Most of the games we play and enjoy are made by large teams and take years to be developed and released. Even indie games that are made by a single person or a small team often take years to be completed. So what happens when you only have 48 hours to create a game completely from scratch?
A game jam is an event where you have to create a game within a very short amount of time. Last weekend, Ludum Dare, one of the most famous game jams, had its 20th anniversary and 50th event. Ludum Dare comes in two different versions: The Compo and the Jam. For me, the Compo is the real version of the event: You have 48 hours to create a game for a given theme, and you must work alone and create everything during the event. The Jam has slightly less strict rules. It goes for 72 hours, some pre-existing assets are allowed, and you can participate as a group.
The theme this time was Delay the Inevitable, and it's amazing to see how many different ideas and types of games the developers can come up with.
Playing and Rating Games
After everyone has finished their games, the rating period begins. It typically lasts for around three weeks and the way it works is pretty interesting. Ludum Dare is not scored by a panel of judges, but rather by the community itself. All of the games that have been submitted are listed on the website. They are ranked according to a metric. When you play and rate another game, the metric of your game increases, which moves it up the list. When it is near the top, other people will see and rate your game, which decreases the metric again. This means, that you have to play and rate other games if you want to receive ratings for your game. It is a very fair and interesting system that ensures that all games have a chance to be rated.
One of my favorite parts of Ludum Dare is the feedback. Normally, creating games is a very long and tedious process, and it's very difficult to find anyone to test the game and provide constructive feedback. In a game jam like Ludum Dare, however, many people will actually play your game and because they are game developers themselves, their feedback is very valuable.
The general tone of the comments is also very positive, which amazes me every time when you consider the toxic negativity almost everywhere else on the internet. You will come across games that are made by first-time participants who are clearly beginners and their games are objectively not great. However, rather than the classic YouTube comment of "this sucks", the comments on Ludum Dare are very encouraging while still providing constructive criticism and helpful tips to improve the game.
When you play a lot of these game jam games, you will realize that one of the most important features of a game is the instructions/tutorial. If your time per game is limited, it's essential that you are able to understand how to play the game quickly. This is a lesson that is very hard to learn when creating these games because you want to spend every last minute during the event creating exciting gameplay features and making cool graphics. Writing instructions and creating a tutorial is rather boring in comparison and when you are exhausted by the end, it's the last thing you want to do. However, a game with simpler mechanics that is well-polished and has good instructions, is often better than a great idea with interesting mechanics that is too complicated to understand in a few minutes when people are playing and judging it.
Ludum Dare Games
Here are some of the games I played, that stood out to me for some reason or another, in no particular order. I only played a very small percentage of the submitted games, so there are certainly a few masterpieces that are going to place much higher than the games I came across. When the final ratings are released, it's always great to come back to the event and play the games at the top of the rankings. It's not uncommon that high-rated games are turned into full commercial games after their success in Ludum Dare.
In this game, humans are destroying the earth and you have to stop them. Following the theme of delaying the inevitable, it's impossible and you are going to lose at some point. This game doesn't have complicated mechanics and the graphics aren't a masterpiece either. It is well polished though, and the sound effects and music are extremely well made. The squishing sound effect makes striking down the humans with lightning extremely satisfying. I found the contrast between the happy music and the very serious topic while committing mass murder in the game to be interesting and thought-provoking.
A Halting Problem
This is a classic programming game. You need to build a program for the robot from a set of instructions so that it gets to the end of the level. If you have learned to program with the hamster simulator (or other programs like it) you will recognize this type of game. The game is very well polished and from personal experience, I can tell you that creating multiple puzzle levels (that are solvable) in a game jam is very challenging. Unlike most games in this Ludum Dare that are not winnable because of the theme, you can actually play through this game and win.
I am normally a mechanics-first type of gamer. This game, however, is mostly about the amazing atmosphere. Mechanically, you only need to deliver some fuel to a fire to keep it alive, which is very easy. Besides the well-designed forest area where the main part of the game takes place, it also takes the player on a journey to a different place where it asks some very deep emotional questions.
Cardboard People on Fire
While some of the previous games have great mechanics or deep stories, Cardboard People on Fire is mostly about the great visuals and humor. The creator built the entire world out of cardboard and even the people and animals are made from it. When playing the game you have to extinguish the fires when people inevitably ignite. However, the gameplay is a bit slow and for some reason, the city itself doesn't catch fire (which would have been an amazing end to the game with the entire city ablaze), but it's a very scenic and atmospheric cardboard island to walk about in the sunset.
In this turn-based tactical fighting game, a village has been abandoned by the king and you must use your heroes to protect it from being overrun by enemies. The gameplay reminds me of XCOM 2 or Into the Breach where every character can choose from a few options each turn, such as moving, attacking, or saving a villager. Even though my ambition tried to find a way to win the game, it is not possible owing to the theme of Ludum Dare, so you are going to lose eventually. An interesting feature in the game is that the squares that are used to save the villagers, also work for your heroes, which means you can also do what that king did and abandon the village.
Playing and rating Ludum Dare games is always a great experience. Not only do you get to see many different games, it's also a valuable learning opportunity. By playing other games, you will notice small issues and inconsistencies, which you can then avoid or improve in your own games. Other talented game developers will also play your submission and provide valuable feedback and constructive criticism. Even if you didn't participate in the event yourself, you can still freely play and enjoy all of the thousands of games that have been created.
All Games: https://ldjam.com/events/ludum-dare/50/games
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