Lessons Learned from Two Ludum Dares

December 17th, 2012

This summer I participated in my first Ludum Dare, and I have to say that, as development goes, I managed to make a couple of really bad choices. Here’s a short list of what you should not do:

  1. Do not spend 30 hours making graphics assets and music.
  2. Do not make a game that relies heavily on animation, animation is the worst time-consumer.
  3. Do not use tools that you are not familiar with (in my case—RagePixel for Unity, an awesome but buggy tool that I decided to try for Ludum Dare).
  4. Do not spend hours making levels: level design is something that always takes more time than you expect.

Now, to give you an idea of what came out of this, go check out my 30-second game with lots of stuff packed into those 30 seconds, but 30 seconds nevertheless. It’s called Dissolution (screenshot is a link to Kongregate).

Now, I have learned my lessons. For my second consecutive Ludum Dare I sure as hell wasn’t going to repeat the same mistakes. Here’s my short list of conclusions regarding what you should do for a 48 hour solo game project if you want to actually complete it and maybe squeeze a few hours of sleep somewhere halfway through.

  1. Do make all things procedural. You’ve got enemies? Great, make them spawn procedurally and randomize their types. Got platforms? Generate short sequences and randomize them. Making a labyrinth game? Awesome, there’re dozens of maze generation algorithms on the web.
  2. Do make stylish graphics. Your Ludum Dare game can look good even without those shiny sprite sheets and complex 3D models. Keep your artwork as simple as possible and compensate by having nice-looking visual effects.
  3. Do make sounds and music. This is essential for correct perception of your awesome art style. What worked great for me so far is stylized graphics + more or less realistic sounds.
  4. Do design a simple game for each of the 12 themes in the final round of voting. It is a good exercise in game design, and it will help you get straight to coding once the theme is announced. Ideas are cheap, what counts is implementation.

As far as assets are concerned, you have to find a balance between sound and graphics, because you can’t make both very sophisticated, you have to prioritize. If you do all of the things suggested, you will find yourself being able to sleep a whole night and spend up to 12 hours polishing and optimizing your game, which, in turn, means that you will end up with something that feels infinitely better than most Ludum Dare games.

All those things out of the way, I give you Pineapple Dreams, my Ludum Dare 25 game about being a villain. The game features ultra-violence and was inspired by A Clockwork Orage, Drive and (you guessed it) Hotline Miami. Screenshot is clickable and leads to the game’s Kongregate page.

If you are looking for desktop versions, they also exist on the Ludum Dare page of the game. Below is the tune that I composed for this game.

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  • http://gamesnerds.com/ Tim Buchalka

    Nice post – some great ideas on pumping out games quickly. Advice you have given is solid as well – In particular knowing your tools well is I believe vital.

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