Monday, 12 May 2014

Ludum Dare #29 - Postmortem


The jam schedule has been updated accordingly since participation in this particular jam
This was my 5th time competed in Ludum Dare and was unfortunately an unsuccessful jam which was a little demoralising until I wrote this postmortem that seems to be a good learning curve. The theme for this Ludum Dare was "Beneath the Surface”, an interesting theme with a lot of potential for some neat ideas – but I just was not feeling it at all, I was un-inspired with little creative thought to grasp.

The Game
I attempted to prototype 2 different ideas for the theme during the first 24 hours of the jam – by the end of the 1st day I had given up on both and spent the rest of jam drawing. Regrettably, I did not submit an entry to the site.

Attempt 1 
Similar to Mini Ludum Dare #49 I spent my time prototyping out platformer game mechanics by tweaking old code. All of the visuals were hand drawn, scanned into the computer, cropped and placed accordingly.
In the process of doing this I simply wasn’t feeling like I was getting anything interesting out of this prototype. I decided to scrap the idea and start over on the basis that this felt too familiar territory in terms of a Game Jam game. I struggled very much to create something new and interesting whilst at the same time being within my technical capabilities. The challenge of making sure to avoid overscoping a prototype for a Jam ultimately led me to not starting anything at the fear of overscoping.

Attempt 2
Attempt two was initially envisioned to be ‘Guess Who’ combined with rapid twitch mechanics. Players simply select a button that randomly generates them a character and shaving foam coordinates. Then, players must quickly remove all the foam by dragging a razor over the characters face to simulate the act of shaving. I came to the realisation that this was quite similar a prototype that I had made in the past entitled ‘Just A Trim’. It was the realisation of this that led me to the decision of giving up on the Jam. I spent the rest of the weekend chewing over what had gone wrong whilst drawing sketching a lot of artwork on the side.

What Went Well?
Fortunately the way I procrastinate is by drawing, meaning I am still being relatively productive when distracted. I took the opportunity to devote the remaining time over the jam to develop my illustrative skills. I guess you could call it an ‘Art Jam’.

None of this artwork had any relevance to anything in particular; no references or research was taken – these were simply for fun.

What Went Wrong?

Dealing with the Game Jam “theme”
I definitely struggled to come up with something interesting enough to peak my interest for the entire weekend – which meant getting side tracked with other ideas. Taking the theme too literally in the back of my head and getting side-tracked was a challenge which I was shamefully unable to overcome.  Usually, finding something to explore come almost effortlessly - often triggered by newly discovered external passions such as: music; art or film.
After participating in the game, it became clear that I needed to undertake some additional research in order to develop my approach in early stages of the jam. I spent some time searching for suggestions that jammers can utilise in order to help come up with a greater game concept, these are as follows:
-          Take a walk
-          Listen to music
-          Mull over ideas away from the computer
-          Come back home and sketch your idea
-          Visualise the game being played before touching the keyboard
-          Talk about the theme over dinner with a friend
-          Sleep on it and start in the morning

What the Experts Say – Chevy Ray Johnston
“Make a really simple game, and spend all your time polishing it like crazy! Really polished games are impressive, addictive and always popular. Visual polish of some sort always seems to give games a boost-up in votes in compos, and makes them more likely to be clicked on by judges.” (Johnston, 2012)  - I agree strongly with this. Polish plays an important part of my approach towards jam participation; moreover this often separates the professional jammers to the amateurs. It is always admiring to see jam veterans in Ludum Dare achieving technical, innovative and artistic polish feats in only 48 hours – something which can be inspiring to see as a fairly new jammer. While polish can sometimes play a key role in winning jams, unless the sole purpose is to win the jam it is important to not sacrifice a fun or engaging and interesting game just to make it look pretty. This is something I have been guilty of in a lot of my past entries which could be the contributing factor as to why I am yet to win a Ludum Dare competition – along with other missing elements.

Motivational Techniques
From some research I have made by consulting the Game Jam Survival Guide I learnt that getting over such things can be resolved by, “busting through the wall, showing off your progress and seeking support: have a chat”. None of these I considered attempting before it was too late. “It is a common feeling to by the end of the first day to be overwhelmed at one’s lack of progress.” (Kaitila, 2012) This was the precise moment of the jam I decided to quit. Staying positive as the hours roll by can be challenging, particularly when working solo in an empty room.

Brainstorming Tips
I have done some additional research towards brainstorming techniques to aid the creative process, some of these I can imagine becoming very useful in a Jam situation. I hope to take these forward with me to the next Jam and put these to practice – the next Jam being Brains Eden in July.
  1. The Write Answer
  1. Write or Type
  1. Sketch your Body
  1. Play with Toys
  1. Change Your Perspective
  1. Immerse Yourself
  1. Crack Jokes
  1. Spare No Expense
  1. The Writing on the Wall
  1. The Space Remembers
  1. Write Everything
  1. Number Your Lists
  1. Mix and Match Categories
  1. Talk to Yourself
  1. Find a Partner
Getting Over “The Wall”
During this jam I had already given up 3 or 4 times before I officially gave up – the wall got the better of me. “I learnt that not giving up is the key to success… If you plough past your self-doubt and smash through that wall of uncertainty you will find that at the end of the tunnel is light.” (Kaitila, 2012)


I regret most all not submitting anything for this Ludum Dare as this has put a halt my Ludum Dare streak. One of my favourite things about Ludum Dare is looking back at all of my older entries to see the improvements that I have made across every 3 months, unfortunately there will be a 6 month gap between my Ludum Dare #28 entry and the next Ludum Dare #30 in July. Again, I consulted The Game Jam Survival Guide; in Chapter 5, page [54] there is a section that explains these exact feelings towards a jam.

Christer Kaitila states “Don’t let your pride stop you from submitting whatever you were able to accomplish. After spending an entire weekend working on you game, you are sure to be your harshest critic.” (Kaitila, 2012)

However, some good things have come out of this jam. I was able to produce a collection of expressive biro drawings – hopefully will one day stem as a character for a game! This was the last Jam of the project, by which point I was ultimately out jammed, looking back I wish I had spent the time iterating on some older prototypes. It was a shame that I could not go out with one cool more idea but nonetheless I feel accomplished in the feat I have achieved since the start of the project.
  • Kaitila, C (2012). The Game Jam Survival Guide. Canada: Packt Publishing. pg 10 - 73.
  • Kaitila, C. (2012). How to Get the Most Out of a Game Jam. Available: Last accessed October, 2013
  • Schell, J (2008). The Art of Games Design. FL: CRC Press. 4 - 450.

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