About Theme use

Posted by (twitter: @VanMerwan)
May 2nd, 2014 12:53 am

15 Responses to “About Theme use”

  1. Will Edwards says:

    Too right! :(

    Every time I’ve been too indirect in interpreting the theme, my entry has been heavily penalized. And people score everything low, not just the theme or overall slot. You can have really great graphics – I’ve worked with truly gifted artists in jams – and get a low graphics score just because the theme isn’t in the title.

    Its a big inequality in LD: everyone spends 48 or 72 hours working on something. That is a *lot* of time. Many people then write really long and detailed post mortems that themselves take an hour or two to write. And they post to the LD page, and get not a single upvote.

    Why? Because the time people invest in playing people’s games and reading the front page is a tiny tiny fraction of the time people put into making the games.

    If you’re not uninspiringly literal on the theme, your work gets sh*t on :(

    • sorceress says:

      I agree that there is a lean towards theme literalism. A lot of people here seem to read ‘beneath the surface’ as meaning the game that should take place under ground or under water. A person might struggle to understand (and reward) theme use if your game doesn’t represent the theme literally.

      But that’s not the whole picture, as there are other factors at work which I won’t pretend I understand.

      I do have a theory however that your game will be celebrated more if the theme determines (innovative) game mechanics, rather than determining merely the setting/environment/names of stuff.

      eg, with this theme – if you make a generic platformer but gave it some underwater graphics and a few fishes for mobs – then I wouldn’t expect that to score particularly high in the theme category, because it’d only be determining setting.

      But if you make an abstract game about coloured squares, where you have to move/break the squares to ‘uncover’ what’s beneath. And that action of uncovering is a central gameplay mechanic – then I’d expect that to score higher, because theme would be determining gameplay.

      Others have disagreed with me on that. I never seem to score well on theme anyway, so feel free to ignore everything I’ve just said 😛

      • Sparrow says:

        I think that also counts as a literal interpretation. That’s only abstract art IMO.
        Literal isn’t bad.

        • sorceress says:

          oh, I didn’t mean to suggest that “theme determines gameplay” is not literal! I was offering a theory in parallel about what makes good theme use. :)

          In my example, theme use would be both literal (digging/uncovering) AND determing a mechanic instead of setting. That’s the most promising combination for an LD entry, imho.

  2. jestar_jokin says:

    I would have loved to do a less obvious interpretation; however, most ideas I had were too abstract or required too much exposition to be able to develop within the timeframe.

  3. Sooo right! But let’s be honest here: The theme really wasn’t that good to begin with : / But hey after all there a few games who had nothing to do with earth/water or the typical “Emotion” stuff : )

  4. OhFiddleDiddle says:

    As soon as I saw the theme I instantly decided I was NOT going to do caves or underwater. 😛
    That definitely help me come up with something more original. :)

  5. fullmontis says:

    Hey I see nothing bad with that to be honest. I’ve never had more fun playing fishes, submarines, exploring caves and such. Not every game has to be the most innovative thing ever, there are other things other than “theme” to focus on.

  6. Sparrow says:

    Hehe, but it’s what Will Edwards said.
    And it’s not about the interpretation but the execution, just saying.

  7. PapyGaragos says:

    The thing is… if your take on the theme isn’t obvious, you really have to explain it and shove it down people throats, or they won’t get it.

    I tried to do something more than “my game takes place in the water” with the theme, and I think I did a pretty good job at it, but I couldn’t explain it in the description since it would spoil the game. More than 250 people rated my game already, and not a single comment mentionned the theme. I would be (pleasantly) surprised if I get a rating higher than 2.0 in this category

    And to be fair, the april theme for one-game-a-month was “water” :)

  8. VividReality says:

    That’s why we have a restaurant theme!

  9. Catman says:

    Also, there are many ways to be original, not only with the theme interpretation! For example, you could use a simple interpretation of ‘underwater’ and use mechanics that have never been used for such a game. :)

  10. I dunno. Humans have a wide range of “getting it”. I played hundreds of LD entries and some are just way too obscure for their own good. There is a wide range from hitting it square on the head, to being subtle to being so subtle that you revert to saying “guess you just didn’t get it”.

    Bottom line, it is a popularity contest to a degree. You will get no points for being deep, trouble, obscure art. I tend to think people reward quality and cleverness.

    Also bear in mind that everything is a bell curve. Most will be in the middle in terms of being obvious as to theme. Some will be really clever, fresh and original. Some will be so obscure that they kill themselves. Most games will self destruct from lack of polish, before theme ever matters.

    In the end, theme is really hard. Out of 2500 people you might have 25 really brilliant thoughts.

    Also when faced with the pressure of the theme reveal and the ticking clock, you will soon settle on whatever you can just to get working.

    • sorceress says:

      Also when faced with the pressure of the theme reveal and the ticking clock, you will soon settle on whatever you can just to get working.

      This is somewhat true for me. With about 1/3 of my entries, time running out meant that I had to adjust my plans in the last 6-8 hours. Whatever mechanic or story was originally going to represent the theme, was cut down for sake of getting something that can at least be played.

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