This is my first Ludum Dare, although I’ve done several other game creating events including game-in-a-day (now defunct, apparently) and several TIGSource game competitions. So I had already learned the valuable lesson of limiting the game scope. Apparently I didn’t learn it well enough!
The game is Ethereal Isles, with the “plot” that you are a wizard conquering islands floating in the great ether. Each island is defended by some monsters, and you conquer it by dropping some of your own monsters onto the island.
Development Tools and Process
I was a bit worried that the theme would be something I couldn’t riff off of, and in fact spent the first few hours after the theme announcement thinking about possible games. Many concepts were too large and complex; I finally settled on a simple “drop monsters onto a floating island” game. Even that was too ambitious. However, the part of the game that I did get done was more fun to play than I expected.
What Went Right
- Sketching out concepts. Surprisingly, this is the first time I sketched out some monster concepts on paper. Usually I just hop onto the computer and start fiddling with mesh vertices in Blender. But this time I was eating breakfast and decided to draw out some monsters on paper. This helped because drawing out a concept on paper is fast and I can see if the general idea is going to work, so I can quickly create a bunch of different monster concepts and throw out the ones I didn’t like.
- Don’t neglect the graphics. As a mostly-programming guy, I usually make some crappy-looking squares or blobs so that I can spend all my time on the “real work” of programming. But I’ve since come around and decided that bad graphics and/or audio really degrade the entire game experience. So I spent a lot of time making, texturing, and animating monsters so that even if the gameplay is bad, at least you get to see little monsters punching each other.
- Don’t neglect the audio either, at least not too much. I decided that bad audio is better than no audio but was under a lot of time pressure. Instead of spending a lot of time fiddling with sfxr and various audio processor effects, I just recorded myself making various odd noises into a microphone. This turned out better than I expected, and having any audio improved the general game experience.
- Learn some new stuff. I actually learned a lot about texture painting in Sculptris and in Blender. I also learned to make vector-based GUI buttons and icons in Inkscape, which looked loads better than any stuff I had made previously with raster-based editors. I’m sure that you can use a tool such as GIMP to make good GUI elements, but I personally found it faster and easier to build them in Inkscape.
What Went Wrong
- Scope was still too big. I ended up cutting out some mechanics since I ran out of time. Specifically, each monster was going to have a special ability randomly chosen from a pool of abilities like “does more damage when fighting lots of enemies” or “sometimes knocks enemies up in the air.” These abilities would have made the combat more interesting and given the game a bit more depth. I’m in the process of adding in these abilities for a post-compo version.
- Too much time on the art. I really went gonzo on the art and made four different monsters. Each monster has a mesh, a texture, and an animated skeleton. This stuff takes time. I actually spent the previous week speed-modeling a bunch of sample monsters to make sure I was up to snuff in the modeling department. Still, if each monster takes about two hours and I make four monsters, that’s eight hours spent just to model the monsters. Plus I had to make some trees and the island. The game looks good for having this much variety, but I can’t help but wonder what else I could have added if I had made only 2 or 3 monsters or made simpler animations.
All in all, I think the game has some potential even if the official compo entry is a little light on game mechanics. With some extra gameplay elements and more cute monsters, it will probably be worth publishing somewhere.