Welcome to Ludum Dare. Good vibes. Stay determined. Keep it simple and have fun.
Most of you already know that sorta stuff is what’s always rephrased in the official keynotes. Pep talks are fine and all, but how about a bit different and more concrete design advice? In fact, I’ll save you all my other musings and give you just one question to guide you.
Suppose it’s Friday/Saturday, the theme’s been announced and you’re grasping for an idea to spend your weekend with. You have all these cool features you wanna include in the game.
Just then, someone kicks down your door and barges in to shout at you:
What is it that you do in the game?
“Well, it’s a post-apocalyptic platformer with zombies and pixel art, and there’s upgradeable guns and time travel and–“
No. Those are presentation details. It’s not helpful to you as a designer nor interesting as a pitch to others.
I mean, for most of the time a player invests into your game, what are they actually doing? What sort of interactions are taking place?
If you can answer that question for your concept, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a smooth sail.
Let’s take a few examples from earlier Ludum Dares to see how the question is answered with style. Mind you, these are very memorable games exactly because they attempt to master one thing.
First, Snowball juggling Olympio by Benjamin: “You control two snowman arms to juggle snowballs.”
Second, This Precious Land by Ishisoft: “You combine bits of nature to expand your world.”
And third, a narrative example. There’s a lot more that you can do in a story-based game beyond clicking through textboxes. The Uncertainty Principle by radmars: “You act out multiple possible timelines at once.”
Note how using actions beyond “it is/there is” immediately makes the pitch more fleshed-out. It gives more for you, as a creator, to focus on.
And importantly, what you do in the game doesn’t need to be some sort of mind-blowing gimmick! The question is just a litmus test of sticking with a feasible scope. Literally what people mean when they’re telling you to keep it simple.
You can always expand on the amount of content and polish with your remaining time, but cooking a soup of irrelevant features is only gonna make your Sunday night a mess. Additionally, it obscures the above question – the only one that players ultimately find worth answering.