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December 20th, 2015 1:13 am

We’ve all seen it lurking down there. Under the ratings for ‘theme’, and for ‘audio’, and for all the elements that make a cool Ludum Dare game, there sits the ominous rating – ‘mood’. I’ve been in three Ludum Dare jams now and each time, there’s been some confusion over what the ‘mood’ rating actually means. I’m here to give you my interpretation of the ‘mood’ rating in the hopes of clearing things up.

I’ve heard a ton of Twitch streamers and plenty of commenters alluding to the ‘mood’ rating being something to do with moodiness. I mean, ‘mood’ does sound like moody which is probably one reason for this being the case, but the other is that ‘mood’ immediately follows ‘humor’ in the ratings list. To me, this implies that ‘mood’ is being treated as the opposite of ‘humor’ (especially since all of the rating categories are optional, allowing you to select between these two opposites depending on which applies to your game). I think a lot of people have inferred this meaning from ‘mood’.

‘Mood’, however, doesn’t necessarily have to have sad or melancholic connotations. People can be in a good mood as well as a bad mood. I think that the ‘mood’ category refers simply to a portrayal of emotion, be that a positive or negative emotion. I personally would define the ‘mood’ category as “all the elements of your game contributing to a cohesive atmosphere.” That atmosphere could be a humorous, scary, light-hearted, harrowing or frantic one. Ludum Dare games come in all flavours. To me, ‘mood’ is an amalgamation of many of the other rating categories coming together as a whole to produce engaging and consistent game feel

So, if ‘mood’ is just a combination of other categories, why not get rid of it altogether? Imagine, if you will, a Ludum Dare entry with an ingenious new horror game mechanic well deserving of 5 stars. It also has an incredible 10-minute loop to rival any game soundtrack. Unfortunately, the music is a be-bop influenced lounge jazz solo that utterly destroys any semblance of terror in the game. Both the ‘audio’ and ‘innovation’ categories may be fully deserving of the full 5 stars, but the mood that those two categories create in tandem is worth no more than a solid 1 star.

This isn’t to say that your mood has to be completely constant and unwavering. A sad scene can punctuate an otherwise funny or happy game and make for a poignant moment that stays with the audience for a long time to come. A funny comment used tactically can bring much needed comic relief to a game dealing with depressing, traumatic themes. Balancing several different moods in a game takes careful design and writing to do well, so have some consideration in order to avoid the undesirable situation of your player being left with no idea how they’re supposed to feel. Emotional confusion generally isn’t favorable.

Thanks for sticking with my rant about this until the end, and bear in mind that this is all personal opinion. Hell, whoever chose the rating categories may have specifically meant ‘mood’ to refer to dark and moody games. I’ve no idea, shit.
Head to this page if you want to play our game Hyperdemocracy, and enjoy the rest of your Ludum Dare with your profound new insight about the ‘mood’ category!

11 Responses to “WHAT THE **** IS MOOD?”

  1. Jace239 says:

    I agree with your assessment on what the Mood category means. I assumed such a meaning from the start. I can see though how others would be confused by it, and actually watched a streamer rate my game with a high Mood score just because it made him feel “hopeless” (which wasn’t the mood I was trying to set at all). Anyway, nice post, hopefully it’ll help some people make more informed votes. :)

  2. Ryusui says:

    I’d argue it needs to be renamed. Mood is a category where I’m like “I don’t know what the hell this is supposed to be” and I just assign points based on whatever I scored everything else (i.e. a high score if I enjoyed the game, a low score if I didn’t). “Thematic Cohesion” is the highfalutin term that springs to mind, but of course we’re looking for a snappy label here, one that tells at a glance “this is what this category is about,” and I’m not sure there is one.

    That or removed outright. Humor and Mood are kind of a bugaboo for me in that I’d say they just plain don’t apply to most of the games I see in Ludum Dare. Like with Mood, if I like a game, I’m apt to give “Humor” a three or a four, even if the game is absolutely serious, just so I don’t skew the game’s “Overall” average. My two cents is that they both should be, if not removed from the rating system, then disabled by default for games unless the creator specifically wants to be rated in them. (Personally I think that would effectively kill the Humor and Mood ratings in and of itself.)

