The spirit of Ludum Dare

Posted by (twitter: @azurenimbus)
May 9th, 2012 11:41 am

(Edit: this is the game I made, if you’re curious. I will be posting my own late post-mortem and list of favorites next.)

The past couple of weeks have been insane, and I got way too carried away with meeting so many people through Ludum Dare that Twitter’s system suspended my account under suspicion of my being a bot. I took this as an opportunity to step back and take a look at all that has happened.

Ludum Dare is not the only game jam, but it’s the most significant. Because of its size and reach, long history, and incredibly strong community, each Ludum Dare creates actual ripples in the game developing world.

The best examples of how awesome people are to each other in LD are the game reviews and the posts on favorites. There is a lot of effort put into encouraging people to see the qualities of their games and how to improve. No matter how unfinished the state of the game, sometimes even unplayable, the comments are always incredibly encouraging. There is always something awesome about it.

It has moved me deeply to see what a wonderful gateway into game making this is. For me, being so readily embraced even though I had never made a game and knew absolutely nobody before the competition caused something long dormant in me to awaken. I’ve learned many lessons that, if it’s not too corny, I’d say might have saved my life.

I’ve always had a lot of trouble finishing things. From the time I was very little, taking a project to its completion was nearly impossible for me. This was a source of much frustration and disappointment throughout my life.

I had spent the last three years struggling to work on a project that was going nowhere. I felt more and more like my future was folding before me, and that there was no way out. I was pretty depressed.

When I reached my lowest point, I decided I need to do a 180 in my thought process. I remembered that indie devs repeatedly said in interviews that sometimes you get sucked into making a game for ages and it makes you bitter even before you can tell if it’s a good game. That’s why you should always prototype.

I decided to really take that to heart. Ludum Dare was coming and it was the logical first step, but the problem was convincing myself that I had a shot at completing something as complex as a game, or even a prototype, without programming knowledge.

What did the trick was stumbling upon this article. I had always been suspicious of tools that allow you to develop without touching code, but the author seemed to really want to help people like me find their way. I chose to believe it and abandoned my purist, perfectionist asshole tendencies. It was the best thing I’ve ever done.

Stencyl was awesome, and the freedom from expectation gives you an unbelievable power. Maybe you’re different from me, but I have always been a perfectionist, and good was never good enough. Once good was not even part of the equation, I could get into this zone and just let my inner gamer speak, and the core game mechanics were done by the end of the first day.

The fear of not completing drove me far more than the desire to make something amazing ever did. I wanted to make a game. And I did.

When I was done, I was not very confident about it, and I thought maybe 50 people max would play it. Yet I felt incredibly happy, and incredibly satisfied that I had completed it. It was a real game, and not too bad. I could show my friends, maybe have a few comments back.

Because that was all I wanted, I was able to do it. In other words, Ludum Dare was the best medicine for my illness, my soul-crushing desire to make something too big, something that I simply could never make.

If it had been just that, it would still be amazing, and I had a boost of confidence to move on to the next project. But it didn’t stop there.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the whole experience for me was how warmly the community received me. As soon as I sent my first tweet, Zed saw it and urged people to follow me. It was my first indication that there was something special about this competition.

Thanks to so many new friends that so kindly spread the word about my game, it was able to reach and connect with literally thousands of people. It was covered on several sites (including here, here and here). I met dozens of people through Twitter and received overwhelming feedback that convinced me to improve and expand the game.

More than that, I was convinced that being able to connect with people through something you make can really come from simple, heartfelt gestures, rather than ardous long endeavors.

I don’t think this could have happened anywhere else, in any other field or event. Nobody cares where you come from or what you have done before. All that matters is that you got here.

As I see it, Ludum Dare is itself the best entry for the Tiny World theme. It’s a little synthesis of everything that is awesome about the independent game scene: a powerful sense of passion, community, originality, and love for creating beautiful things.

In this Tiny World anything is possible, everyone is welcome to press start and continues are endless.

Thank you so much.


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13 Responses to “The spirit of Ludum Dare”

  1. ericdpitts says:

    Awesome post! I felt the same way before I started participating in Ludum Dare. I could never finish a personal project. I’m glad you enjoyed yourself and got a lot out of the experience!

  2. This really brought a tear to my eye. Thank you for reminding me what this is about. :)

    I’m going to try to get focused, myself. I’ve struggled with finishing, too, and sometimes I need to be reminded of these lessons.

    Are you in for the Mini-LD this month? I hope we’ll see more from you, man. Welcome to the community. 😀

  3. Puzzlem00n says:

    Man, I feel such an odd mixture of jealously and happiness reading this. Nice job, and I second that you should do the MiniLD.

  4. MadGnomeGamer says:

    I also find the LD community incredible! I got more ratings on my entry than in any other game I’ve published, and I felt more motivated to participate than in any other event I’ve been in.

    Jams like these taught me a lot about how to get work done. My second published game took two years, if you count all the time I spent trying to start other projects. Then I participated in several jams…and now my new project is 9/10 complete and I’m only a week over one month.

    One thing though…’re praising STENCYL as being the gateway to freedom?! I found it incredibly restricting. I was always fighting against the program instead of working with it—I wasn’t making stenciled physics games (pun intended) and that’s all it seemed fit for. After working on two projects with it, I can only say two good things about it: It’s a good tutorial for people who have never programmed (apart form all the bad habits one would learn from learning with it, of course) and it lets you publish in Flash easily.

  5. namuol says:

    “Ludum Dare is itself the best entry for the Tiny World theme.”

    You took the words right out of my mouth; great commentary.

    It’s also interesting to hear a “non-programmer” perspective on Stencyl. Being comfy with code I never really bothered to look into it, but I think we’re going to see more and more tools like this cropping up over the years as designs improve.

  6. *Hugs* – and Welcome Home.

  7. Pierrec says:

    Now I want to cry ^^
    I got the same feelings during my first and second LD
    Now I can’t wait for the next one!

  8. dray says:

    Thanks for that, you really put words of how ludum dare is.
    This was my second LD, and i had the feeling of coming back home. Ludum dare is some kind of pure indie energy and when you come in, you disover so much on your gamedev side.
    Thanks to everyone

  9. demonpants says:

    Very nice post, sounds like you’ve had the optimal experience. I can’t help being jealous as I’ve done 5 or 6 of these LDs and even when there was < 100 entries I've never been noticed by press or other LD members or anyone else. My twitter followers remain small. Glad to hear that's not always the case.

  10. azurenimbus says:

    Thanks for the replies and all the likes, everyone. It’s a huge post, I can’t believe you actually read it, haha. Also thanks to everyone who tweeted about it. I’m glad a large portion of the community got to see it. It means a lot to me.

    I will definitely take part in the MiniLD. I’m having some trouble understanding what it’s like. Is it really just freestyle?

    Also, I’ve been trying to get my icon to change, but it seems I lack the capacity. People at the irc channel pointed me to gravatar. I logged in with exactly the same details as here, uploaded the new avatar, and still nothing. Any ideas? Maybe this is a bit too late to ask this on this post.

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