I think the use pre-existing content, eg, royalty free images and sounds, should be allowed.

1) Publicly available code libraries are allowed.

I must admit that I myself never use pre-existing code or libraries and start all my projects from a blank canvas. I understand the rationale behind using such libraries – no need to reinvent the wheel – and I have no issue with it. But why doesn’t this reasoning apply to content? If I can use a royalty-free image of a simple space-invader why should I create it from scratch, especially if I have limited artistic ability?

Currently, this seems biased towards artists. Game developers are, above all, programmers; they may have some artistic ability, but first and foremost they must be able to program. Yet, we allow existing code libraries to be used.

Is it permissible to create, use and distribute a public code library which renders royalty free images or plays royalty free sounds?


2) “We want you to create something free of copyright restrictions” (from Competition Rules).

Surely, Ludum Dare is then the perfect place to delve into royalty free content then? It is a skill to find, assess, rework, and credit if necessary such content. This is the perfect place to practice such a skill, and a breach of copyright in the realms of a 48 hour programming competition is far preferable to a breach of copyright on release of a finished product.


3) “Photos and recordings you make of people or things are acceptable content, just you must acquire them during the competition.” (from Competition Rules).

Again, if coders complain of having to reinvent the wheel, isn’t this a far worse situation? For example, I want to use a siren. I now have to spend valuable time walking the streets, waiting for a police car to pass, while clutching a hand held recorder. It seems a bit unnecessary to me, when game development should be the priority – 48 hours is a much shorter time-frame when it comes to collecting media assets as compared to purely programming.

Can I ask a friend to play the assorted sound effects I need, and stand beside him with an audio recorder?


4) “Fonts, drum loops, drum samples, and sampled instruments are allowed IF you have the legal right to use them.” (from Competition Rules).

So samples are OK? So to circumvent the rules as they stand I can create a soundback of royalty free sound effects, package them together and claim that I am using an instrument?

I don’t see any practical difference between a “sampled instrument” and a “sample”.

I also don’t see any different between a character from a “font” (esp. wingdings) and an “image”.


I hope I’m not coming across as pedantic, or spoiling the “spirit of Ludum Dare”, but it seems to me that the current ruling as regards royalty free content fails for many reasons: It is difficult to “prove” if someone has used them or not; It is difficult to enforce; It can be circumvented in clever ways; It puts people with little or no graphic experience at a severe disadvantage.

There exist content generators, and one can procedurally create content – but why remove the option of pre-existing free content?


As an additional note, I love scrawly scratchy art and amusing sound fx generated solely for the competition – like people saying “BANG!”. Such content has it’s place, and it will always be used.


Any thoughts on this?

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21 Responses to “LD COMP RULES: allowing pre-existing (royalty free) content.”

  1. ZeDrak says:

    As long as the content is used with permission (publicly available or otherwise), and possibly some credit to the creator, it should be allowed. Of course, that’s my opinion, others will have their own. I suppose the “Ludum Dare spirit”, though, is that it all be publicly available, which is quite alright in my book. 😉

  2. Cell says:

    We are a indie dev community, not a elite coder community. Please do not shout at the rules, instead find a compo directed at elite coders.

    We’re open for feedback, but try to keep things real.
    We’re a nice and happy community, and we do intend to keep it that way.

    – Olav (@Cellusious)

  3. Joseph Miller says:

    I agree with Fishbrain and think Cell is getting a little defensive. Part of being a “nice and happy community” means running a competition that is fair to the people who want to compete. No one wants to compete when the rules are arbitrarily stacked against them.

    Some points Fishbrain missed:
    1) The No Pre-Gen art assets rule is hard to enforce. Sure the theme changes things a bit, but it’s easy to use generic backgrounds, tiles, little pieces of music, etc. Why have a rule that is so hard to regulate?
    2) Just like there is a Jam and Compo you could create a third division (Pro Jam?) that allows any and all assets you have rights to. Everyone would have higher standards for Pro Jam and judging would revolve more around execution of the theme and use of assets. Creation and creativity would still be essential, but in the area of game design and not art creation.

  4. fishbrain says:

    I’m not after an elite coder community, and I’m not shouting at the rules… I love Ludum Dare! And I am keeping things very “real”(?) I’m not angry, I have no negative feelings here – I could survive perfectly well if the rules stayed as is. I am just contributing my thoughts, with the goal of making the community happier and nicer!

    Sorry – I thought I covered your point (1) – “hard to enforce” – maybe I wasn’t clear enough.
    Point (2) is a very good idea.

  5. Codexus says:

    LD is such a successful and inclusive event that many of the participants have a very different idea of what LD is all about. For some people it’s all about testing original game mechanics, for others it should be a programming challenge. Some people see it as a way to fool around for a weekend as a break from their usual gamedev, for others it’s a unique occasion to actually do some gamedev once or twice a year.

    I think that’s the most important thing to understand, LD means different things to different people.

    Now the rules are arbitrary. There is no way around that. I agree that it can be weird that you’re allowed to use a wood texture generator but not a free wood texture. Some aspects of the rules might need some adjustments or clarifications.

