This weekend I participated in Ludum Dare 27, a programming competition in which competitors create a game in a weekend. I made a game, had fun, and learned a lot. In this series of three articles I reflect on my experiences before, during, and after the competition, looking for lessons to apply to other kinds of projects.
As the third and final day of Ludum Dare 27 began, it was far from clear whether I could finish the project. I had completed the core game on Saturday night, but a great many tasks still remained, including bug fixing, randomized levels, background art, and the entire front end (intro screen, instructions, etc.). Front end work, in particular, often takes days on its own, so I was afraid I would have to cut it or leave it very minimal.
Drag the slider to move forward and backward in time. Drag the red asteroids to push them. Use the space bar to pause and play. Protect your friends! Destroy your enemies!
The happy surprise was that all of this work ended up going very quickly. Adobe Flash made it easy to setup the front end: importing and creating artwork and text, positioning elements, animating transitions, and attaching code to button clicks. The speed with which the UI came together has convinced me that a great visual development tool can produce at least a 10:1 productivity improvement. What would taken me 10 hours writing the UI in C++ took perhaps 1 hour in Flash. I’m going to take that lesson with me into my regular game development job.
The Name of the Game
One of the tasks that remained incomplete on Sunday was finding a name for the game. In my original brainstorming I had called it “Crash!” but for some reason this name didn’t catch me. So I brainstormed.
- Time Machine and Physics
- Ten Seconds
- Tin Seconds
- Tin Secants
- Spacetime Rescue
- Spacetime Adventure
- Spacetime Manipulation
- Spacetime Calamity
- Second Thoughts
- Asteroid Blast 9000
- Time and Chance (T&C)
- Spacetime Argument
- Second Guess
- Ten Second Guessing Yourself (TGSY)
- Time Sorters
- Time Spitters
Unfortunately I was pretty bleary on Sunday having only slept 10 hours in total since Thursday night. In my sleep-deprived stupor, the name that most jumped out at me was “10 Second Guessing Yourself”. It’s a play on words, see? “10 Seconds”—the LD27 theme—and “second guessing yourself.” Since I had, since the competition began, been doing a lot of second guessing myself, this title grabbed my attention. For about three hours the game was called “10 Second Guessing Yourself.”
As the end of the competition loomed closer, however, I started second guessing “10 Second Guessing Yourself.” Perhaps my head was clearing. In any case, the title struck me as silly and rather inexpressive of what the game actually was. At that point I switched to the much more straightforward “Spacetime Adventure” and recreated the logo.
By 5:30PM, with two and a half hours to go, the game was all but done. Not only had I finished all the tasks on my list but I had even had time to add a victory screen. (It appears after you complete level 20.) After that point the only changes were very subtle refinements to the difficulty tuning and the ability to click character portraits to jump to their location.
It was exhilirating to finish. I was relieved. I felt proud of what I had done. I also simply enjoyed the game: I spent a fair amount of those last hours simply playing it because I liked it.
Long experience in the software industry has made me careful about uploading builds well before deadlines. You never know what may go wrong. I uploaded my game at about 7:30PM. Nothing went wrong, but I was glad to have it done.
At 8 o’clock the Ludum Dare website announced that the submission hour—an additional hour just for uploading—had arrived. I didn’t know they would give extra time for that, but it’s nice to know for the future. The server seemed really overloaded for that hour so it was probably less stressful to upload early.
While I waited for the competition to end properly I started playing some of the other games. I continued to play late into the night on Sunday despite the fact that I was really tired. Playing other competitor’s games turned out to be one of the greatest delights of the weekend.
An Explosion of Greatness
Not all of the Ludum Dare entries are great, naturally. But as I played game after game, I was impressed by just how good most of the games were. Making a whole game in a weekend is not something just anyone can do. And yet here were over a thousand entries that at least had finished, at least had some level of competent gameplay. I was proud on behalf of the whole community.
Some of the entries were truly great. It is a wonderful thing to find yourself one minute into a game, being amazed by the genius of it, starting to really enjoy it, and then realize, “Two days ago this game didn’t exist.” At those moments, something in me made contact with Hamlet’s, “What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!” Among the best:
- 10 Second Sculptor by Nathan Hoffer
- The Duellists by Jay Griffin
- 10 Seconds Before the World Ends by lustdante
- Badger Bolt by Steve Salmon
- Ten Seconds (Needed to Pass Legislation) by Dr_V
- T-Minus by dingotime
- Exposure by Zillix
And my personal favorite:
- Clocked In by rylgh
Wonderful games. As the Ludum Dare experience came to a close, more than anything else I felt a sense of awe and thankfulness. I had taken part in the sprouting of an explosion of creativity, a garden of gemstones, bright flashes of genius. I realized then that it didn’t matter so much whether Spacetime Adventure did well. The community had done something truly great, and I had done well to been a part of that.
At the beginning of the weekend I had hopes for Ludum Dare as well as fears. But the experience—far from being a disappointment—proved even more rewarding than I expected it to be. I expected a pleasant weekend’s amusement, a chance to test my skills and, if they didn’t fail me, to show off a bit. I did not foresee how much I would learn, how delightful I would find the actual process, or how meaningful it would be to discover the often amazing, beautiful, clever, and entertaining games that others were creating.
I can’t wait to do it again.