This is a list of advice that I want to write to my future-self, in case he attempts to take part in a game jam again.
The Condensed Version:
Don’t waste time
If the majority of your time isn’t spent on actually developing the game, you’re doing it wrong.
How much Time Do you Really have?
Yes the game jam is for 48 hours, but how many of those hours will you actually spend making the game? Plan accordingly.
Don’t make an adventure game
Adventure games are all about pace, exploration and investigation. The design process is the same and therefore not suited to be done in 48 hours.
SCOPE! SCOPE! SCOPE!
Make something super basic to start with and build on it over time.
The Longer Version:
This Bank Holiday Weekend, I attempted Ludum Dare for the first time. For those of you that don’t know, Ludum Dare is a Game Jam in which a person must make a game within 48 hours on their own. I failed miserably at it. the following is what I think went wrong.
For Ludum Dare I attempted to make an adventure game. I got as far as having 4 backgrounds, 2 character sprites and barely any functioning puzzles. How did I manage to have so little by time the competition finished? Well, I tried to keep a timesheet to monitor my progress and this is pretty much how it went:
07:30 – Got up, looked at the theme. It was “Connected Worlds”. Rather then jump straight into making a game, I thought about it over a cup of tea and discussed it with my wife before she went to work.
08:15 – The wife just left for work leaving me with the whole house to myself… And my 2 dogs. I should probably walk them. During our walk I thought more about what game I could make for the theme. I came up with the basic idea for an adventure game.
09:40 – Arrived home. Had breakfast: Porridge [pictured] for energy. Set up my work space. Looked at Ludum Dare Website whilst eating for inspiration and to nosey at other peoples work in progress. Realised that shit… some people are actually really far ahead.
09:50 – Started fleshing out my game idea.
10:00 – This idea is going nowhere. I know, I’ll start making the basic game and add in the details after. I used Ghost’s BASS Template for Adventure Game Studio (http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/forums/index.php?topic=48441.0)
10:07 – Remembered Ron Gilberts Puzzle Dependency Charts article (http://grumpygamer.com/puzzle_dependency_charts), so had a quick read through to see if it would help. It didn’t.
10:33 – So far, all I’ve done is add basic navigation to the game with placeholder art. Still no idea what puzzles to include in the game. My notes say “Maybe something with a tree?”
10:54 – This note just says “DESIGNERS BLOCK NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
11:10 – Okay, got a few puzzles designed now, making tracks
11:25 – This note just says “This is Hard. FUCKING SHIT THEME.”
12:05 – Spoke to a developer chum over Skype. We pitched each other our ideas. Thinking ‘He’s a proper coder, so he’ll probably finish.’ However, I managed to complete my puzzle dependency chart!
13:08 – By this time I had now added some of the basic puzzle mechanics into the game as well as adding in the additional characters with placeholder images.
14:17 – Ran into an issue where I needed the game to know which character was currently the player character and I thought it would be a simple thing, but ended getting confused with it. My not here says “BULLSHITE!!!!”
16:06 – By now I spent some time in Google Sketch Up creating basic environments for me to paint over. I also started to think about my colour palette. Having never worried about a colour palette before, I used this website: http://paletton.com/#uid=73G1f0kmjsEaSqPgosKsGvoEIxS to come up with one for me. This was my work in progress background before I remembered that I needed to go to shop:
16:43 – Got back from shop and figured I should probably tidy up some of the days mess.
19:11 – All the time before this was spent painting all of the backgrounds. Now that they’re all done, time to start work on character sprites.
19:28 – My notes here say “Feeling Broken. Adventure Games are a bad idea for game jams.”
19:58 – Stopping for today
And I never went back to it. I wanted to try and figure out where I went wrong with my time and so if we break it down in to a chart where we can see where the majority of my time was spent.
We can from the chart that the main time was spent painting backgrounds, creating 3D models, designing the game and actually making the game. Which sounds okay, but if we look at it like this:
I wasted a lot of time making art assets, which didn’t even look all that good. The time I roughly spent on actually making the game is almost equal to the time I spent not doing anything related to the game at all. In the future, I think that the biggest chunk of this chart should be actually making the game. The art can fall into place around that.
Adventure Games Are a Bad Idea for Game Jams
The reason I like playing adventure games is that they have a steady pace, exploration, beautiful art work, hand-crafted animations, intriguing dialogue, clever puzzle design and a gripping story. The design of an adventure game should be exactly the same. You should go at a steady pace, explore ideas, spend time on creating nice art, painstakingly create each frame of animation pixel by pixel, think carefully about the dialogue, spend time thinking of innovative puzzles and create a story and game world that the player wants to explore and interact with. These things should not be rushed. I think that an adventure game CAN be created in 48 hours and I have played ones that have worked and played well, but they were made by more than one person and much more talented people than me.
So avoid adventure games, pick ANYTHING else! Make something really simple and build on it over time.
Be aware of how much time you really have
In my head I was thinking that I had 48 hours to complete a game, when actually I had 12 hours or less. For some, they can easily spend near-enough the full 48 hours making a game. But for me, I have certain responsibilities, a house, a wife, two dogs and I wouldn’t be winning husband/owner of the year if I ignored my family for 2 days straight. If I’d of taking into consideration this factor and planned accordingly, then maybe I could have achieved something.
Time Stone took 3 months to make. It contained 1 background, 1 playable character and 6 core puzzles. My game for Ludum Dare was going to include 4 backgrounds, 2 playable characters and 10 core puzzles and would need to be finished at the end of a 48 hour period. When I write it out like that I realise how much of a big stupid idiot I am and am even mad at myself for even attempting to make this game.
I teach game development as my day job and I always tell the students to think about Scope. Here I have completely ignored my own advice and tried to make something too big. I’d like to tell my future self to think along the lines of Space Invaders or Pong and build upon that over time.
There you have it. I hope that future-me listens to my advice. I think there’s another Ludum Dare in December and after failing to meet the deadline for MAGS (Which became Time Stone) and this Ludum Dare, maybe third time’s the charm?