    But if we allow the use all assets, it becomes very difficult to judge an entry on its own merits. So we might as well get rid of the compo and just keep the jam category. Which might not be such a bad thing really?

  6. Tom 7 says:

    I like the rule as it is. Here are some reasons:

    – I think allowing royalty-free art would disadvantage people who make all their own content during the competition. For me LD isn’t even mostly programming — I usually spend more of my time on artwork and music and content. I like doing that, I like watching time lapses where I can see people draw, and I like playing games knowing that everything was made that weekend. I don’t want to second guess whether the music I’m hearing really came from the entrant and factor that into judging. The LD compo is quite healthy.
    – I think the rule about allowing libraries is a reluctant affordance, not a principle of the compo. In software, nearly everything is built on some other software, so it would be extremely difficult to truly start from scratch (what, you used a Z80 assembler in your homemade game console? Disqualified!), and so also very difficult to write such a rule. However, it’s pretty easy to actually start from a blank pixel canvas and pretty easy to write such a rule.
    – Unlike code, it is easy for non-experts to fake graphics (and I love playing games like this, as do many others).
    – We already have the jam if you want to use pre-existing content. The jam is competitive.

    • Raptor85 says:

      and using royalte free code ISNT a disadvantage to those that want to write their own, just like the artists that want to draw their own? And yeah, while i agree libraries are one thing, but full game engines and premade game templates are allowed, which is going WAY too far. You may enjoy drawing but it sounds like you’re primarily an artist, many of us absolutely HATE drawing…and it’s a bit unfair to just say…well..you can download and use our part for free and still be in the compo but if we download and use your part we have to go join the Jam…

  7. sorceress says:

    Your arguments are logical, and I’m not opposed to us allowing some form of pre-existing content. But two points I’ll make…

    (1) A lot of contestants here enjoy creating artwork and music themselves, and they want to fairly compete with others, by having everybody bound by the same restriction. That is how ludum dare has always been, and there is some need to keep the (established) majority of the community happy, by maintaining a status quo.

    (2) All of your graphics and sound effects could be pre-made, and packaged into fonts and instrument sample sets. You could side step the rules quite effectively by doing that. But a lot of participants would look down upon this. It is true that every law has it’s loopholes. But the harder we try to make them watertight, we more our rules become burdensome, and forbidding far more than was originally intended. Have your actions be guided by the spirit of the law, rather than (crafty interpretations of) the letter of the law.

    • Raptor85 says:

      My issue with #1 is it’s only talking about making it fun for artists to compete with artists, the inconsistancy right now is that the only type of asset you can freely use that’s created before the compo is code, like right now you can grab a box2d based platfomer engine and toss together a game and get decently high ratings in overall and fun for making a physics based platformer in 48 hours, is that really that much different from gettting decently high art ratings for using public domain art, in both cases you’re getting rated on something you didn’t do yourself, but right now one is allowed but one is not.

      I agree with fish 100%, LD is incredibly biased towards artists as the rules are now, a lot of games made by programmers in the compo frankly are just NOT PRETTY, which is to be expected not being made by an artist, because free art libraries are not allowed, and you can’t say that doesnt hurt the overall score…. yet an artist can freely use any code library or full scale commercial game engine they want, including non-free ones like unity pro!

      Whenever this is brought up too someone always brings up that “well…LD isn’t a programming compo! It’s a game making compo so people shouldn’t be requried to write all the code themself”..which yes, that’s true, but that’s not what anyone is asking…if it’s a game making competition and being a programmer isn’t a requirement then why is it being treated like an art competition with art being a requirement!….if it’s about making games just have it be about making games, either allow ALL types of public domain assets or NONE.

      • sorceress says:

        There is an inconsistency, yes. I don’t dispute that. But my point is that the community has been built on this inconsistency.

        What if these rules are part of the attraction of LD? The majority of people who take part, may choose to do so because they find the rules appealing. Different sets of rules appeal to different kinds of personalities.

        Compared with other internet communities, LD is unusually cheerful and vibrant. Consider: what if this is owed directly to the (inconsistent) rules?

        I think we should be very cautious about making changes. Overhaul an important rule, and the whole event could deteriorate, even if the change is made with the best of intentions.

  8. fishbrain says:

    I agree with much that has been said here by @Codeuxus, @Tom7 and @sorceress… thanks for contributing to the conversation.

    Perhaps clearly acknowledging the fact that you used pre-existing assets is one answer?

    And I love “place-holder style” graphics – or graphics made over the competition period – too, but I don’t think allowing royalty-free content will destroy this.

    I guess my view is: allowing pre-existing (royalty free) content doesn’t guarantee any advantage. You can use all sorts of pre-existing graphics, sound and code and still create a very poor game.

    I guess my major gripe is inconsistency – if pre-defined code is allowed, why not pre-defined assets? If you argue that assets are “visible” (ie tangible) and code is not then I would beg to differ – the code libraries one uses dictates the style of playfield scrolling, and particle fx, and gravity, and physics etc. all of which are “visible assets”.

