Last week I decided to participate in my first game jam, Ludum Dare 34! I had no prior experience in doing game jams before LD34. To my surprise, I actually published a game in 72 hours and I didn’t even feel disgusted by the result! The resulting game is called EXPURGET, a fast paced arena shooter where you must survive an onslaught of vicious alien lifeforms. I like the game, so I slapped the word “demo” under the name, because perhaps I’ll expand the concept in the future. EXPURGET was published as a Ludum Dare entry just four hours before the Jam Entry deadlines. The entry feedback has been tremendously helpful and I appreciate all the comments because they will aid in my improvement as a game developer. The weekend was an interesting experience, so it seemed like a good idea for me to do one of these “Postmortems” many developers like to do after game jams.
First, the tools I used for EXPURGET
- Godot v2.0 as my game engine
- LMMS as my audio sequencer, along with ZynAddSubFX as my primary soft synth
- Photoshop CS6 for art/graphics
Why I decided to do my first game jam
The simple reason I wanted to give LD34 a shot was to exercise my game design skills. I came to realize I would exhaustively work on game concepts for months or years and ended up with a game that I did not think was fun. I’m confident in my knowledge of programming, so it was clear to me that I was lacking in my ability in game design. Creating a game in 72 hours seemed like the perfect way to prevent me from working on unnecessary details for months and design a fun game quickly.
I would argue that you can’t exactly “teach” game design to someone. Game design is basically how a game “feels”, the mechanics, and how well the visuals, programming, and music all mix to create one cohesive experience. Everyone has their own opinion on how they think their game should feel and what the player should be thinking when they’re playing their game. That opinion is generally formed by the designer’s experience with other games they have played in the past. (Whether or not a game designer should have immense experience with countless video games is a bit out of scope for this postmortem).
Chances are, if you grabbed two different people and told both of them to design two different games with a given set of rules and mechanics, the two completed games will feel very different to each other. Ludum Dare is in fact a great example of this. We’re given a theme to derive a game from. Two themes won the vote in Ludum Dare, one of them was “growing”. A lot of developers immediately had the concept of planets and flowers growing (just look at the entries!). Although many of them had the idea of plants growing, all the games feel radically different from each other. Therefore, game design is very much a personal expression.
What I think went well in EXPURGET
- The art resulted in something much better than I imagined. I do not try to be an artist and I consider it one of my weakest skills in game development, so I try to focus on my strengths like programming and music. This year I seem to have adopted a style of 2D art that works for some fictional settings. It is basically vector art, but I paint over it with some very rough brushstrokes. A key aspect to the art is cutting the edges off of the simplistic shapes to give it an “imperfect” and rough look. Once I saw the art for EXPURGET becoming more attractive, It really motivated me to continue working. Feedback on the art was more positive than I imagined. Ultimately, I think the art contributed tremendously to the aesthetics of the game.
- The dialogue in the intro of the game is something I really enjoyed. I didn’t have enough time to draw characters for the two people conversation in the intro, so I used distorted circles and the color of the text to indicate which character was talking. It was an efficient solution I think. To my pleasure, a comment on the game’s entry noted the meta/self referencing in the dialogue.
- Incorporating both themes of the game jam is something I’m pleased with. Out of all the themes that could have won, “Two button controls” was probably my least favorite. I was tired of the lack of control schemes on mobile games, so I was displeased to hear that it was one of the themes that won the vote. After an hour of brainstorming at the start of the game jam, I made it work out. The other theme that won the vote was “Growing”, which I had absolutely no ideas for until the final 24 hours. The idea was that the monsters would grow visually and in strength the longer the player survives the onslaught.
What I would have improved in EXPURGET if I had more time
- Monster getting stuck on top of the player’s head is the main criticism I get on the game and I suppose it’s a fair one. The final hours of development was spent on getting enemy A.I. to at least work, making it work well was an after thought. The monster in question was actually supposed to shoot projectiles at the player, and not jump or fly in the air. I scrapped that idea, because I didn’t have enough time to program enemy projectiles and test them out. Basically, I knew about this issue before I submitted the game so my quick fix was to make the collision box for the player’s bullets taller, so if the monster got stuck on their heads they could at least shoot it. This turned out to be a solid fix for me, but I think some players didn’t catch that they were able to do this.
- The speed of the player’s movement and rate of fire is too slow. In the final hours of development, I had to grind just to get the enemy A.I. to behave properly. The result was that the enemies were very fast, yet the player would fire bullets too slowly and did too little damage in time. I would have increased the fire rate if I had more time to test.
- Challenging the player to reach difficulty 50 without testing if it’s possible wasn’t a good idea. With my best effort, I can only get to difficulty 40.
I couldn’t be more pleased with my first game jam. The most important thing I’ve learned was that the core of your game should be easy to conjure and fun from the start. If you have to go through months of heartache and suffering to find the fun in your game, take a step back and reconsider what you’re working on (unless you have reasons why you’re not trying to make your game “fun”). The essence of your game should be there from the start, thus any other ideas will then derive from it. I’m looking forward to participating in future Ludum Dares and other game jams, and perhaps collaborating with others.
Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter (@xodene) for updates regarding EXPURGET and others game.