This a “short” little post for my LD33 entry – Drack’s Mansion or more accurately what I learned about the competition by making it. I did do a post-mortem about it but I felt the need to make this type of post as well, not only for myself but also for others that maybe thinking of entering the jam in the future. I am quite happy with how the game turned out and feedback has been very positive but the self-critic in me will simply not let the flaws with it slide without analyzing them. So without further a due, let’s begin.
The number one thing I learned about Ludum Dare is: Freaking plan like crazy.
It may sound simple enough but trust me, not following this rule is the main reason for the my game’s flaws. I simply did not brainstorm nearly enough which lead to a failed idea I scrapped down the road. Let me elaborate so you’re not kept in the dark. When I heard the theme I started brainstorming as you would do. I quite quickly came up with the idea of being a scary monster in a randomly generated cabin where new tourists came along every week and you had to kill them. You had to use cool abilities to accomplish this and all of them were powered by your fear bar. You used some of it every time you did something cool or killed someone. To recharge it you did typical horror type stuff like banging doors, making stuff levitate, shutting off lights etc. If you lost all your fear bar, the game was over. It was a simple stealth game idea that had an ok horror spin to it. It seemed fine in my mind at the time so I did no further brainstorming and jumped straight into making it. It was around the end of the compo’s first day that I realized I had not put nearly enough thought into how things worked. I had the game mechanics down in my head, as in what I wanted to do, but I did not have any clue about how exactly I wanted to do it. This simple mistake and rushing straight into making a game rather than knowing what I wanted to make cost me pretty much most of my first day and made the game much worse than it could have been (eg. no music, some unpolished areas). So to recap: Until you have every main mechanic for your game figured out 100%, DO NOT stop brainstorming. Main mechanics are the ones that make a game functional and playable. Secondary ones are the polish (eg. Mario’s running around in levels and jumping on bad guys are main mechanics. The different enemies and level obstacles are secondary). Speaking on mechanics…
Second lesson I learnt mostly through playing other entries is: The simplest entries are usually the most fun and well made.
Often these games have one or two mechanics at most. But they are taken as far as they can go without getting stale. What I mean is, the game is essentially just one or two mechanics, but the player is presented with variations on them that function similarly to one another but are different enough to be interesting. Most great Ludum Dare entries follow this principal and I wished I did as well. Games that do this (or similar things) that I have seen are: Bunny Inferno, Grave, Takodemon and Super Chop. Now in terms of how those mechanics are made, we move to the next point…
Think about the depth of your mechanics first, and not their presentation.
With well-made mechanics even the most mundane things (such as chopping a tree, getting bunnies across a pit etc.) can be made fun. So focus mostly on making good mechanics fist, and presenting them later. That does not mean: Don’t think of a clever idea or take on the theme as soon as possible. It simply means, think about cool gameplay concepts first before adding polish. You might have noticed I mentioned depth. Basically, the more of the aforementioned in the above paragraph variations your mechanic can have, the deeper it is. So don’t only think of how your mechanic stands on its own while making it but also how you can expand it later. And also, think outside of the box as much as possible. It makes for more memorable games that are better in people’s eyes even if they are not as polished.
That said, hopefully my little ramble was useful to y’all and to me for my next jam as well. If you feel the need to see my entry and get some more context about the personal stuff I tackled here, you can always give it a go over here. Happy deving!