Why I slaughtered your theme

Posted by
April 6th, 2015 7:40 pm

So a week or two ago you suggested a whole bunch of themes for the coming Ludum Dare but when the compo week comes around and voting begins you’ll notice none of them made it past the theme slaughter.

 

This is why I slaughtered them.

 

Your theme was too restrictive. It only had one or a few possible interpretations. When rating, do you really want to play version upon version of the same game? I’d rather not.

(Actual) Examples: ‘activisions interstate 76 meets hotline miami’, ‘game on one screen and upside down and only 2 colors and player character must be a dog’, ‘animal farm meets dungeon keeper’, ‘Phoenix Wright meets Rumpole of the Bailey or Perry Mason’, ‘Retro RTS based upon American political party politics’.

 

Your theme was too unrestrictive. Why go through the whole process of finding a theme if it can be interpreted as just about anything and doesn’t provide a whole lot of inspiration?

Examples: ‘Texture’, ‘shapes’, ‘black’, ‘movement’, ‘Blonde’.

 

Your theme presumed a certain genre, or you even suggested a genre itself. A good theme for me is one that could inspire a point-and-click adventure game just as well as it could a turn based strategy game or a 3D hack n’ slash. Choosing a genre as theme would also alienate those participants who don’t enjoy it.

Examples: ‘2D platformer’, ‘farming simulator’, ‘RTS’, ‘FPS’, ‘simulate your city’, ‘MOBA’, ‘Rougelike’, ‘alternative physics’, ‘tell a story’, ’emotional’.

 

Your theme wasn’t a theme at all but a brief technical limitation. What is the idea behind this? Let’s all make whatever game we’d like as long as they all look or play the same? And how would you rate these games by theme? By how pretty the games four colors are or how warmly you feel for the button that is used for controls?

Examples: ‘8 color palette’, ‘4 colors’, ’32-bit’, ‘Only one button’, ‘Mouse control only’.

 

Your theme was to similiar to a recent theme or to another game/movie/tv-series/book etc. Surely a fresh theme and original ideas are preferable?

Examples: ‘get beneath the surface’, ‘different worlds’, ‘parallell worlds’, ‘time please gentlemen’, ‘twenty thousand leagues under the sea’, ‘under water’, ‘the dude abides’, ‘discworld’, ‘James Bond’, ‘falling skies’, ‘Welcome to Night Vale (podcast)’, ‘Doctor Who’, ‘one shot’.

 

Your theme was a gag. It might even have been funny. But will it still be after playing and rating 100 games based on it? If your theme’s not only a joke but also a reference to a popular game like Portal you just gave me cancer. Thanks.

Examples: ‘anal fissures’, ‘too many tacos’, ‘Liam Neesons Voice’, ‘Potato’, ‘The cake is a lie!’, ‘cheese-variants’, ‘maximum yak-attack’, ‘flatulence’, ‘gaben’, ‘nice meme’, ‘We need more bacon’ .

 

Your theme was any variation of ye olde Ludum turnaround. These are atempts at turning old video game maxims on their heads and might make interesting themes in some cases. In most cases they don’t and also make up a pet peeve of mine.

Examples: ‘death is useful’, ‘Death is good’, ‘last place is first’, ‘dying is the beginning’, ‘You are the enemy’, ‘winning feels bad’, ‘In order to lose you have to win’, ‘you have to die to win’, ‘act by not acting’, ‘First to lose wins!’, ‘Fail in order to succeed’.

 

Your theme was misspelled. It was a single to a few words long. Spell checking shouldn’t have been too much of a hassle. Especially if you expected a couple of thousands of LD participants to use your theme as inspiration for their games for two to three days.

Examples: ‘Apocalipse’, ‘Preperation’, ‘Black and Withe’, ‘Devide’.

 

Obviously the very purpose of the slaughter is to weed out the worst themes and separate the cream from the crop. Also the themes that make it to voting is generally better than most that are suggested. But with 5000 suggested themes I fear that the good themes get a harder time making it through the noise. I also think that the prevalence of bad themes motivate a discussion on what makes a theme better or worse.

 

Then what makes a theme good in my opinion?

The theme suggests interesting settings OR both possible story elements and game mechanics.

The theme has several possible interpretations.

The theme allows differing genres and game mechanics.

 

The above are my opinions. I’d love to hear your thoughts and why you do or don’t agree with me.

 

I also would like to note that I actually didn’t slaughter all of the themes above but voted most of them as ‘Bad’, and that this post was written partially as a celebration of the old Ludum Dare tradition of whining about the themes you don’t like.

