I, Roidz, was asked to write something about my experience participating in my first Ludum Dare game jam. We entered for the first time as a team but one of us, Deozaan, had done a few solo jams before, so we were not completely unaware of what to expect. And his experience would prove very valuable as we approached the submission deadline.
But let me start at the beginning of this little story…
A few weeks before Ludum Dare 41 started, our team (cMonkeys) were talking in our Discord and I was telling them about how I was so proud that I actually finished a game in about one week (a simple game called Yahtzea that I made for Android, out now in the Google Play store).
This conversation brought us to the Ludum Dare contests, because you need to finish a full game in 48 or 72 hours, and we all thought that it would be fun if we participated with the three of us as a team.
Deozaan mentioned that the next jam was coming up soon, and after checking our schedules it turned out that all three of us were available for most of that weekend. It didn’t take us long to decide that we would enter.
Over the couple of weeks leading up to the game jam when the theme voting started, we talked about possible game ideas we could make. Naturally, our brainstorming would be in vain because the theme is never what you expect/hope. But it got us hyped up and we felt we were ready for the jam to begin!
I had early shifts at work the week before and that’s usually not something my body takes well so I decided to sleep a bit before the jam started. The jam started at 3 AM in my timezone. So around 9 PM the evening before the jam started, I went to bed and managed to sleep for about 3 hours. I felt rested and ready to go.
When, at 3 AM the theme (Combine Two Incompatible Genres) was announced, we were already on voice chat on our Discord server and it took us a few minutes to digest the theme. It was not our favorite theme. So, as hinted at earlier, we had no plan ready for it.
We started brainstorming and throwing out ideas in the chat. After about 50 minutes we decided on doing a quiz/educational game mashup with an arcade shooter. Soon enough we had a game plan (somewhat) ready.
The arcade part we had figured out first. We decided that it would be a circular shooter and that it would involve defeating viruses in the human body. Soon we agreed that it would make sense for the quiz part to be medical themed. And that made us think of Doctor House. Hence the quiz instructor being named Doctor Condo and the title of the game being “It’s Not Lupus!“
Durgan started to work on art for our game, while Deozaan and I split up the coding parts between us. Deozaan offered to focus on the arcade parts and I took charge of the quiz part. This worked well for our individual skills and experiences, since I’m more familiar with UI and Deozaan is more familiar with arcade shooters. Deozaan made an Asteroids-like game for DonationCoder a few years ago, so he had the shooting part done quite fast.
The hard part of the arcade shooter was balancing how the virus would reproduce itself. We struggled a bit with it; the virus was often either way too hard or much too easy. In the end we got a visually nice looking result but I’m sure without the time restraint we could have made the virus more interesting and fun.
One of the challenges of the game jam was that we could not focus 100% on our genres because there was so much more to do than just the quiz and arcade part.
Deozaan became responsible for organizing many things, which included version control, managing my messy code, creating game managers (scene manager, audio manager, pool manager, etc.) and more.
In the meantime I had most of the code done for the quiz so I managed to get some light animating done (eyebrows, anyone?) and I created two pieces of music for the game. The quiz music is a small loop that I managed to do in a few minutes but the arcade/credits music took a bit longer than expected.
In the meantime Durgan kept providing us with great art for both the shooter and the quiz parts. The ship and characters he created were all incredible fitting for the game and everything started to match up nicely.
By Saturday night we all felt that we had come a long way but that we still had quite a bit of work to do to get our game ready for submission.
By Sunday night we were all tired because of the lack of sleep. But we struggled through.
We managed to get an almost finished game together that worked but soon we realized that the arcade part needed tweaking. It felt like it was missing something. My idea was that we needed more weapons, instead of just one bullet type, that would make it more interesting. We started to work on that, forgetting another crucial part of the game. . .
The questions for the quiz!
In our early prototype we had put only four questions in, three of which were inside jokes. We needed a lot more! But none of us felt especially motivated to start researching more actual questions, so we pushed that back.
In the meantime Durgan started polishing some of his artwork while Deozaan had to do some bug hunting because when we did some test builds we had no audio! I was doing a menu/credits scene at that time.
Because of the lack of sleep and overdose of stress, I can’t recall if this was happening on Sunday evening or Monday evening (my timezone). It all felt close to the deadline which increased our adrenaline / stress levels by 300%.
About eight hours before the submission deadline I had to go to bed because I had to work an early shift again the next day. But we still lacked many quiz questions!
Luckily Durgan was done with his art by then and he volunteered (under duress) to do the research on some more questions. He managed to add in some humor and provided Deozaan with enough questions to get the quiz part fun and entertaining.
Deozaan did a lot of tweaking to the arcade part and managed to get everything smoothly working and submitted before the deadline. I was in bed sleeping at that time and had faith that my two team members would get the final bits completed in time, and they sure did!
The next morning, before I went to work, I checked the Discord channel and there was a link to our Ludum Dare game and we already had a positive comment. Many more would shortly follow.
Now, quite some days after the Jam, we are still really happy with the result and the feeling of accomplishment we have from getting this game out on time, and receiving mostly positive comments.
Most likely we will work a bit more on this game, but it’s undecided if we will release it at all or in what state. We will have to let it sink in a little.