Happy holidays everyone!
Ludum Dare and the awesome games you guys create always gets me inspired; so I put together my thoughts on what can make or break a theme in a game jam. It’s really interesting seeing the reactions people have when the theme is announced and seeing how differently people view different theme ideas in the voting. I would love to hear your guys thoughts too, so feel free to add to the discussion in the comments!
In my mind, a great theme should be able to be interpreted in many different ways. This allows for a ton of creativity and variety in the games that are made. A theme can be too specific, which can restrict creativity and lead to the theme only inspiring a few “obvious” types of games. Alternatively, themes can also be too wide or too general. There is a common saying: “Restriction breeds creativity”, which I really feel captures the spirit of Ludum Dare. For me, the perfect theme is one that is open enough that there isn’t an obvious game to make, but restrictive enough to inspire ideas and make people build their games around the theme rather than tying the theme into their games.
One thing I’ve found is that a lot of good themes can be extended. A good example of this is the theme Guardian (from LD #1): you can add different adjectives to the word to completely change its meaning and evoke different thoughts and ideas. What would a malicious guardian look like? How about a reluctant guardian? What is it a guardian of? The central idea here is that the theme of Guardian immediately gets you thinking and can evoke different responses from different people depending on what kind of guardian comes to mind for them. For me, this is the perfect sweet spot of restrictiveness in a theme.