Alma’s Post mortem; she was born dead

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August 24th, 2014 4:20 pm

Usually I don’t write these; I don’t think people care about what I say much — it isn’t like I am going to win. But… here it is in case someone would like to know what a noob, first timer Ludum Dare participant thought and learned during this event.

Just a small plug for the game

It was 4:00 AM my time when the theme was announced. I was pretty tired and I knew that this is the “real” Ludum Dare (not just another mini one) 6 hours prior to it. Seeing, that I didn’t know much about the competition I ran through the website checking the rules. I generally knew that I needed to make a game within 48 hours. What I didn’t know and surprised me (as well as aggravated me) was that I had to make my own arts and sounds – crap!

Seeing that I have no art skills (aside from 6 years ago having a modeling hobby and it was strictly ArchViz related) it was near impossible I could get anything looking “good”. Not only that, but I am no musician either and have no tools to do that, I had to search for a random generator.

Anyway, with 6 hours prior to the competition I did a few things that I think were leading to a good start in general:

  1. I started dumping ideas into a notepad file. While the theme wasn’t announced, I could generally come up with ideas that could pretty much fit all themes (adventure game with puzzles a la Memoria, double jumping mechanic platformer, etc…)
  2. I determined what engine I am going to use no matter what — I picked Construct 2 as I have been using it for quite sometime. While in general that was a good move in general, it turned it out to be a bad choice (more on that later).
  3. I started immediately searching for music generators and I found a really cool and easy tool here.
  4. The decision was to enter the competition and not the jam. Though it didn’t come immediately.

Let’s start with number 4. At first, I wanted to actually get into the Jam. After all my art was failing me; I was trying to draw some stuff on paper and it didn’t work out in the 6 hours prior to the announcement. I panicked and I started looking into /r/gamedevclassifieds and /r/INAT for any Ludum Dare posts. I even went to the Ludum Dare Reddit part. Not sure why but the posts there kind of gave me that vibe that I shouldn’t do the jam. So I decided to do the competition.

I decided to stay up rather than go to sleep and wait for the theme. That was good since a lot of people in the IRC chat was saying that it looks like Connected Worlds would be the theme so I started scribbling some notes about Alma; an adventure game that is controlled like The Walking Dead starred by a young (8-10) year old girl that uses her environment to create her own adventures through imagination.

The time came and I found it was Connected Worlds indeed so I went with Alma’s idea  and I hit the bed.

I woke up the next morning and started immediately on papers leaving the engine and all of that. I made the level progression (quire different from what you see in the game. It was supposed to have longer levels with much more content and conversation as well as 3 cut scenes) along with some of the conversations as notes. On top of that I made some squiggly looking graphics on paper.

I started with the graphics since it is the worst thing and I thought if I finished early I could always “polish” it. What I didn’t notice, is that it was already 12 hours into the first day. So I started experimenting with Pexyl Editor and Photoshop. 2 hours later I had Alma and the guard. Once I noticed the time, I dumped everything down just throwing whatever I could think of as “art” done in either Photoshop (throwing shapes and gradients) or the editor in Construct 2.

The thing I learned, art isn’t quite hard to make, it just needs patience, iteration and an eye to look for details (which are a lot of things I didn’t have the time for).

It is when I started combining the art and forming the conversations that I saw the problem of Construct 2. That engine was amazing for arcade games, platformers, shoot em ups, etc… but to create conversations that are simple or 2-3 choices… it is a nightmare and a lot to account for. I ended up scrapping all the choices but one meaningless conversation choice and I don’t know why I add it and didn’t take it out.

Not only that, but it isn’t quite fluid in handling items being looked at and not in inventory or items in inventory and being looked at and not used. You have to set a lot of variables and deal with distance and things got entangled in a mess fast. I thought of changing and perhaps learning Visionaire Studio but decided against it. What I did was limit the interaction with items as much as possible to 3 states:

  • Item isn’t in inventory and far and being looked at.
  • Items isn’t in inventory and near and being looked at (picking the item up).
  • Using the item to solve the puzzle (which means you just need the item in the inventory).

From that point, I was 1 day into the competition and I had work the next day so I had to sleep. I went to sleep, woke up, did nothing and head to work. Fortunately, work ended early so I came back early but I was tired and didn’t have the capability to do anything so I was sleeping/eating till the time I would have returned home had it gone the normal way.

With that, I scrapped pretty much everything that wasn’t necessary and started to transform the game into what you saw now. Instead of cutscenes showing Alma’s imagination using the room items to change them into things that can be interacted with in her imaginary world, I just made transition between levels with really, really simple puzzles.

Once I was done, I threw a background music in and through IRC I received feedback they showed me a little edit that worked nicely. I edit theirs even further (so as not to break the rules) and I used the concept they showed me rather than the exact thing.

I strapped everything together and uploaded while hoping for the best (not being murdered by people whose eyes are bleeding from the bad graphics).

I have to say this was beyond any fun I had with playing games. I have already made little games before (nothing major) but none came close to this fun. I have met a lot of wonderful people and chatted with them (if even for small talk and not much). I have learned a lot of things and I am ready for the next Ludum Dare (at least I am more ready than before). Here are some of the lessons I learned:

  • Sleep. If you don’t sleep, you aren’t concentrating and hence making more bugs that you’ll end have to fix.
  • Theme or no theme, come up with a list of ideas (preferably 5+) that are generic in the most part and can be used in any theme then tailor it when the theme is announced.
  • I should learn to do simple art. Yes, I am no artist and yes, I haven’t done art (3D) in years, but it would be great to get into that again. Not for the competition but if I can learn the minimal amount, I can have textureless models and someone can do that (instead of hunting down for an artist).
  • While I don’t really like learning a lot of engines (which I ended up doing through the years, I can use Game Maker, Stencyl, Construct 2, a bit of Unity with Playmaker). I really need to start learning to program. I noticed a lot of people using Lua and it is close to C# (which I know its basics — damn trying to be a Jack of All Trades). That way you have a literally empty canvas to work with rather than limitations of an engine (either that or I need to learn Visionaire Studio too XD).
  • Prepare ahead. Since I didn’t know about Ludum Dare until the last 6 hours, I wasn’t able to do much. But if I knew before that, I would have hunted down some tutorials, reference images, etc… following the “think of general ideas” kind of thing to match the ideas I thought of.
  • Have fun. The essence of this competition is to have fun, so have fun. Even if I couldn’t submit something I’d be glad of my progress, an international event I participated in creating something and I did my best and learned a lot.

At the end, I really hope you all had fun (or for those that didn’t join, that you’ll join) and hopefully I see you guys and more on Ludum Dare 31 with a NOT connected worlds theme 😛

 

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