Night of the living post mortems

Posted by (twitter: @codexus)
May 20th, 2013 6:02 am

Time for a little post-mortemy thing. I suspect nobody reads them, but in a few years, I’ll go through my old posts and find it and have a good laugh. Let’s use a chronological format for a change!

Before the jam

As usual I didn’t practice for it, I didn’t do any gamedev or graphics or anything related since the previous LD :/ So I was rusty. At the end of last year, I had some time in between jobs to learn new ZBrush skills but I didn’t know how much I had lost since then. Three ludum dare per year is just not enough practice.

The theme is revealed!

Of all the themes in the preliminary rounds, there was only one I really hated, yup: minimalism.

I hate it because all LD games are already minimalistic by necessity. The whole point of participating in a Ludum Dare is to see how much you can do in a limited time. Choosing minimalism as the theme, is basically giving up before you even start. In my opinion, there are already too many minimalistic games in a regular LD. Games where the author instead of trying to work on all aspects of a game decides that colored squares placeholders are good enough. This isn’t about how good your skills are, it’s about at least giving it a try and learning in the process. Don’t aim for minimalism, aim big! It’s better to fail gloriously than to not even try!

Day 1: Anti-minimalism 3rd person shooter

After recovering from discovering that terrible theme, my first idea was to make an anti-minimalism game, I thought about a few ideas like destroying minimalist paintings and finally I chose to do a 3rd person shooter where you fight alien invaders trying to impose their minimalistic philosophy on Earth. I’ve never made a LD game where you can shoot stuff, my games tend to be peaceful, so this might have been the occasion to change that?

I spent half the first day working on the shooter mechanics and enemies and for the second half I worked on my main character.

Day 2: New game idea

After waking up, I realized that I was not very far along with my shooter game. The shooting part wasn’t really fun and I realized I would need a ton of custom animations for it to work with my character. And while I had some ideas to create a funny world, they didn’t really all fit together with the gameplay and I had no clear vision of what the game would actually be like.

At this point, I had implemented a way to push the aliens bodies once they are killed. And I realized it’s actually quite fun to just play with that and try to move them around. How about a game where you just have to push a ball around with physics?

So I already had my main character, the gameplay only required a trivial amount of work, the rest of the day was spent working on a few levels. At the end of the 48h I had something I could have released in the compo category if I rushed the final hours but I wanted to use the extra day to make the game a little bit better.

Day 3: Polish!

For the first time in a LD, I started the final day knowing I already had something that I could finish and release any time I wanted. Things I did that day:

Prettified the levels with some props and alternative textures and I added two more levels with a bit more elaborate mechanics (unfortunately the one with the bridge has a bit of a nasty bug, I didn’t notice it in my testing due to being biased as to how I expected the level to be solved. It wasn’t even a code bug, I just forgot a two-clicks setting in Unity :( How annoying!).

I tried to improve my character’s animation (without much success, animation is something I’ve never really spent time learning, I just fake it during game jams. I’ll work on that for the next LD).

I spent a bit more time than usual on the sounds, and even though the music is a randomly generated .mid file, I did spend some time in Reason choosing instruments and mixing it for a little extra.

In the end, I even had time to turn the code I had written for the minimalistic aliens into butterflies. A poetic way to end the conversion of what started as a shooting game in to a totally non-violent one :)

After the jam

I’m really glad I got lots of feedback this time. Over a hundred people played and rated my game, that was most likely due to getting an extra bit of spotlight thanks to my video compilation project but it’s nice to have my audience expand like that. That’s one good thing about making a game for a LD, you are pretty much guaranteed actual players! 😀

Also thanks to the wonders of Twitch technology, I was able to see two people play my game in real time. I don’t usually see anybody play my games at all and that was really interesting as both did unexpected things.

For next time

  • Animation has to be my priority. I have improved my character creation skills so now the animation has to follow or it looks a bit weird.
  • Try to work on at least another game to avoid getting too rusty in between LDs



5 Responses to “Night of the living post mortems”

  1. michail says:

    I totally agree with your view on ‘minimalism’ theme. A lot of people was like ‘I put no sound and barely any graphics into my game because it will make my game more minimalistic’ – I think that’s not the right direction for this competition, and for game making in general.

