Ludum Dare

Ludum Dare Warm-Up Post Mortem

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This weekend I spent 4-5 hours livestreaming a personal warm-up for Ludum Dare to make sure that my workflow in Unity 3d and Blender was ready to meet the challenge of another game jam.  I may do another warm-up this upcoming weekend as well.

 

The Good:

  • My Unity knowledge seems up to snuff, even when it comes to doing new things that I haven’t explicitly done before.
  • Even though I didn’t finish the game (which was never my intention during the warm-up), I created a LOT of content in about 4 hours. I’m working much, much faster than the last time I used Unity for Ludum Dare. Both because I’m more familiar with the tools, but also because I think I’m structuring my content better.
  • I can whip out (very ugly) 3d models in Blender extremely quickly, which is good.  Animating a convincing walk cycle is still probably out of line for a 48 hour competition, but I’m happy that I can have more than cubes and capsules this time.
The Bad:
  • Focusing too much on the “theme” before deciding on the “gameplay”.  It’s too easy for me to get overly focused on mechanics and simulation and to forget that I need a game in there.
  • Not deciding on a single aesthetic first. None of my models really looked like each other — they weren’t even the same size. I need to keep this in mind a little sooner.
  • Finding out that there’s no native IK support in Unity 3d, which is a real shame. I don’t have the experience to write an IK Solver in a 48 hour compo either.  It would have opened up some interesting possibilities.
The Ugly:
  • I got really frustrated trying to sort out the “gameplay” issue and even snapped at the livestream chat, which is very much not okay. I was feeling overwhelmed by trying to read so much chat and filter ideas. Taking a 10 minute was all I needed to sort out my brain, get some inspiration, and be balanced and level-headed again.  I need to schedule more breaks, especially early on when we’re still in the “idea” phase.  Walks are good. (Also, it helped to turn off the mic/camera for a little while and just get “in the zone” with the programming for a bit, rather than try to entertain people.)
The Unknown:
  • Is it good, bad, or ugly to use a well-established gameplay mechanic (“tower defense”) and just try to adapt it to a theme?  On the one hand, how many truly unique gameplay mechanics exist out there? Most things are just something that already exists (first-person, platformer, rts, 4x, side-scroller, etc…) with a twist.  Trying to come up with something completely innovative is hard/impossible in general, and to come up with something spontaneously AND finding a good way to implement it in 48 hours is probably idiotic.  Many of the best and most original LD submissions (and artistic/original indie games) ARE things like platformers with a twist.  Braid, VVVVVV, and Super Meat Boy are — in many ways — basic platformers. And yet they stand out as completely unique at the same time.  
Personally, after the more relaxed pacing of my LD22 and LD23 games, I think I want to make something quite a bit more action-packed and adrenaline-inducing this time around.
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Ludum Dare Warm-Up Livestream!

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I’m going to be livestreaming a little this weekend as a warm-up to the next Ludum Dare, which is in 2 weeks.  I’m going to be working in Unity 3d.  Respond with theme suggestions!

 

(I will make a post on YouTube before streaming starts.)

 

http://twitch.tv/quill18

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LD Top 20 Themes

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There needs to be one more day of voting, but these should represent the 20 possible theme options.

 

Artificial Life: I don’t know what the “game” will be, but I love simulations and especially stuff that falls under this category.  I miss playing SimEarth and such.

Limited Resources: A puzzle game? An RTS? Something about environmental awareness, or maybe just a MacGyver experience?

Explore The Universe: Combine this with Limited Resources and you have a game about finding a habitable planet before your spaceship runs out of food/fuel/oxygen.  Or heck, maybe it’s just you in your backyard with your telescope, looking for things.

Randomly Generated: This was done recently for a mini-LD and also isn’t very specific.  I’m hoping it’s not picked.

Evolution: Ties in with Artificial Life.  I’ve always wanted to do something that really simulates evolution well, maybe with some kind of binary DNA. Again, not sure where the “game” is though.

Alchemy: Magicka is an example of one of several games where you have to combine ingredients to create a desired effect.  Doing something like that with Alchemy could be great fun.

Exploration: Pretty vague — could be anything, really.  See “Explore the Universe”, above.

Death Is A New Beginning: Imagine a very lethal dungeon crawler, but where the dungeon isn’t reset between deaths.  You just keep flinging character after character into the pit, getting a little further each time. “I only had to suicide 25 ccharacters to finally kill the dragon!”

Castles: Building castles are awesome. Smashing them is also awesome. Good opportunity for asynchronous multiplayer stuff?

