I can’t get this approved over at the Ludum Dare blog for some reason, so here it is on a blog that will approve literally anything I post.
Penis enlargement. Smash the patriarchy. Earn money today selling Fart brand farts.
Okay, that felt good. Here is post now.
Immediately upon hearing the theme I knew what I wanted to make: a twin-stick shooter where you’re fighting off waves of drones who have been sent to your dystopian future apartment to murder you because you’ve been labeled as a subversive. There were going to be sweet powerups and I was going to record a bunch of funny answering machine messages that would play while you were fighting and the whole thing was going to be boss.
So I fired up Game Maker and got a gray circle moving around. The movement didn’t feel satisfying, though; what I wanted for some reason was rollerskate movement. Why is your character on roller skates? She’s getting ready for her job as a rollerskating waitress, I decided. Easy enough. I made the gray circle move around like it was on roller skates and started spriting the main character.
I’m not particularly fast or skilled at pixel art, so just making the basic idle sprite was taking a long time, and I began to wonder if I actually did want guns. For one thing, I’d have to draw the PC holding a gun, which sounded time-consuming. For another, I’m always meh on guns. Literally five hundred percent of all video games have guns (or swords), and it’s more interesting to me if I can make something different. So I decided, okay, there’s all this furniture in your apartment, and you’re moving it around to crush the robots.
Or, wait, maybe you’re not at your apartment, maybe you’re at your job, and what you’re crushing robots with are tables and chairs with customers in them! I flashed on a mental image of an NPC in a chair with a hamburger in a speech bubble over its head being pushed across a room, continuing to demand a hamburger. This was really funny to me, so I coded up a pushable table, then moved on to robots.
Which was where I hit the snag. I’d gotten GameMaker’s grid-based pathfinding to work in the past, but now I had these robots running around in weird circles, and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I made a quick time budget and estimated that if I spent the time trying to fix the pathfinding, I would not have a finished game by the end of the jam. My best bet was to come up with a completely new game concept using what I already had: a rollerskating waitress and a pushable table. No pathfinding allowed.
A few weird brain jumps later I had an idea for a real-time Sokoban puzzle game about a rollerskating waitress in a wizard diner.
This was my first Ludum Dare, and I didn’t manage my sleep very well at all, so instead of 7 PM Mountain Time, the deadline on Sunday wound up being “how much later can I physically stay awake without passing out and breaking my arm like my ex did when he stayed up for 32 hours playing Dwarf Fortress?”
This meant a lot of things didn’t make it into the game that really should have. Balance, for one, I really should have balanced for difficulty. Also, I should have provided instructions. I got lots of awesome feedback from people and the gist of it was “this game is way too hard and it took me a really long time to figure out how to play it, but other than that it’s really innovative!” I pretty quickly regretted starting the game with too many wizards, and not writing an algorithm that would check for what food you needed and throw you a bone.
I felt this especially hard after asking Taunia Sabanski to play the game on Twitch, which she gamely did, and then got just the most terrible possible board and did not have an amazing time. Which, probably that happened to a lot of people, and I could have easily ameliorated it by changing a few numbers to different, friendlier numbers. So that’s something I learned, I need to leave more time for balancing and adjust things to be easier than I think they should be at first.
I made a game! It’s still got a long way to go before it’s really finished, but I haven’t lost momentum on it, and I think eventually it’ll shape up into something I’m proud to have made. Which feels awesome.
I also learned that a good way to get things done is to focus on the throughline and be willing to get rid of ideas and cut back the scope when necessary. I suffer from terrible Scope Creep Disease, so the external time pressure was really helpful in preventing me from, like, coding dialogue options for the shrubbery.
Thanks and have fun!