  2. sorceress says:

    Don’t aim for minimalism, aim big!

    I totally agree! I always try to do the best I can in as many areas as I can, while trying to ensure I have something playable at the end of the contest.

    Try to work on at least another game to avoid getting too rusty in between LDs

    Why not set yourself the goal of making a bigger game that you can work on for a few months, and keep up to speed that way?

    After your 15th entry, do you feel you get the same satisfaction out of ludum dare now as you did at the beginning? If not, perhaps you could feel the achievement of making something bigger than an LD game, which is the next step imo, and is something I’d like to do myself.

    • Codexus says:

      Yeah, I know… and I’d really like to make a real game. A game that has the story I want to tell and that I would really like to play myself.

      But when I start working on one it never goes very far. At first I’m very enthusiastic about it and spend all my evenings and weekends working on it, but after 2-3 weeks I get tired and stop. I don’t give up, but I stop for a few days to rest and those few days become weeks and before I realize it, my project is ancient history. And at that point I usually have only a few half-finished models and bits of code. Nothing like a real game…

      Ludum Dare is really magic as it forces me to make a game no matter what, so I put everything else aside for a few days and cut corners on everything.

      • sorceress says:

        I’ve tried about three times to make a biggish game, and I can relate to your experiences, as after about three weeks I get tired and pause, then I’ll struggle to muster the energy to resume, and they don’t get finished. :)

        I guess we need to work out what this ludum dare magic is.

        1. The first thing I found about making a bigger game is that feels quite lonely. Even when I’ve posted screenshots and updates to forums, and received plenty of interest and good feedback, it never really dispelled those feelings. Maybe those feelings grow as I invest more time on a game, I don’t really remember now.

        Ludum dare being a community event really helps in that regard: that I know everybody is doing exactly the same as me, and somehow that both justifies what I’m doing, and feels good to be part of.

        2. With a longer project, so much is decided early on, causing what lies ahead to feel more like rote than creativity. In contrast with ludum dare I don’t always know what I’m making until day two, so I don’t feel constrained to a specific design or plan with it.

        3. I find the competition aspect of Ludum Dare to be really good for setting pace. After every couple of hours, I can measure my work against everybody elses, and consider if I am ahead/behind in terms of progress made. It can be especially nice to pick out one person who I feel on par with, and have a kind of “race” with them over those 48 hours.

        4, Deadlines don’t make much sense when I’m the one that sets them. They feel arbitrarily. But ludum dare sets a deadline for me, and I really enjoy the pressure of that. I enjoy multitasking, estimating how long things will take, allocating time, etc. That really changes the feel of creativity.

        For example, “doing something the best I can” is open ended, as I could always decide to look at it again at a later time and see if I can make it a bit better. It’s a reach for perfection, which is bound to feel disappointing as time goes on. But “doing something the best I can in 15 minutes” is altogether different. as that way I won’t be measuring my work against some immaculate standard.

        5. When working on a bigger project, there’s a risk of over-reaching, and trying to tackle a project that’s too complex. that we are not ready for. But with each ludum dare, we get better at judging exactly what we are capable of in 48 hours, (which is implicitly not over-reaching).

        6. Many game ideas I’m drawn to making are due to specific programming problems they contain. (Often under the broad heading of “AI programming”). I see most of my programs as experiments in that regard. So the project is often just an excuse to look at those programming problems. And once I’ve solved those interesting parts (or failed to solve them) usually after about 2-3 weeks, then the remainder of the game feels much less interesting to work on. But with ludum dare, my goal really is to make a game! But perhaps my experiment there is merely to explore just what is possible in 48 hours. :)

        • Codexus says:

          Yeah, good points!

          Also I think after we have made games in 48h/72h, it’s easy to expect that games made over a longer period of time should be that much better. But really it’s hard to put in as many hours of work during an ordinary month as we do during a Ludum Dare weekend. So it seems that we’re going slowly in comparison.

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