    as long as you’re consistent, it doesn’t matter if you have a 4pixel character or fully shaded high poly 3d models. do what you’re capable of, and don’t waste your time on it, as it is precious this weekend.

    instead make a note to learn some drawing/pixeling techniques for the next compo ;)

    good luck

  3. thatshelby says:

    I’ve only entered in 1 Ludum Dare, LD21. However, I have participated in many 72 hour game jams, and I do a lot of rapid development on my personal time.

    Time management is key to finishing an entry for Ludum Dare. I like to have a rough design first. Last time, I took a few pieces of paper, wrote down the theme (escape) and synonyms for the theme. I thought of verbs relating to it specifically, because that sort of helped me think what you would be doing. I wanted to player to feel the theme rather than the player just play a game with it. Generally, it’s a bad idea to just start coding, as you have no idea what you’re doing, and you can’t design and code at the same time, with 100% of your attention.

    I suck at art too. Trying to get better. Art is a huge thing in a game. Thankfully, the entries aren’t really games as much as they are prototypes, so don’t feel bad if you enter your game with fuchsia colored rectangles. It is definitely a plus if you can make decent art for your game. If you can’t, you just have to make mediocre art. The best way to turn mediocre art into passing art is. . .
    -Consistent style
    -Few colors
    -Consistent colors
    -Make it mathematical if you can. Sometimes I like to have the game draw outlines around things. This can be effective.

    I would not recommend pixel art, because, contrary to popular belief, *you can make bad pixel art*. Maybe just simple drawn shapes with little to no shading would work.

    In order to finish your entry, you have to keep the scope in mind. I generally aim for *less* than time allows, rather than trying to find the perfect project. Most small games can be made large if done correctly. You could also just enter a very well polished small game. “too much” is the point where if you can’t make a to-do list of everything you have to do in a few minutes, you can’t make it. I’m not very good at this. Maybe I just lucked out.

  4. keeyai says:

    You hit all the major points. Here are some details that work for me personally.

    Time Management – figure out what you will have before hand and stick with it. Include sleep! Most importantly, be real – you can’t actually work 48 straight hours, you will have to get food sometimes, family/loved ones/pets all take up time.

    Also, schedule in time to package before submitting! This _always_ takes longer than you expect – at LEAST 1 hour.

    Art – I did exactly that on my first LD. Like, seriously. My levels were line, triangle, square, pentagon, etc. http://keeyai.com/2008/04/20/screenshots-and-tweaked-ai/ Art is great when its great and a time sink when it isn’t.

    Scope Creep – decide early on a SINGLE game mechanic that is simple and fun. This will be plenty of work. Make your ‘worst case’ needing to think of and add features instead of needing to cut out and patch over them.

    Other things that are awesome:

    Source control. Seriously. You’ll break things that worked and you just don’t have time for that. Being able to go back and see what WAS working is amazingly helpful, especially when you are tired and making mistakes. I commit every time I finish a little feature on my todo list.

    Preparation – get EVERYTHING working before the theme is announced. Make a demo app that runs and that you can package. Make a demo repository and practice checking in, checking out, and reverting. These are not things you want to spend time figuring out when you could be coding.

    Timelapse – these are fun, but they also give you a great way to see how much you were actually working, giving you feedback so your planning phase for next LD will be much better.

    Food and Water – nobody is ever going to call us coders athletic, but eating right the night before and all during the compo (and getting enough water!) is just as important as when you are doing anything else. http://keeyai.com/2008/04/20/the-final-stretch/

  5. bobbobowitz says:

    I’ve only done one LD, but when I saw the theme, I got out some paper to prototype my ideas first so I could brainstorm without the distractions of the computer.

  6. Less is more: your “simple” game will take shockingly more time than you could ever imagine. Familiarity with your toolchain is essential: go with what you know. No time to learn new apis. Make it work with no art (rectangles) first, then make it pretty.

    Oh and have fun! Don’t stress out! Go outside! Remember to eat and see friends.

    Good luck! =)

  7. ericdpitts says:

    Thanks so much for your replies, folks! I’ve got in mind now what I want my game plan to be. I appreciate the pointers!

    @keeyai: What do you use for version control? And if what you use is not free, can you suggest a good free alternative?

    • keeyai says:

      I use subversion, but lots of LD people swear by git and hg. SVN is straightforward to set up and to run, and I assume the others are too.

      Using dropbox is an option, as long as it stores revision histories and doesn’t get cluttered every time you hit the save button. Personally I like to choose when my things get pushed to the repo — I try to commit every time I get a todo list item working. This leaves me with a huge list of _working_ revisions that I can review at any time, especially later when I have introduced a bug in something that was already working.

  8. Mstrp2ez says:

    About version control, i usually develop everything straight into my dropbox folder, so far it has worked great. The only problem i’ve had is if you develop something on one computer with your dropbox offline, and then do something to the same file on a second computer. Then when you go online with both accounts again, instead of asking to do some sort of merge, it just makes a copy of the file and then leave it to you to merge any changes. I’m sure there are settings to set and options to opt that fix this tough.

    Oh and it’s free up to 8gb i think.

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