    • Codexus says:

      Yeah I think the use of pre-existing assets should be declared. The current problem I have with judging jam entries is this:

      Entry A has awesome music, but the description says it’s a royalty free music not made during the jam.
      Entry B has equally awesome music but the description doesn’t say anything about it.
      Entry C has good music but not as good as A or B. It was composed by the game author during the jam

      How do I judge those entries?

      I can judge based purely on end result. A and B get a 5 and C gets a 4. That’s not fair for C who has better musical skills than A and if B made his music himself it’s also not fair he doesn’t get a better rating than A.

      I can use the knowledge that A just took 5 minutes to choose a royalty free music and rate this way: A: 3 B: 5 C: 4. But what if B actually just used a royalty free music just like A. I’m just punishing A for his honesty. Currently B is not required by the rules to say where his music comes from. So he might think it’s smart to not say anything and get a better rating. I don’t want to reward that over honesty.

      There is no satisfying solution.

      • Dir3kt says:

        Being a programmer I should be in favor of ‘you can use any open source assets you want’ but hell no!

        What I like about LD is that I have to do everything, I have to get out of my comfort zone. What you get at the end is a game that is 100% yourself. To be it matter and I believe it’s an important aspect of the competition.

        Of course there will always be a blur line. There will always be doubts about the fairness of a given entry.

        The only solution would be to have mandatory timelapse, which I think would be too much.

  9. fishbrain says:

    @Dir3kt I can appreciate the “you have to do everything” concept – except I believe we have an inconsistency in the rules – is ‘code’ a subset of ‘asset’?

    1) Code libraries and Public Domain Assets are allowed.
    1) Code libraries and Public Domain Assets are not allowed.

    Code libraries are allowed, but Public Domain Assets are not allowed.

    • Helco says:

      But there is a fact: You can not simply forbidden the use of code libraries:
      At first there are many people coding with GameMaker, Flash and similar, which concentrate on the game coding, but there are also many people coding with a ‘real’ programming language (like C++, Java, C#) which doesn’t have these advantages. If you make them using the operating system functions for graphics, these competitors mostly can not compete, because 48 hours are way too less.
      But another question is: what is a code library and what isn’t?
      What are the differences between STL, C standard library, WinAPI, OpenGL, SDL, SFML? Actually there aren’t any, for STL and similar there is just no need to download.

      Whether public domain assets should be allowed or not, I’m not quite sure…
      Personally I doesn’t have any graphic talent and the last two Competitions I barely started because I didn’t have the motivation to draw crap and to feel bad because I only have crap as graphics, but I understand the criticizer of your suggestion.
      Now I could propose to change the rules of this competition, but I think this is not the only competition you can compete in (sorry if I’m a bit rude).
      Personally I am very happy about this conversation because it gives me a plan to continue for the next LudumDare: If I understand the jam rules right, pre-made assets are allowed, so I’ll use some nice assets but focus on the programming and try to generate as much graphics as code as I can.


  10. odrega says:

    You mean that if I want to use OpenGL with Java I have to completely create from scratch in 48 hours? Are you meaning that IDE X, which is better than IDE Y, gives me an advantage over other poeple? Does that means I can’t use it either? Does that mean that I can’t write an IDE in machine code on windows because it’s easier than machine code on mac? Are you meaning that as long as there is a slight advantage over someone else I immediately have to downgrade?

    But on a more serious note, since when has the fairness of an entry been important? The voting system is so flawed and subjective that any sort of fairness is thrown out of the window from the get-go, so your point is a bit invalid

    I win!

  11. fishbrain says:


    Obviously having to rewrite a function to read image files, for example, is a very low level operation, and completely different to using preexisting code to create particle effects. And, yes, this is going to depend hugely on the language/IDE etc.

    I thing we’re being bogged down in defending the use of pre-existing code, when we should be discussing pre existing assets. I know I made the comparison, but I believe allowing assets is the answer – not preventing code.

    My main motivation for allowing pre-existing content is that we will see some new and better quality games – people who have great ideas, but don’t implement them to their fullest because of poorly produced assets.

    • odrega says:

      Agreed on the last point. There are a lot of games in the stew pot of LD 25 that have brilliant gameplay mechanics, but have ugly images or utilizing programmer art. But I don’t think jeopardizing the experience and results of people who have a fair go at both aspects, rather than scavenging through the internet and then using the bulk of the compo to program.

      And also, the first point you make is very borderline. For example, in Java I might ‘cheat’ and use such helper classes such as 3D cameras, Noise generators, etc.. That other game creation platforms have included from the start, e.g. Unity’s 3D cameras.

      With that in mind, maybe the only thing that cannot be covered by base code be game logic, things like enemy AI etc. etc.

  12. fishbrain says:

    It seems to me that one of the greatest fears of allowing pre-existing content is that many games will suddenly become an ugly hodgepodge of randomly downloaded assets – I don’t think this jeopardizes the experience of those who try to code and create content.

    Ludum Dare (I feel) is as much about gaining experience and learning as about competing – if you have a poor use of pre-existing content the community will judge and comment accordingly.

    There is a place for pre-existing assets; sometimes it is wise to use them, sometimes you are much better off creating your own.

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