Ludum Dare Tips

Oct 3rd, 2019
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  1. Ludum Dare Tips
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  3. I joined the Ludum Dare community in 2011, and have taken part in probably 100 game jams over my life. I can distill my experiences down to these few tips:
  5. A couple of days before the jam starts, get your tools ready and in place. If you need to update any software, then do that in advance. Get your base-code ready, or whatever "blank canvas" you usually start with. Make sure it compiles and runs.
  7. If the theme is announced during the night (in your timezone), then you have various options:
  8. 1) See the theme only when you wake up in the morning. You maintain your normal sleep schedule but will lose some hours from the jam not knowing the theme.
  9. 2) Wake yourself up in the middle of the night to see the theme. You may/may not be able to sleep well thereafter for thinking about the gamejam, but at least you'll know the theme for the maximal amount of time!
  10. 3) Stay up late to see the theme. Mess up your sleep schedule and start the next day suffering from tiredness, but at least you'll know the theme for the maximal amount of time!
  11. 4) Sleep early, and adjust your sleep schedule, so that your "day one" starts with theme announcement, and you work through the night.
  13. I honestly don't know which of these is best, but I can say that option 3 was the worst for me. Myself and others have tried all four and experienced the pros and cons of each without being able to say which is best. So do whatever you think will work for you.
  15. Upon knowing the theme, coming up with a good idea can be the hardest thing. If you're not careful you can waste hours trying to come up with a good idea, and you'll end up pessimistic about the whole weekend. Sometimes good ideas come, sometimes they don't. If in doubt look at the blog posts to see what other people are making. Ask your friends what they are making. Ask your friends for advice, and maybe take a leap of faith on what they suggest, even if you don't dig it yourself. On the other hand, you don't *have* to take part, if you're not feeling it. I've known many people back out because they can't decide what to make.
  17. You can multitask at the beginning of a game jam. It's one of the few places you can. For example, if you know you want a platformer, but you don't know what it's going to be about yet - then you can start writing the game engine alongside trying to formulate a design/idea. Another example, if the theme gives you an instant idea for an art direction, then you can start making some art, alongside considering what type of game you want to make.
  19. If you live in Europe, then the Ludum Dare compo is split over two days. This is generally how I split my work between them:
  21. Day 1 – engine, controls, graphics, music.
  22. Day 2 – gameplay features, level design, sound effects, title screen/menu, particles and other visual effects.
  24. I recommend this schedule to others. Day two can be stressful – or rather – you will feel the pressure of time. You can't afford to rush technical things like your engine code and controls when you feel under pressure. It is quite likely they will end up bug-ridden which will lead to a broken game, so it is essential to have these done on day one. Imagine if a character can’t make jumps it is supposed to be able to make. Or if the game glitches out if a character jumps against a platform edge. Imagine if an inventory or in-game menu won’t open/close properly because of how you're handling key presses. Your game could be unplayable!
  26. I recommend completing graphics and music on day one also:
  28. - Firstly because these both help set the feel and mood of your game, which should be informing all of your other decisions (such as the pace of the gameplay, thematic content, the types of sound effects).
  29. - Secondly because of the risk that these things will otherwise be left until last minute, because you're knee-deep in other tasks, or abandoned altogether when you realise there is not enough time left to do them.
  31. If day one ends with a guy running+jumping around on screen, with correct animations, and correct background graphics, and it's all responding well to input and scrolling, and colliding where it should, and there is music playing, and you like what you have, and it has the right mood... that's a good place to call it a day.
  33. Day 2 is for 'content and features', as I call it. Where you flesh out what you have, making it into a game rather than it being a tech demo. This means making coins for your guy to pick up, and objects to interact with such as special bricks/mobs, and lives and points, player death animations, maybe a princess to save, and level loading/switching...
  35. Procedural generation can be a temptation, but 1-2 quality hand crafted levels will almost always be better received by players, and will almost always be quicker to make. Bad procgen usually produces bad levels; while good procgen can take ages to write. So only use procgen if your game really needs it!
  37. Day two often starts with the realisation that you have a lot to do, and not enough time. If you’re finding things too stressful on day two, then try not to worry. Everybody cuts corners on day 2, so let it happen. The games people set out to make are often too ambitious. Anticipate this ahead of the game jam! Have a good plan B in place from the start, because you're likely to need it!
  39. Don’t worry about making a big game with many levels and a zillion different items. Short games are often preferred by players anyway, because most don't have a lot of time to invest in rating each of their quota of 25+ entries.
  41. Try to keep to your normal sleep schedule, especially on the first day. It is tempting to sit up late on day one to get a few extra hours in, but what you gain in time is not worth the loss in performance the next day. We don't always feel tiredness, but it always shows in our performance.
  43. Prepare food in advance, so you're not spending an hour cooking when you don't have to.
  45. If you want peace and quiet over the weekend, then let people know in advance that you will be busy/unavailable. Isolate yourself from external distractions if you feel you need to. Or maybe you need some company to re-energise? Only you know how best you work.
  47. At the end of the game jam, compiling your game, uploading it, capturing good screenshots, and writing a worthwhile description can take an hour or so. This is what submission hour is for, so if you do take it to the end, then be prepared to stay awake for that extra hour. And make sure you have a place ready to upload your game.
  49. Finally, make sure you're enjoying the gamejam, because your emotions can show in your work. If you're not having fun yourself, you're less likely to make a fun game... and if you're not enjoying the gamejam, why bother taking part at all? :D
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