Discovery: a.k.a. Exploration? This could also be something like scientific discoveries.

Minimalism: Already been done. I hope it doesn’t get picked.

One Room: Now THIS is a fascinating theme. Restrictive and yet vague at the same time.  Are trying to escape from a room?  Are we very tiny, and one room is effectively a whole world for us?  Is it only one room, but we skip between parallel universes where things are subtly different?

Survival: Not terribly focused for a theme, but I might want to do something like being stranded on a deserted island or something.

Indirect Control: Lots of excellent possibilities.  Maybe it’s a game where you are trying to program instructions into a robot to achieve things?

Build It, Then Use It: Build a spaceship to reach…

The Moon: …?

Castles In The Sky: Are we building castles out of clouds?

Ruins: Pretty vague.

Minions: Lots of potential cross-over here with ideas for “Indirect Control”

 

 

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LD Warmup

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I’m displeased that I didn’t get back to the warmup yesterday to finish the drag-and-drop behaviour.  Part of it was because I started playing Dungeon Crawl first thing when I woke up…and basically spent the whole day doing nothing but that.  (I have a Minotaur Fighter session with over 4 hours of gameplay…and I’m still going!  Most durable character yet.  I wonder how I’ll die?)

Summary of the warmup experience:

  • GOOD: The ease of creating editors for data is awesome.
  • GOOD: Whereas UI’s are a pain to make in most game engines (including Unity), using HTML/JS as a front-end makes this trivial.
  • BAD: The “mouse” part of the UI still sucks to implement.  I mean, it’s no more work than anything else (and some types of drag-and-drop are REALLY easy with a little help from jQuery), but it’s still tedious and prone to glitchy behaviour.
  • GOOD: While my warmup didn’t include any multiplayer, certain types of multiplayer will be easy to implement.
  • BAD: Latency. Communication between the client side and server side can be pretty quick, but isn’t as instant as something running entirely on the user’s computer.  Anything that requires near-instant real-time response will not be appropriate to this.  (I mean, you can make fast web-based apps if everything runs in JavaScript or Flash — but that’s not exactly what I’m looking to do.)

 

So while real-time action games are straight out, good UI + centralized data storage + multi-user = awesome potential for having users create and share stuff with each other.

One of the mistakes I made in LD22 was making an entirely mouse-driven game experience (“for simplicity”).  Well, it wasn’t simple to implement and even the game itself became a lot easier and simpler to play when I just switched to keyboard movement.  The less “fancy mouse stuff” I try to do in this game, the better.

I’ll try to keep that in mind.

That being said, not every theme will fit well with the idea of a web app multi-user experience, and for all I know I may end up using Unity anyway!

 

*** VOTING FOR THE LD23 THEME HAS BEGUN! ***

 

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Ludum Dare Warm-Up

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Ludum Dare #23 is a week away!!

I’m going to be spending a few hours livestreaming my warm-up for LD, so if you’re interested in watching drop by http://twitch.tv/quill18 and make sure to hit “Follow” to be alerted when I go live.  I expect I’ll put in a bit of time tonight (around 7-9 EDT), plus a few more hours on Saturday and Sunday.

I figure that the best way to do the warmup is to random from 1-100 and get a theme from the list at http://sos.gd/themes/?view=results — but since I don’t want to spend a full 48 hours I’m going to roll ahead of time so I have a chance to think a little before I dive in.

Roll Result = 46.  Theme = “This is your dungeon”.

Interesting.  I always love roguelikes and even old-school text adventures, so that gameplay screams out right away.  But the “your” part of the phrase is making me think that maybe the player should have some ownership of the dungeon.  Should I be looking to Dungeon Keeper for inspiration?

Post your suggestions!!

I have several hours to think before I can even start programming, so it’ll be interesting to see where my brain goes.  (Programming Language: I want to do a web app with lots of server-side stuff in Ruby on Rails.  Front-end will be HTML/JS.)

 

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LD23: I’m in, but with what language?

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LD22 was my first go at Ludum Dare, and I had an indescribable amount of fun doing it (play my game, read the post mortem).  A big part of why it was so amazing was because I livestreamed the whole thing, and a significant number of my YouTube subscribers turned out to watch (I believe I averaged 200-300 viewers the whole time). Many of the ideas for the story and gameplay came as a result of discussions with the viewers in real time.

It also felt stupendously good to finish a game, which I know a lot of other programmers can relate to. It gives me hope that maybe one day I’ll quit my job and turn to game development full-time.  In the meantime, I have LD23 to look forward to!

