What started out as a “quick compo weekend” turned into an epic jam when the theme was announced. Zero Sum is designed to be a short (three to five minutes), rich experience that makes you laugh out loud. Featuring a deluxe audio treatment, beautiful flat-shaded polygonal art, and some arresting throwbacks to an earlier era, I hope you take the time to play it, and sincerely hope you enjoy it.
As an aside, I want to say how excited I am by the huge number of unique art styles I’ve seen already, and the fantastic ways people have subverted the theme. I love Ludum Dare, and I love all of its game creators. You rock. Thank you.
There have been some amazing games produced — as usual — during this season’s Ludum Dare competition. And usually I don’t bang my own drum. But!
If you want a game that’s easy to play but hard to master, doesn’t take itself seriously, and is basically an old-school arcade game juiced up on mind-altering drugs and a soundtrack that’s so good even I had trouble believing it was made in 72 hours, then you, my friend, want to play Sun God Star Bridge.
Get some. The ending will leave you … er… breathless. Okay, that’s a space pun. I’m sorry. Post is over. Next!
Day zero was the night of the theme announcement. Eight of us sat around and bounced ideas off of each other, trying to identify what people would immediately think of (“one shot,” “one life”) and then move on from there. While wondering about objects that were inherently unique, I thought of the Olympic torch, and rapidly got to a concept where you are a primitive tribesman trying to carry a precious gift of fire through a raining jungle fraught with danger. In fairly little time, I had a 3D capsule moving around terrain tiles in Unity, with fire reflecting off normal maps generated with Crazy Bump. It was a promising start, with the potential for procedurally generated levels.
But something didn’t feel right. At one AM, six hours after the competition had started, I was moving around my world and realized it wasn’t fun. It worked, and it would be challenging once more gameplay was in, but it felt claustrophobic and tense. I think there’s a time and place for that, but if you aim at that target, you have to crush it. Falling short would just result in a comical failure that undercuts itself at every turn.
What broke my momentum completely was the realization that dynamic shadows are a no-go in Unity if using an Orthographic camera. Shadows were critical to the mood, and while I’m capable of creating 3D assets in a weekend, it would soak up far more time than a friendlier sprite-based solution. Tired and emotionally drained, I shut down the computer and left.
On the drive home, I thought about how people would be going through these games like popcorn, and how the games I enjoyed playing were light-hearted and fun. So why the hell was I making a game about a frightened Mayan warrior pounding through the Yucatan in the middle of a night storm?
I had to have an orthographic camera to keep art costs in line, and I wanted a sense of speed and motion. A knowing smile crossed my lips as I realized I would be following one of our medium’s ancient and accepted forms: the platformer.
After four hours of sleep, I returned to the lab, created a new project in Unity, and got to work. By midnight, I had a game with:
A platforming hero run by physics
A torch that burns down a stick for fuel (providing a handy in-game meter)
A realistic fire that dims and eventually dies
An ability to “blow” on the fire and see it blaze back to life
Rain that stopped you from blowing on the fire unless you were under shelter
Terrain that was low friction if a) stone and b) under rain
Procedurally generated levels that had inputs like total length, number of platforms, gap min/max, height change min/max, enemy placement, rain shelter, big blocks, etc.
Game progression (start, level 1, level 2, etc. end)
Here’s a timelapse of all that being put into play. Tomorrow I’ll post the art portion. Thanks for reading!
BONUS FRESH PRINCE DANCING GIF (if you enjoyed the ones in the video)
Reflecting on past successes and, mostly, failures, here are my testaments of game jamming, version 7.
Go 100%. There’s always something socially fun going on during a game jam. The trade-off to an effervescent social call is a punishing effect on your game project. The project lives forever, while events come and go. If you’re in, commit, and skip the party or campout or tournament or whatever. Shore up social capital beforehand, and recoup losses afterwards.
Give love. If you are romantically attached or have scions, minions, or children, give them lots of time before and afterwards, because you won’t really interact with them for several days. The project lives forever, but those closest to you are more important.
Get eight hours of rest. If you sleep for eight hours during the compo, you’ll “only” put in the equivalent of a 40 hour work week. Plus, you’ll perform more consistently.
Use state machines. There is nothing worse than trawling through pages of switch statements when adding or fixing features. Commit to a state machine early, even if it’s only a handful of states at the start, because then you can expand and collapse easily.
Mechanics or Story. Pick one, and focus. Trying to blend both at the start is what you do with a full game project, not a jam.
Avoid learning something new during the jam. Seriously, Ted, didn’t you learn from the flocking fiasco? =)
Hey everyone! I’m just dropping by my favorite ol’ game compo site to let you know my solo indie project Chess Heroes is on Steam Greenlight! Please give it your vote, and if it really piques your interest, share it on teh twitterz and facebookin’s! Thank you! =)
This might be my oddest Ludum Dare to date. I started late, and taking sleep into account I’ll only have had 24 hours to create a game. It’s so frustratingly close that I can feel it in my teeth… but deep down I’m worried about crunching the final sprint and not being any closer to A Final Game.
Time to take a break and see if I can plot a course towards the finish line.
Because, seriously, making these little boxes go Bang is quite fun.
All these buttons and bars and light-up indicators actually work, and the big boxes talk to each other, and it’s all in 3D, and I really should have started Friday instead of Saturday afternoon. :/ But I after some sleep, I’m looking forward to tightening the feedback loop between the three devices, then scaling up, adding fail-state scenarios, and giving you ten seconds to figure it out before you’re treated to an explosive ending in full-on cheapo three-dimensional laservision!
The sound effects are pretty decent, too.
This delayed Ludum Dare start (my fifth LD to date!) is brought to you by my independent project, Chess Heroes! Please check out the website and Like it to follow development, and check us out at Seattle SIX on Sunday during PAX!