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20 Responses to “Why I slaughtered your theme”

  1. misson20000 says:

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! This is exactly what I try to slaughter themes by, because I don’t want to play a game with only one button as an input! I don’t want to play a game with only one pixel! I don’t want to make a FPS game!

    I don’t think that 5000 Left 4 Dead clones are a good idea at all!

    My perfect theme is something vague enough to be interpreted freely, but still specific enough to provide inspiration. I love themes that send ideas through my head, because I can get a good idea!

    There’s been too many bad themes in my time doing LD, here’s 2 of the worst though.

    “Entire game on one screen” is both too vague and too specific. That’s even worse than just being one! It’s vague in the sense that the game is being played on the person’s screen, but it’s specific in the ense that it makes me feel like the game’s content has to fit in the one window. I can’t have scrolling, that’d be more than just the one screen. If the person makes their window really small, too bad for me! I only have the one screent to work with!

    “Minimalism” is too vague, and completely pointless! LD games are all minimalistic by design, even without a theme explicitly stating that your game should be minimal. But with this theme, instead of trying to make the best game you can, you’re supposed to pack the least game in to be minimalistic. And also, take a look at LD11: “Minimalist.”

    I just gotta wonder, what kind of person lets these themes happen and why?

    As for my theme slaughering, I slaughter suggestions that are technical limitations (32Bit, one button) or aren’t themes (Headphone, Pie vs. Tau). I vote suggestions bad when they touch on subject that I consider to be controversial (mostly religion, but also marraige and fandoms), or when within 5 seconds of seeing the theme, I can’t see any potentially good ideas. Also, if the theme is more than 3 words long or I need to Google it, the chances of me rating it good are severly damaged. This leaves very few themes left, which I consider to be good themes. A good one is “Endless”, because it has lots of interpretations. Most people would just make a game that doesn’t have an end state, but, for example, you could have a game where there’s an endless rain that’s killing off all of a villages crops and you need to stop it, or a bottomless (close enough to endless) pit that you need to find creative ways to get across.

    I don’t rate themes harshly for spelling or grammar errors, because if I’m correct, somebody is going to go through the themes that make it out of the slaughter and fix all the errors. Yes, it is an indication that somebody was being careless when they entered the theme, but that doesn’t make the theme itself bad.

    I do rate a lot of themes very harshly though, because there’s a lot of them and I figure that there’s going to be a lot of people who are too friendly when they vote themes and let a lot of bad ones through. I’d estimate that I only rate about 2-7% of the themes I see good.

    • andreaswitzen says:

      I agree with you on the perfect themes. Great themes give you a couple of ideas almost instantly.

      I also agree on “Entire game on one screen”. I almost sat that one out but went ahead with it when I remembered an old idea I had that fit the theme. “Minimalist” was before my time.

      As you I also rate themes quite harshly. After a particularly bad streak I’ve even voted good themes, and my own suggestions(!), as ‘bad’ since it almost becomes default. I voted “bad” on “Endless” as well even though I think it’s quite good now that you’ve described some possibilities.

      The grammar errors maybe aren’t as bad but still seem kind of effortless. And correcting them after the slaughter feels wrong because that makes them feel like other suggestions than those than got voted on. But that’s probably just me being even more of a hardass than usual.

    • taviandir says:

      Your post is good (as is the “opening post”), but I disagree on your opinion on the theme “Minimalism”. Your interpretation of that theme is very narrow. You can “minimalize” your game in many different ways, not just mechanics. For instance; colors, shapes, art in general, the music, the amount of game objects etc. Use just one or maybe combine some or all of them! The possibilities are endless!
      Tip!: Go to http://www.yossarianlives.com, create an account and then go into “Generate Ideas” and type in “minimalism” or whichever word of your choosing.

  2. Will Edwards says:

    I beg to differ on the “Your theme was too unrestrictive” thing.

    A theme with many interpretations would make a nice change.

    The LD themes always seem to railroad people into one literal interpretation and we end up with 1000 platform games with basically the same ‘trick’. The worst thing is that anyone who deviates, who shows the modicum of initiative and lateral thinking, gets downvoted for ‘not following the theme’ :(

    My only theme suggestion – Pulp – was carefully chosen by me precisely because it would open things up from “pulp fiction” to fighting games (“being beaten to pulp”) to weird stuff like water mill simulators. Oh well.

