Ah, the ol’ post-mortem… where you retrace your steps and try to figure out what went wrong and what went right. But what if nothing went ‘wrong’? What if I’m totally satisfied with what I ended up with? Well, that’s the case… and not because my game is amazing or ground-breaking or technically flawless… but because I finally ‘beat’ Ludum Dare. Let me explain.
This was my 10th LD, and since I first started, I’ve learned so much about myself, my limitations, my weaknesses, my strengths, how to work under pressure, etc, etc etc. What I also learned during all of those compos is that Ludum Dare is not about what you didn’t accomplish in the time limit. So often we are bombarded with comments about where our games could be improved and we write post-mortems about what didn’t go as planned, but I just simply want to see more celebration about what is actually being accomplished. To me, Ludum Dare is about what you WANTED to do versus what you were ABLE to do. And in the case of LD28, I did 100 percent of what I wanted to do. Sure, I can point out flaws in my game and there are infinite ways in which I can expand on my idea, refine it, and make it better. It was the first time that I made a list of what I wanted to accomplish and was able to check every one of them off before hitting the ‘submit’ button. Yes, Ludum Dare is about learning… it’s about pushing yourself… it’s about improving… but when I say that I finally ‘beat’ Ludum Dare… I mean that I finally reached a point where I can grab the theme, stay on target, and limit myself to the core essentials. This was always my biggest weakness, and with LD28, I was triumphant. Just like my first Ludum Dare when I didn’t save time for audio. I was unsure of my ability to make quality audio in the time limit, so I pushed it further and further back until it was too late. I was very disappointed in myself, so I made a strong effort to practice audio and I made it a larger focus. I then went on to capture two gold medals in the audio category, something I never would’ve imagined after my first LD. So now with LD28, I feel like I turned another corner in actually being able to stop myself from attempting such a hugely impossible list of features in such a short amount of time. Instead of being stressed about finishing, I was able to relax and do experiments. I was able to try new methods, use new tools, and learn new things without having to deal too much with the clock ticking away. And that brings it all back to the original purpose of Ludum Dare: to learn and grow by challenging yourself.
So what was the end result of my LD28?
A pattern and timing-based score attack game where you have one bullet to shoot zombie kids in the face.
Save One For The Kids by SonnyBone
The concept is nothing special. There is no story or no explanation for what’s happening. There doesn’t need to be. I wanted to make a game that could be ‘perfected’ with enough practice and memorization. There is literally a max score that can be earned if you play every stage perfectly. But good luck doing that… it’s not easy, and you can’t immediately replay stages to find the perfect solution. It’s kind of like Kirby’s Dream Course in that regard… one of my favorite games. You can get a hole in one on the first 3 holes, but then if hole 4 throws you for a loop, you have to replay the first 3 holes to try number 4 again. What you end up with is a situation where things that were once difficult become very simple, but if you get too frustrated, things that were once simple start becoming difficult. It’s one of the most common phenomenas in gaming. My friends and I once created the term “gamer’s hand” while playing Tony Hawk 2. It’s when your mind shuts off and your eyes go still but your hands move on their own as you attempt the perfect run and keep hitting ‘restart’ in the pause menu. That pattern of memorization, reflexes, and reactions mixed with your brain’s stupid desire to see bigger numbers at the end of the run. That’s what I wanted to create… a very simple puzzle game that a very specific type of gamer would want to play over and over in order to get the best score.
I wanted to try something new with art. I wanted to go for a hand-drawn look while testing out some new animation methods.
The main player has no animation. I messed around with the idea of clothes blowing in the wind, recoil from the gun, or starting the stage with the player actually going from standing to crouched and then aiming the gun. I immediately realized that it would simply take too long, and that the focus should be on the moving enemies, not the player. I also decided early on that player aiming or player movement would make the number of shot possibilities go up exponentially, making the game infinitely more difficult and unpredictable. That would’ve gone against my idea of a ‘perfect’ solution that’s not too impossible to figure out (both for myself, and for the player… because I had to design the stages to be beatable and be able to calculate the lowest and highest possible scores).
The main enemy is where all the animation went.
I was watching Home Improvement while waiting for the theme announcement, so I think my enemy ended up being Mark Taylor by accident.
I’m not sure why I decided to make a game about killing zombie kids, but I think I remember having an idea about them being crazy Minecraft fans that desperately wanted more Minecraft clones and were going around killing anyone not currently developing one.
The enemy consists of several different parts that were tweened and occasionally swapped out with other sprites:
If I had another 2 hours to work on the game, I probably would’ve spent the time redrawing the feet and making some palette swaps for variety.
That’s pretty much it right there. You hit spacebar at the right time, everything freezes, and your bullet rips through a line of enemies. Your goal is to kill everything on the screen with one shot, but it’s best to get the same kind of shot in a row to get extra points. Killing everything on the screen gives you a MURDERTALITY BONUS that dramatically increases your score based on how many enemies you killed. You get 250 pts for leg shots, 500 for torso shots, and 1000 for headshots. If you land three headshots in a row, for example, the first is worth 1000, the second is 2000, and the third is 3000. If you killed everything on the screen, then that total gets multiplied by an amount that I can’t remember… lol.
At the end of the stage, you are presented with a medal for your performance. Yes, it is possible to clear every enemy in the game and get a gold medal on every stage. I have only done it once, but I kind of cheated to do it. The closest I’ve been able to get without cheating is 8 perfect stages and 2 silver stages.
I went with a very subdued soundtrack. The Wintry setting, the jumping kiddies, the holiday cheer… I kind of wanted something that would be relaxing to help you focus. I spent more time on the ‘slo mo’ bullet sound effect, the head splatters, and the dumb-ass voice samples for earning medals. I created some really goofy little voice that is almost out of place but somehow… works. I love it… especially when I get a “silllvah” medal. And then the voice at the end telling you how much you suck. There are 3 possible ‘endings’ with your overall rank/score.
I had a crapload of fun. I made what I wanted to make. I learned a lot. I’m happy. SUCCESS!
And this will be my last LD for a while as I keep working on my first commercial game. I haven’t officially announced it yet, but I will someday. I think 10 LDs is enough for now. I’ll come back after my first ‘real’ game is a huge flop. If you wanna stay in the loop, my site is HERE and my Twitter.