Last time around, I made a game in Unity 3d.  I’m a huge fan of this framework, though because it’s only a part-time hobby my actual expertise with this (or any game framework) is relatively limited.  This limits my ability to perform as efficiently as possible and prevents me from dabbling with the more advanced features, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a 48-hour compo.  I may use it again, depending on the theme.

However, I’m wondering about doing something that is far more inline with my day-to-day expertise. It would be different from the “standard” submission, which carries both good and bad baggage. It’s also possible that I’ll be spending more time than I’d like with “low-level” functionality.  Namely, I’m thinking of developing a game as a web app that would include considerable server-side functionality (as opposed to doing a JS/HTML5-canvas thing — though such features may make an appearance).  Programming in Ruby on Rails is what I do every day — could this translate to making a game?  There’s considerably latency implications, though this can be minimized depending on the type of game and through AJAX techniques (or web sockets, though this WOULD be new/unknown territory for me).  Dungeon Crawl Web Tiles is a really impressive example of what’s possible.  It also opens up certain multiplayer possibilities WITHOUT needing to muck around with the more complex issues involved in typical multiplayer games.

I may make a test/practice/warmup game to experiment with these techniques, though April is looking VERY busy right now and I’m not sure when I’ll find time.

LD23 takes place April 20th-23rd, 2012.

Ludum Dare Update!

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My goal with Paper Town was to finish in at least the top 50%, and the results are in — I’m in the top 40%, which is fantastic!  Most notably, I’m in the top 10% for “Mood” and top 25% for “Innovation” and “Theme”, which I’m really happy about because that’s what I was really working for.  (My lowest score was in Graphics, but even that was in the top 50%.)

 

I’m looking forward to the next LD, in April!

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Paper Town: A Ludum Dare Post-Mortem

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Ludum Dare is a 48-hour long game creation competition.  You have two days to build a game from scratch — you need to create all the program code and content (art, sound, etc…) by yourself within that time period.  There is always a “theme” for the competition, which the games should try to incorporate somehow.

The theme for this, the 22nd Ludum Dare, was “Alone”.

 

Click here to play my game: Paper Town!

 

Developers often do a “Post-Mortem” after completing a project, exploring the things that went right and wrong. This helps them keep track of what they’ve learned and also help other people who are going to try the same thing.

Click “More…” to read the rest of this article!

(more…)

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Ludum Dare 22: Pre-Game

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Alright folks, here we are around 11 hours away from the announcement of the theme for Ludum Dare 22, whereupon I will embark on a 48-hour frenzy of programming.

Since we don’t know the theme yet, I obviously can’t start planning the game — but I think it would be worthwhile to take stock of what tools we’ll have available to us.

Our Tools

Unity 3d

An integrated 3d game-development environment.  The program itself is a 3d world building tool with extremely modularized scripting/programming support.

What Unity gives us:

  • World building. Drag and drop your models into the scene and in moments you have a city or a forest or a maze or a solar system.
  • Terrain-sculpting. It’s very easy to build a large outdoor area with hills and canyons and such.
  • Physics. This is baked in to Unity and is pretty much “free”. Collisions, Newtonian forces, etc…  If you want to watch stuff bounce off other stuff, this is how you do it.  Just drop a “RigidBody” component on to something and *bam*, you’ve got physics!
  • Modular behaviour-based scripting.  Whereas the AI programming for a unit in a conventional system would be rather monolithic, Unity encourages you to implement multiple small, more independent behaviours and makes it easy to connect the behaviours to units (and between each other) as needed.  For example, I could have one script called “LooksForPlayer” that is used by both Security Guards (which also have the “ChasesUnit” behaviour) and Gun Turrets (which just have a “RotatesToFaceUnit”) behaviour.  In my limited experience, the more you go along with Unity’s paradigm, the easier things go.
  • Multi-platform support.  Make your game once and export for PC, Mac, and Linux.  And iPhone and Android.  And the web.  Nice.
  • Pathfinding.  It’s not built-in to Unity yet (should be in the next release!), but there are some great libraries available that make it very easy to add to your game.

