I participated in Ludum Dare 45 this year.
Ludum Dare is a semi-annual competition where you attempt to make a game over a single weekend. There are two flavours. The first is the “Compo”, where you have 48 hours to make everything as a single individual (no teams). You must release your source code and all art must be your own (or, properly derived from existing assets that you have rights to use). The second is the “Jam”, where you have 72 hours, can work in a team, and enjoy slightly more relaxed rules.
I chose the Compo because it’s meant to be the ultimate test of your game development skills: 48 hours to develop everything yourself. The result of my work was Robo-Fort, shown here:
The theme for the competition was “start with nothing”. My application of this theme was that you started with nothing by having to push boxes and build a fort to defend precious cargo. You started with no fort, so you had to build one.
(Some folks, however, took this entirely to the next level: some entries had no graphics, resources, or even levels, and you had to find/build/buy them yourself in order to make the game playable. Now that’s creative! You should check them out.)
Before I started, I set a few ground rules for myself. I would still eat, shower, and sleep. I would also allocate a lot of time at the beginning to sort through my ideas and decide what I wanted to do. It turned out, this wasn’t a problem. When the event started, I was already an hour’s drive away from home and out with friends for a social obligation. That gave me plenty of time to let ideas marinate in my head after the theme was released. When I finally arrived at home, the event was already 3 hours underway and I had a fully formed idea of the mechanics and game play.
A rough timeline of my progress looks something like this:
Here are some personal tips I embraced that contributed to my success in being able to finish Robo-Fort on time.
- I intentionally gave myself a ton of time at the beginning to sort through ideas. The 3-hour delay before I got home didn’t concern me in the slightest. That time to think before coding is required.
- My morning routine (breakfast, shower, coffee, etc.) helps me focus, so I made sure to still do that.
- Test continuously. I would periodically stop at natural breakpoints and just play the game.
- Slept 8 hours each night to keep me from writing bad code or (worse) making bad decisions.
- My goal was to have a minimum playable version done by Saturday evening (after about 32 hours).
- If I got stuck on a non-technical idea, I immediately set the project aside and did something different (like washing the dishes) to let me think. The worst thing I could do was waste valuable time coding when I didn’t have anything to code.
- Lastly, I allocated the final hours on Sunday for music, since I knew that this was my weakest “skill”.
Ultimately, the Compo is not just a test of game development skills. It is also a test of self-knowledge, because in order to complete your game, you must force yourself to be the best version of yourself you can be. Even if it’s only for 48 hours. Plus, the skills you apply for the Compo (e.g., think and plan before you code, know what you have time for and what you don’t, etc.) apply to regular game development, too.
Games are judged on the Ludum Dare website by the other participants over the following several weeks after submission according to a “karma” scheme: in order to get your game judged by other players, you also have to judge others’ games. This was a ton of fun and I played about 60 over the course of the next several days. It was really something to immerse yourself in so many different fun worlds, and in each game, the developers’ passion shone through. I played one of the games that ended up winning, and the winning title was well-deserved.
Robo-Fort ended up scoring 360th overall, out of 2613 submissions. That’s within the top 14%, so not bad. (And top 6% in the “Graphics” category!) Some folks had difficulty seeing my (rather broad, in hindsight) interpretation of the theme (“start with nothing”), so that’s something to keep in mind for next time. Overall, Ludum Dare 45 was a fun experience that I’d recommend to any reasonably experienced programmer or developer looking to challenge themselves and test their skills.