    • Donar says:

      So, you don’t want to mess with the overall average? Is that even important for anything? I mean, there is a seperate “Overall” rating, so I can give a game 5 stars even though humor and mood might get 0 stars. Isn’t the Overall rating seperate for the reason that not all categories are important for every title?

    • managore says:

      Remember that you can simply rate a game N/A in any categories which you feel are non-applicable, which won’t influence the average rating in that category.

  3. nuprahtor says:

    I hope you’re not talking about my game, because I created jazz influenced music for my creepy game to make it more eclectic and enhance the mood, lol.
    I think the “mood” should be renamed as “atmosphere” – the more game involves you into its world the more stars you can give in such a category

    • little-burrito says:

      This sounds like a great suggestion! It much better encompasses how I interpret the mood category too.

      And it’s funny that you did that exact combination. I guess with thousands of entries, you’re pretty much bound to find most combinations of styles :-)

  4. Farelle says:

    I was interpreting mood as in “was the games atmosphere was consistent?” or “did music, sounds, graphics fit together thematically?ignoring their quality?”

    Like as example, I would say that a game which has fast paced gameplay and sharp graphics with no or just a few roundish elements to emphasize it and really fast music, has a good mood, because everything seems to fit together.
    In contrast to that, imagine that same fast games with really slow and mellow music and I would already rate it waaaaay lower on “atmosphere”

    and I agree with my previous poster that atmosphere would be probably a better name for it :) (maybe little mouseovers could be implemented for categories too, so that it tells you what is meant with each category)

  5. MSiddeek says:

    It’s confusing — I totally agree with you there.

    I always thought however that every participant had their own clear interpretation of the word, and thus they use that interpretation consistently during voting. Which makes it quite tricky; An entry with high mood rating is one that agrees with different peoples’ understanding of mood — that’s a good thing obviously. But it’s hard to interpret as an indicator of game quality.

    However, let’s look at the rest of the categories. Regarding graphics for example, do people agree on an interpretation there? Is abstract and/or pixel art actually art? Or is it an excuse not to do ‘better’ graphics? Does an inconsistently placed high-quality ‘beautiful’ model in a low-poly world count as bad or good graphics? Does the visual interface/feedback fall under graphics?

    I guess we can say the same about the rest of the categories. Theme, especially in this Ludum Dare, is a very controversial topic: http://ludumdare.com/compo/2015/12/14/if-the-mouse-is-your-two-button-controls/

    I think all of this is fine… Up to a point — the point where categories intersect. Because if they do, an aspect of the game may have a double weight. But when each person will rank the game differently, where do you draw the line that defines a category? I think this is a problem for games in general.

    Maybe this’s not a problem. Maybe this is what makes games great! Cheesy I know, but the thing about games is that we get to experience them differently and form our intimate special relationship with them. We could of course keep looking for better ways to rate games, but I think we’ll never find that clear cut.

  6. Tuism says:

    Mood is immersion. It’s how much you feel part of the game, and is a bit of an X factor. A dark room is immersive and would score high on mood, without being a massive blockbuster. It speaks to cohesion, juice (the right juice), and synergy.

  7. Jwatt says:

    Yeah, I think “cohesive atmosphere” is on the right track about both
    1) what Mood *should* mean and
    2) how most people rate it in practice.

    I think of it essentially as bonus points for implementing a sub-theme in the presentation?? Which is the same thing worded differently?? I guess??

    Concrete Jungle is one good example, and I did rate it high on Mood: http://ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-34/?action=preview&uid=8745
    The comical urban setting is strong here. It’s obvious in the audio, in the nature of the gameplay itself, in the whole timelapse aesthetic. It’s a specific brand for the game, which makes it possible to describe some other game as “this reminds me of Concrete Jungle”.

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