What it doesn’t give us:

  • 3d modelling. Unity lets you place objects in a 3d world space, but you aren’t going to be creating your models in Unity (save for sticking a couple primitive together, like a cube topped by a sphere with a cylinder sticking out of it to make a quick turret).
  • Technically you can do pretty much everything in Unity, since you can program anything inside of it, but there’s a bunch of stuff that you’d pretty much have to do from scratch and just sort override normal Unity behaviour.  Like, you could do a 2d pixel-art game in Unity, but I have no idea what you’d possible gain from doing it in Unity in the first place, since it would all be custom code to render to a full-screen 2d texture or something.  That being said, you can do something that behaves in a 2d-ish way, like a top-down or side-view game (space shooter, platformer) simply by placing your objects/cameras that way. The objects/environment would be 3d even if the gameplay was not.

Blender

Blender is a free, open-source, fully featured “3d content creation suite”.  You can use it to make the next Toy Story movie if you want.  I’ll use it to make like…rocks or something.  I will model my various objects in here and then import them into Unity.

I am not a particularly skilled 3d artist, and I definitely do not know much about animation.  I expect that my models will be completely static — so while they may move around the world, they won’t have a “walk” animation.  This will drive the art style considerably.  Even if I could model an accurate humanoid (and I can’t), since I don’t have the time or ability to animate a decent walk cycle, it would be weird to have a person that just sort of…glides everywhere.  So no realistic organic units.  That’s why I like space ships, but I think we’d also do fine with just iconic representations of various units.  Like a person might just be a capsule shape with a happy face drawn on it.

I’m also not a good texture artist, so again the simpler the better.

Bfxr

Sound effects! Bloops and bleeps and blorps galore!

Alternatively, I can record myself saying “Kaboom!” and “Zap!”, which might be kind of funny.

My Brain

To be successful in life, you need to know what you’re good at — but more importantly you need to know what you suck at.  We’ve already established that I’m bad at art.

I’m very good at manipulating data, though. I make databases my bitch. Need to create a complex relationship structure between multiple different types of records and agents? I’m your man.  I also really like simulation games.  In fact, I don’t even care about the “game” part so much — it’s the simulations that fascinate me.  For example, I’d love to make a simulation of a bunch of ants roaming around a sandbox looking for food. Programming the AI would be a ton of fun.  But where’s the game? That’s something I’ll have to keep in mind, since it’s a game competition.

So where does that lead us?

Given the limited amount of time that we have, we need to leverage our strengths.  Let’s take a look at the themes current up for voting and try to get some ideas ahead of time. One of these will be the actual theme.

When looking at the themes, keep in mind that we can use them either thematically (as in the plot/feel) or mechanically (as in, being a specific gameplay gimmick), or both.