    • andreaswitzen says:

      I’m definitely more on the unrestricted side of things than the restricted. But some themes, like the examples listed above, give me no ideas and makes me think that almost all interpretations would feel far fetched or simply be boring. “Pulp” isn’t to bad of a theme. At least not now when you’ve explained your thinking behind it. If it were to win I would probably do some kind of cheap “pulp fiction” sci-fi game.

    • andreaswitzen says:

      It was supposed to be “*Especially* now that you’ve explained your thinking…”.

    • misson20000 says:

      Pulp… now that’s a weird theme. I like it, it’s a good word with lots of meanings. I’d rate that good!

  3. Trilby1992 says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. The ones that irritate me the most are the ones that are pretty much rules like “You only Get One” or the ones that are cheesy turanaround sh** such as “You Are The Enemy”.

    It’s hard to find the right words to describe what makes a good theme but I think it would be something like Home, Nature, Tranquility, Noise, Growing Up, Man-Machine etc etc.

    They shouldn’t be sentences.

    • andreaswitzen says:

      I don’t think that themes necessarily have to be single words. I think that “you only get one” is decent since it could be interpreted as both something related to game mechanics (e.g. one life, one shot etc.) or something story related (one life, one shot at fame, one jar of pickles). But the single words often inspire a lot of ideas. I liked “Ruins” in the voting rounds of the last LD.

  4. Jwatt says:

    I think it would be nice to have a _theme_ theme after a good while.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t particularly dislike “ye olde Ludum switcheroo” type restrictions. It’s just that seeing what people would do with one word would be a welcome change of pace now that the event’s evolved a lot. Like imagine just Growth, or Construction, or Borders, all of which appear frequently in the final voting.

    • andreaswitzen says:

      I agree. I would enjoy a simple theme like “Borders” or “Ruins” but also a defined setting like “Prehistoric” or “Deep Space”.

      • Jwatt says:

        I don’t think settings are as cool as abstract ideas because inspire nothing about the gameplay. If it were like Prehistoric, you’d get a ton of platformers with similar graphical styles.

        • andreaswitzen says:

          The ton of platformers is probably inevitable since a lot of people like to play and make them. People even managed to make platformers with “entire game on one screen” as theme. I think saying nothing about gameplay might actually be good for diversity. “Prehistoric” might as well give you turn based tribe management games, neolithic walking simulators or river valley civilization city builders.

  5. Dan Norder says:

    Frankly, I’m surprised a game jam as big as LD even lets the public suggest and vote on themes. Just have someone with some sense (I nominate andreaswitzen) pick one and then reveal it right beforehand. Sure would save a lot of wasted bandwidth.

    • andreaswitzen says:

      Haha thanks for the nomination! After a loong day, and then longer night at work, being told by a stranger on the internet that I possess “some sense” made me strangely happy.

  6. GAFBlizzard says:

    You gave many examples of themes you disliked, but what were your outstanding themes this time around that you voted good? Are there several examples you could list to balance it out, please?

    • andreaswitzen says:

      I purposely left out examples of themes I like because I felt it would be distracting since that’s more subjective. I wouldn’t have written the post if I didn’t feel that really good themes are few and far between in the slaughter either but after spending a few hours going through themes the last couple of days here’s a few I liked:

      “beyond the frontiers”, “The Colony”, “dials, knobs, controls, switches and levers”, “forgotten messages”, “stranded”, “charts”, “Hit the Road”, “Between the Pages”, “It’s not your turn yet”, “we ride tonight”, “Adventures in old ages”, “Structures”, “Legacy”, “Orbit”, “Legends and Mythology”, “Reach for the stars”, “made-up science”, “Roads”, “Based on a historical event”, “Famous quote as title”, “Maps”, “10 Decisions”, “Passengers”, “Historical Inaccuracies”.

      Here’s a few favorites from the voting sessions of LD29 and LD31 which I participated in:

      “Beneath the Surface”, “Deep Space”, “Generations”, “Ruins”, “Colony”, “Expedition”, “Artificial Life”, “Borders”, “Machines”, “Forgotten Places”.

  7. Innomin says:

    I’m not sure if you read my comment on the slaughter post but I agree with you quite a bit, especially on the good themes. The examples make this post way better, too. =)

    If you did read my comment, then maybe my horribly evil NLP suggestion is working! Bwahahahaha!

    • andreaswitzen says:

      I did read your post and agreed with a lot of it. I have nothing particular against the bio themes though! Your post, and some others in that thread, definitely inspired me to write some more on the subject but I had been distraught by a lot of the theme suggestions before that.

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