So the Ludum Dare Results have just been posted and we’ve been voted number 1 in the innovation category for the Jam! That’s such a huge honor and I’d like to thank the entire Ludum Dare community and all its organizers, as well my pal and partner in this competition, Xelu (artist and animator) and Jesse Valentine (awesome musician). We’ve also gotten 8th overall among other things.
Now I think our game Tiny Timmy and Big Bill was a huge success as a prototype. And that isn’t because of what it won, I felt the peak of this achievement before I even hit the submit button.
The reason I am so happy with how the game turned out is because we stumbled on a new game mechanic that was actually fun. And that’s really what game jams are all about.
So what are game jams?
A brief word about game jams first. A game jam is this incredible event where programmers, artists, designers, writers, musicians and people of all kinds of talents gather to make a game from scratch over the course of 48 or 72 hours. It is an enormous feat once you think about it, especially game jams of calibers such as the last Ludum Dare (which is actually latin for “to give a game” according to wikipedia). Just over the course of one weekend, people form all over the world created worlds. 1402 worlds to be exact. Each game is a world of its own, a universe to experience. A testament of the author(s) hard work and dedication. An embodiment of their skill. A manifestation of who they are, channeled onto players experiencing the aura the game developer crafted.
It’s a bit corny, forgive me, I just believe that games are a still untapped medium for never-before-seen methods of art.
Cool cool, now can I have the post-mortem?
Sure, but first, you might be interested in the timelapse we made:
So here’s our story:
It was the 20th of April, 3 AM when the theme “Tiny World” was announced. Now there were a lot of awesome themes, like “teamwork” and “build it then use it” which I think could have spawned some incredible stuff, but perhaps they were a bit out of the scope of a 2-3 day competition.
There wasn’t a lot that was coming to mind on “Tiny World”, but creativity is all about working within limitations. We started brainstorming ideas and decided to make the first one that came to mind. That was a game where you were a guy wanting to get to this tree for some reason. Halfway there however, you’d shrink down, causing the rest of the path to be quite long. As you go halfway through the remainder of the path, you shrink again and so on and so forth. And each time you shrink would be a new level with new mechanics and you’d keep shrinking until you reach DNA and ribosome size and the final level would be planck’s length.
This was all nice and dandy, it didn’t feel like it was anything incredible, but we couldn’t come up with anything else.
5 hours later and after a whole lot of idea-exchanges (I even visited this cracked article to get some ideas) we had a working game engine.
And here is where we come upon a very, very important rule of game design (if you’re interested, I talk more about what I think should be universal rules of game design in my previous post mortems)
Golden Rule of Game Design: Prototyping is crucial
This has got to me the most important phase of development, and it’s one
that can simply make or break a game. If you have a game idea, make a
prototype. If it’s fun, keep it. If it’s not, trash it and start over. You can’t
expect it to be fun when you add more stuff or add in art or whatever.
(This rule has exceptions though, such as adventure games, that don’t
derive their fun element from the core gameplay mechanic)
So we had our prototype, but it wasn’t fun. It seemed like for this game to succeed it would need a lot of work into getting a lot of content done, and even then it was just “meh”. So we went back to the drawing board and weren’t afraid to throw 6 hours of work down the drain. Because the game mechanic and game idea are really what can make or break the game. It’s never about how much effort you put into a game. Some of the games I’ve seen in this jam were better than games that took me months to make when I first started out.
Back to square one
And that’s when it hit me. I’m not exactly sure where my train of thought was at that point, but I thought it would be a good idea to control two characters, a big one, and a small one.
But this control of two characters mechanic wasn’t a new one. In fact it was done numerous times before, even once in another game jam (hosted by Newgrounds, whose game jams are awesome!) However, it was always done such that you could press a button to switch between the two characters. So I thought, why not make it so that you can control two simultaneous characters? And thus Tiny Timmy and Big Bill was conceived.
Now that we had our idea, the rest was simply working our assess off for the remainder of the time. 65 hours and a lot of sweat and tears later, the game was almost done.
The Final Hour
Level music. That was the only thing left. Adding in the music for the levels and the music for the final boss level. Now at this point, I was so sleep deprived that it hurt. As in, I wanted to sleep so bad…my eyes hurt. Don’t ask questions.
So given that I was barely pushing on, adding in the music felt like a pretty convoluted task, but there was time. There was a whole hour, and I was going at a good pace, chanting to myself that I can do it and that I’m not crazy for talking to myself (good thing my parents were out of town…come to think of it, they’ve always had to be out of town for some reason whenever I had a game jam…).
With 30 minutes left however, FWOOP, the power cut.
So I was sitting there, my laptop screen glistening in the pitch black darkness of 2:30 AM. With the game that held my blood and tears for the last 71.5 hours, just sitting there, wanting to be submitted. Now the only thing that stopped me from tearing my laptop to shreds was the fact that I had….drum roll, an iPhone!
So I crack open a hotspot and continue working through the depths of the night. And Tiny Timmy and Big Bill finally sees the light of day.
Cute story and all, but, Too Long; Did not Read
So what’s the verdict? What do we learn from all this?
While the mechanic was innovative and new and all, it seemed it was a bit hard for players to grasp. Another thing is that we didn’t really take full advantage of the mechanic. Having more instances where timmy and bill must co-operate simultaneously would have been awesome. But all that and more will be taken care of in a “full” version of the game which we will attempt to get sponsored and release. So stay tuned for another post mortem of how the game did financially!
The last thing I wanted to talk about was the tools you choose for creating your game. Now you might notice that a vast majority of the games made in flash are better than the majority of games made in C++ and stuff like that. (Heck, the game that got 1st place in the overall Jam was made in a game maker, but its position was well deserved in my opinion. Check it out here)
So it’s really all about choosing the best tool for the job, and when you’re doing a 48 or 72 hour competition, there’s no reason to go with incredibly low level complicated stuff like C++ when anything you can do there can most likely be done in some way or another much faster in flash or Unity. Even if there’s no deadline, I’m beginning to see less and less reason to use C++, at least for 2D games. Why spend months working incredibly hard on it when you can finish the game in weeks, with less work, and more content?
The bottom line is, if your game idea can be achieved in a game maker, as unprofessional as that sounds, then do it in a game maker. If an easier technology exists, then why not use it? Just because a game is made in C++ doesn’t make it any more of a “real” game than anything made in any other language.
Besides, just think about the literally millions of players that can enjoy your game if it’s playable directly on the web.
Thanks for reading!
Have any comments? Think my article is awesome? Think I’m stupid and need to shut up? Post your thoughts below!