  • Alone: Is the player alone in an empty world?  Do they have to find another person somewhere?  What if we flip the idea around and the player feels alone world that is actually very crowded, but you’re looking for another person that is like you.  A true friend or soulmate.  Another idea:  We make a multiplayer game, but you can’t see the other players.  It looks like you’re alone, but you have to work together to accomplish something?  Kinda weird.  Also, I’m not sure that multiplayer is the way to go for this competition because it’s hard for individuals to test.
  • Antihero: My brain keeps trying to pun and turn this into a game about an ant.  Anyway, an antihero is a protagonist that is in at least one regard quite different from an archetypal heroic figure. Maybe they’re “dark”, like so many comic book heroes these days.  Maybe you’re normally the villain, but you’re trying to save something you love (including your own life).  Maybe we just literally flip this around and you’re Bowser trying to steal the Princess from Mario.  The Dungeon Keeper games are another interesting inspiration. And while I’m hoping for originality/novelty, I’m certain that you could make a tower defense game that fits, thematically.
  • Consequences: Huh.  This is a bit vague.  One idea I’ve wanted to explore is a simulation of economics, and I can imagine building a game where there is a great disparity in starting conditions for the various characters in the world, and what the consequences are of starting with wildly different resource levels. I’m not sure where the “game” is, though, and this may also be too ambitious for 48 hours.  Still, building something that could be “edutational” has merit.
  • Decay: Does your character literally decay over time, giving you a ticking clock to race again?  Does the very land you walk on decay and fall apart?  Isn’t that how the Neverending Story movie go at some point?  Maybe the decay is like…the environment/plants decaying and you have to work to keep an area green.  Or maybe, if I can steal from D&D’s Darksun, you are a wizard who casts spells by draining the life force from the environment around you, leaving a dead zone.
  • Dreams:  Uhg. I like themes that point to a mechanic, but “dreams” seems almost purely just story/plot fluff.  Like, I could make a platformer where every level is you entering someone else’s dream. Or some kind of point-and-click adventure game.
  • Evolution: I loved SimEarth, SimLife, and some parts of Spore. Also, as I’ve said, I love simulations and implementing some sort of Artificial Life sim has me super-duper excited.  Unfortunately, it may be difficult to make procedural type life forms that can smarty interact with a detailed 3d environment — this would work better with a relatively plain 2d type of setting.  I also don’t know where the “game” would be. Could be biological evolution, but what about self-modification?  What about robots or computer viruses? The next evolutionary step of humanity?
  • Falling: The low-hanging fruit here is a game where you are literally falling down a shaft or something and you have to maneuver to dodge obstacles or something.  It would be relatively simple to implement and could be a lot of fun, but how do we make it original/creative?  Can we think of something completely different for “falling”?
  • Forgotten places: Like Dreams, this seems more “story” than “mechanic”, though I can imagine if we were playing a top-down-view sort of exploration game where moving around exposes the map, but that the places slowly start to fade out from view if you haven’t visited them in a while, and then when they go completely hidden that zone transforms itself to be completely different.  Oh!  As a kid, did you ever wonder if the world continues to exist when you aren’t looking at it?  How about a first-person game that literally works that way.  Only the area that you are looking at right now is real/static.  Look away from something, then look back, and it’ll be completely different.
  • Kittens: I believe this is the “joke” theme and isn’t actually an option.  That being said, maybe we can add kittens regardless of the true theme?
  • Mechanisms: Vague, but certainly has my sim fanboism excited, especially with a powerful physics engine backing me up.  Do we see if we can build our version of Fantastic Contraption?  Maybe a kind of electronic workbench where you can assemble circuits to make things happen?
  • Moon: Are we a moon, wandering a solar system?  Are we trying to get to the moon? Maybe we’ve just setup the first moon base?  Dwarf Moontress.
  • Parallel dimension: See ideas for “Reflection”.
  • Randomly generated: Very broad. Is it the world that is random?  The items within it? The characteristics of the items/units within it?  What if we stole the idea from Forgotten Places where if you leave an area for long enough to forget about it, it gets regenerated with completely different stuff.  The world is continuously randomly generating around you. The only static location is where you are standing right this moment.
  • Reflection: Literal reflections (mirrors) aren’t really going to be an option, though it could be faked.  Are mirrors portals to another world?  We could play it a different way too: Imagine a side-scroller where you can literally flip the world left-to-right like a mirror image, but also changing some characteristics (fire to water or something like that).  Reflection could also be a pure plot theme, like reflecting on your life. Gravity changers that flip the world upside down?
  • Self-replication: Like evolution, this screams “Artificial Life” to me, though here things don’t have to change with each generation.  Another idea: What if you, as a player, can temporarily multiply yourself.  You point to a spot behind an enemy and “poof” a clone of yourself into existence there. Can you switch between controlling your clones, or do they run on AI?  What about “birth” as a theme?
  • Shape-shifting: Could be as simple as the player having two forms to switch between, or as complicated as the ability to complete reshape yourself, your enemies, or your environment. Some of these things would be hard to program.
  • Teleportation: Portals?  Maybe a short-ranged blink/flash power?  Maybe you’re running a vehicle/ship that can “hop” distances, but then needs to mine resources or recharge for a certain amount of time before you can do it again.  You’re in a race against some enemy/event and you need to outrun it and/or reach a goal in time.  It could be run as an interesting economic tower defense game, where you had to balance building defenses (which might eventually become overwhelmed in time) with resource-gathering.  Makes me think of The Space Game (or Creeper World), but instead of distinct levels, it’s one contiguous world.
  • Territory: The idea for Teleportation could be adapted here.  Is there some riff on Qix that we could do?  Dog/wolf territory claiming?
  • Time-travel: I’ve played a few time-manipulation games and they’ve been neat, but it’s not where my mind normally goes.
  • Tunnels: I still have ants on the brain.  A SimAnt clone seriously needs to exist.  I’m also intrigued by the idea of dynamically deforming/extruding meshes in Unity and allowing a player to literally dig a tunnel into the ground.  Maybe you’re a miner?  Maybe you are building an underground fortress (single-player Dwarf Fortress! (Am I re-inventing Minecraft?))  This would require me doing a lot of things (the mesh modification) that I’ve never tried in Unity before. I might spend the full 48 hours just figuring it out.  Arteries as tunnels.
  • Underground: Obviously there’s overlap with Tunnels, so ideas that work for one might work for both.  What about politically/socially underground?  Underground railroad?  French resistance in WW2?  A secret club?  A nightmare creature that buries underground.  From beneath you it devours.

Note: I will likely update this post throughout the day as I think of more ideas.

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