I’ve seen the infamous Ludum Dare come to an end for the fifth time! Once again I submitted a game I was satisfied with, but there were many who did not survive.
Ludum Dare is never the same thing twice, and nothing can fully prepare you for it. But unusually many things were different this time. The most glaring thing was my new framework, FlashPunk, which I learned thinking of game jams specifically. And by “new”, I mean I went from knowing Hello World to finishing my most addictive LD entry in 4 days.
This was a self-imposed challenge, and I conquered it. That’s what LD is all about.
But it wasn’t a case of going from point A to point B. The main theme in my development turned out to be redesigning and piecing things together.
In the beginning, it seemed deceptively easy. I had some routines from previous LDs, and FlashPunk felt convenient for getting things done fast, so I was already working on the presentation on the first day.
Little did I know I was riding a train to the wrong direction!
A ONE-WAY TRAIN!
In the last quarter of the compo, I reached the point I’d previously named the “Ludum Dare middle-age crisis”. I thought of all the possible games I could have made instead of wasting time on something so lackluster.
The final 10 hours was where the magic happened. I stopped beating around the bush and admitted to myself I didn’t like the gameplay; it didn’t have enough action, it didn’t have enough control, it didn’t have enough strategy. It wasn’t a game I’d wanted to play if it came up while rating entries. I decided I wasn’t going to take the easy way out and submit a mediocre, unfinished game. I wouldn’t be happy unless I improved somehow from the last time.
Finally, I made an effort to consider something fundamental.
Namely, the feel of the game. Something that can’t be communicated. The thing that separates gaming from other mediums. Being able to concentrate on it was why I’d chosen a small scope to begin with.
I had to remind myself, what do I want the game to feel like? What do I do to get there? Game design starts with the spark of motivation, a flash of what the finished product will feel like. You know, “wouldn’t it be awesome to have a game where…”. I had strayed too far from this initial impression and didn’t trust my intuition. It was time for me to stop and look back for once.
I had been racing for one stroke of insight, without realizing I’d already run past several. I just couldn’t feel them because the gameplay didn’t reflect them properly. I had been adding more and more unconnected ideas, taking the thing apart and rebuilding it over and over. The source code was a mashup of unfinished games with incompatible gameplay.
So I reviewed what was important to me – resource management, strategic preparation, micromanagement, emergent puzzles – and only left the features that I felt supported these.
Suddenly, it was fun to play. Success isn’t a linear path, often it’s failing and failing until there are so many failures that they block the exits and one of the balls is bound to go in.
Anyway, after the intense last stretch, I managed to submit in time, even with a couple of minutes to spare. Everything came together after all.
A quick recap would be in order:
What went right
- I learned something new about game design and Flash development.
- The music rocks, the graphics are crispy.
- The game is pretty simplistic while having lots of depth. Basically, I did the game I wanted to play.
What went wrong
- The code’s somewhat messy and rushed, leading to a bug that places two blocks in the same tile, and even a gamebreaking bug if you get far enough while playing it conservatively (in terms of enemy placement). I seem to encounter the latter annoyingly often nowadays…
- People are saying it’s confusing. Learning the mechanics through trial and error was something I was aiming for, but maybe more visual cues should be used to improve the process.
Based on those points, I’m pleased to announce I will be making a post-compo version of my entry! I’m going to at least clean up the code, squish the bugs, and add the “ignorable tutorial” I brainstormed in the comment section. I’d love to make upgraded versions of all my Ludum Dare entries some day, but I feel this one urgently deserves it, and it can be done feasibly. Hell, maybe I’ll even submit it to Kongregate with a high score feature.