This was my second LudumDare competition and my first successful one. I tried to put something together for LD21, but ultimately had over-complicated my idea and spent too much time on non-essential things. I took hard lessons away from that experience and tried to apply what I learned to this attempt. All-in-all, I’m happy with what I was able to create and I’m pleased that I was able to finish in time.
That said, I still ran into stumbling blocks this time around. I figured this time, though, I’d publish my thoughts and maybe someone can learn something from my problems.
About Atlantic Flight One
Atlantic Flight One is a short rogue-like. As the lone survivor of the titular plane crash, you must pilot an inflatable raft towards the coastline. Scattered across islands are food, water, and fresh clothes you’ll need to survive the journey back to the mainland. If you allow exhaustion to settle in, or leave yourself exposed to the elements for too long, hunger and thirst can quickly turn into a life-threatening situation.
You can find my entry here. I invite you to check it out and I would appreciate any and all constructive feedback. And, with that, on with the postmortem.
What went right
Of all the things that went well, knowing the tools I used was probably the most important. I made use of C#/XNA and GIMP. Having written several games with XNA and having years of C# experience definitely paid off and allowed me to recover from what I originally felt was the end of my chances.
I also made sure – after the problems from LD21 – to pick a game that would not require complicated graphics. A rogue-like game allowed for a simple tileset with no animations. I can’t stress how much this allowed me to focus on the more important aspects of my design. And, allowed me to produce something I feel is interesting and, most importantly, fun to play.
Initially, I’d decided upon an all to complex idea, but more on that in the “wrong” section. After abandoning that, I settled on a much simpler idea. This let me recover some of the ground I lost to the first, failed idea and allowed me to end up finishing early and add in some extra features I had not originally planned.
Lastly, this weekend was fairly hectic and I ended up spending the bulk of Saturday afternoon visiting with family for the holidays. Between this, and the time wasted on my initial idea, I only had about 24 of the 48 hours – and I still had to sleep and be a dad for some of those. Carefully watching my time really paid off in allowing me to finish this time around. If I caught myself being distracted by irc chat, or the internet in general, I’d take a 5 minute breather and come back. Also, every few hours I’d make myself get up from the computer, walk around, and just think about the game. Was it going the right direction? Did I need to change anything? Or cut something? Frequently taking hard looks at my progress let me react when I needed to and feel reassured when things were going smoothly. In the end, I think I managed to get 12 to 14 hours of work in on this game. But, having those hours be focused and planned out allowed me to make each of them count.
What went wrong
I should’ve planned better – plain and simple. I did not participate in the Warmup and went into Friday evening without any ideas at all. That forced me to sit around desperately trying to come up with a game design as quickly as I could and led me to settle on a bad idea. By Saturday afternoon, I’d almost completely given up. My idea was too big, required too much in the way of art assets, and wasn’t interesting to me at all.
I spoke with a friend and he said he always felt isolated when he was on a boat in a big body of water. I instantly felt like it had some great potential to both encompass the theme and provide a challenge to players. I threw out everything I’d done up until then and started over (which felt like a really stupid decision, but thankfully paid off). After some messing around in GIMP, I settled on the graphic for the title screen. I loved it, it rekindled my spirits, and, thankfully, I quickly dove back in. Even just an hour or two spent brainstorming ahead of time, though, I feel like would’ve helped me sort out my initial idea and prevented me from having to scramble mid-way through the competition for a new idea.
When I realized my original idea was too complicated and I’d essentially wasted hours of development time, I was really frustrated. I spent part of Saturday just angry at myself for not planning better, not realizing I’d designed to big (just like the previous LD), and for basically giving up. I should’ve used that energy to focus on coming up with new ideas and solving the problems in front of me, instead of just complaining and “giving up”.
Ultimately, I came up with a design and plan I was able to finish. Ironically, I finished about 2 hours before the deadline. I decided to add a few features to the design – both of which I feel really helped create a more challenging game – but, pushed my development time up to 30 minutes before the deadline. At that point, I had to scramble to get everything packaged up and ready for submission. In playing through the game today, I’ve noticed a few little things that, while not game-breaking, would’ve been very easy to spot and fix (typos, balancing issues). The next time around, I will definitely try to stop feature development sooner so that I have that time to do a little bit of polish on the game before I submit.
Plan, plan, plan. Prototype ideas, do the warm-up, and brainstorm ahead of time. You might not end up using any of the ideas you have, but at least you’ll go into the competition with some planning and scope. Even with the risk of my ideas not matching up with the theme of the competition, I think the chances of having a useful idea outweigh wasting precious development time trying to come up with a solid idea. Also, as I mentioned above, letting myself get discouraged hurt. It caused me to waste even more development time. Time, that at the end, I could’ve spent polishing my game instead of submitting it with silly mistakes.
Ultimately, I had a great time participating in this competition and I’m glad I stuck with it until the end. I’m happy with what I was able to create in 48 hours and eager to see what I can create in LD23 next year.
Lone Survivor suffering from a variety of ailments.
I’ve been coding for the past 27 years in a variety of languages – BASIC, C++, Java, and C#. For the past decade, I’ve worked professionally as a .NET developer creating web applications for a variety of industries. More recently, I’ve been more focused on hobby game development – releasing a small game for the Android market in October. I can be found on Twitter and Facebook