Truth or Ludum Dare: How I Survived the Game Jam

Ludum Dare, Indie Games, 10 Seconds, Pizzapocalypse 20XX

This feature was originally written for One Hit Pixel, found here.

Over the last month, I have transformed.

I went into the cocoon as a mere journalist, and emerged as something strange, new and beautiful. A games developer.

The best part is, you can too – all it takes is a mixture of gentle encouragement and a games development event to give you a good hard kick up the ass.

Enter Ludum Dare (The vowel in ‘dare’ is long, like in ‘car’, so my witty headline doesn’t work, but whatever), an indie game making event that happens a couple times every year, and most recently on August 23rd-26th. People from all over, professionals and newcomers alike, step up to the challenge to make a game over the course of a weekend, adhering to a special theme.

Double Dare

There are two ways to Dare – the 48 Hour Contest, where single entrants build a game with no pre-made resources and must post the source code to prove they aren’t Cheaty McCheatersons, and the 72 Hour Jam, where a team can submit a game, and you’re free to use existing resources.

While I love writing about game design, and I have multiple friends who work in game development, to make a game myself felt daunting. Fortunately, an illustrator friend of mine (who goes as Wicked, her work is damn good) also wanted to give Ludum Dare a shot, and we teamed up. A good thing too, I can’t draw to save my life.

The theme of the Ludum Dare is given only once the contest starts, so Wicked and I were anxiously counting the seconds down until 2am, having previously agreed the following:

  • We would make our game in Ren’Py, software built for making Visual Novels (Christine Love has made incredible games for it in the past, most recognisably Analogue: A Hate Story).
  • I would handle the words and scripting, Wicked would handle the graphics.
  • There would definitely be a Necromancer, on Wicked’s insistence, and Fabulous Dudes on my insistence.

2am hit, and the theme was revealed to be 10 Seconds. This was actually met with some surprisingly vocal resistance (odd, considering the theme was determined by a vote among contestants). The main gripe was that it was “a mechanic, not a theme”. However, unlike those whiny babies, our will stayed strong. We were however, slightly worried about how to insert such an active concept into a traditionally passive genre.

Still though, we managed it. In a haze of late nights, a commitment to creating something firmly non-serious and devouring a lot of Kanye West and Justice, we created Pizzapocalypse 20XX.

Enter The Glam Necromancer

pizzapoc

Set in a retrofuture London, a team of bounty hunters who draw power from their subculture identities fight a Necromancer in the basement of Neo-Selfridges in a bid to stop a ritual that will destroy all pizza in the world.

My summary doesn’t really do it justice, please do play it for yourself, or read the post-production commentary that goes with it. Even though it was a relatively unambitious entry, it still took us pretty much all of the 72 hours. When the entry was finally uploaded, the sense of relief and pride that we’d achieved our goal was incredible.

Still, the best was yet to come. Once the development time limit was over, the second phase of Ludum Dare began – playing everyone else’s entries.

There were over 2,000 entries this year, and they were all free to download and play. Of course, these were games were all made in 72 hours or less, so there was nothing massive, and barely anything fully polished – but that didn’t matter. These were all people who threw themselves into the struggle, some of them first-timers like Wicked and I.

A lot of them were pretty bad. Some of them straight-up didn’t run, and at least one of them was developed exclusively for the Ouya (to much confusion). There were a surprising number of roguelikes, continuing the genre revival that started somewhere around Binding of Isaac and has continued on with Rogue Legacy and Crypt of the Necrodancer. What mattered most was that the participants were experiencing such a diverse range of games for free.

Entries that I Especially Loved

Power Struggle

powerstruggle

This was actually one of the first games I tried. Drawn to it being as violently colourful as our entry, it turns from a basic platformer where you have to collect a battery every 10 seconds (or you die) to a tricky little rhythm game with lasers that switch on and off to the steady beat of your draining battery. Bear in mind that the ‘R’ key resets you – it wasn’t initially obvious to me.

Legend of Troll

trolls

One of the many games that had to be submitted incomplete, but even within what’s there is a ton of charm. The pixel art was absolutely gorgeous, and it’ll be a crying shame if Legend of Troll doesn’t get expanded on. Use trolls that turn to stone within 10 seconds of being exposed to sunlight to guide the Troll Queen to safety.

NXTWPN10

nextweapon

A lot of games used the 10 seconds mechanic to switch up your abilities, perspective or gameplay at regular intervals. NXTWPN10 does it to brain-melting neons in a twin-stick shooter format. Some of the weapons are really cool, and it will take a fair few rounds to see them all.

Sacrebleu!

sacrebleu

Sacrebleu! is smart – smart in that mocking, slightly smug way, and I love it. An Interactive Fiction game made in Twine, you are a duelist wounded in battle and has to call upon one of your 10 seconds to fight in your stead. Iz worth eet for zee silly characters and zee ‘isterically serious commitment to a bad French accent, oui?

SecondXsecondS

secondxseconds

There were a lot of platformers to play, but this one was by far the most impressive. You have to recover 10 artefacts from 10 worlds using 10 powers that would be incredibly broken in a platforming game (such as flight or invincibility), but you can only use any given power for up to two seconds at a time, and guess how many seconds’ worth of power you can use per level? It’s almost as much of a puzzle game as it is an action one.

10 Seconds – A Love Story

10-seconds-love

To round out these recommendations, here’s a Visual Novel with the polish of someone who knows what they’re doing. A Steampunk tale where a man who wants to go back in time to confess to a past crush meets an engineer looking to do similar – and just so happens to be building a time machine to do it. Even the rough parts still feel crafted, complemented by some great period music and a light sprinkling of Gymnopedie.

Go Forth! Create!

The August Ludum Dare has fully completed, and the votes (and top 100 entries in both the Contest and Jam are available for all to see. Our game didn’t make it into the overall top 100, but out of the 700-odd entries, we still placedĀ  47th for Humour and 89th for Graphics, which I can’t help but be Totally Chuffed about. All these games (and games from past Ludum Dares) will still be available to play and download, so don’t feel that you’ve missed out on the experience. To any of you reading this who have ever thought about making a game before, I implore you to try your hand at the next Ludum Dare, or pretty much any Game Jam you come across.

It’s always difficult to separate feelings of professionalism, perfectionism, and the standards held by highly acclaimed game releases from your own skill set, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make something. Team together with like minded friends (even if it’s over the Internet, like Wicked and I), set a series of small, achievable goals, and see how far you can go.

I’ll definitely be revisiting Pizzapocalypse, and trying my hand at more with Ren’Py in the future! So if the whole journalist thing doesn’t work out, I can be the next Swery 65.