One year ago, Ludum Dare 37 came to a close on this very day and, we, as a team, had just finished our second Ludum Dare entry – Hyper Holomayhem 37. Although the game’s overall placement and results were quite satisfying, every time we think back at the game we can’t stop but thinking we could have done several things differently, and how we could have faced our second entry in a completely different light and with a completely different design perspective.
As a result, it’s not a game we tend to mention or acknowledge often, however, having a game created during Ludum Dare early on that we ended up not really being proud off taught us several lessons that helped us change the way we looked at Ludum Dare and how we structured our workflow on every event afterwards, both in regards to the jamming part, as well as during judging.
Up to this day, we still carry those lessons together with us, as our latest Ludum Dare entry, Jazzy Beats takes the stage now, one year later. On this post, as the game celebrates it’s one year of lifetime, we’d like to discuss some of these lessons we learned the hard way through it’s development, and how they ended up shaped the way we approached our latter jams, including, of course this latest Ludum Dare.
A Problem of Scope
Hyper Holomayhem was a side-scroller shooter where, as a jetpack trainee, you had to stay as long as possible in the Hyperdeck, a room that kept constantly changing layouts as it was powered it gears. As you explored the rooms under a time limit, you also had to dodge and shoot enemies, breaks blocks, and return to the room’s core to deposit all the gears you’d find spread across the level. The gameplay hook came from the player’s free and unrestricted movement, thanks to the jet-pack mechanic, random room layouts and using the player’s weapon to destroy enemies and blocks in order to claims the gears spread through-out. Seems fine-ish and probably fun at first, right?
The truth was that for a great part of the jamming period, we hadn’t really agreed on what made our game unique, or what made it stand out. Instead, we had several different, unexplored design ideas in our minds that didn’t exactly cohere together, from different environments, to power-ups and puzzles, and by the time we decided to focus mostly on the shooting and speed oriented gameplay, we were already reached a point where we had very few time left to flesh up the gameplay without compromising everything else. On other words, we had an issue of scope, and the feeling that we could have made several different design decisions in regards to it, is one that accompanies us up to today.
This feeling taught us some very important lessons that we’d apply to our workflow on the following jams:
- Always settle for an idea right at the beginning of the jam, and, if preferably, create mock-ups so everyone on the team understands the game vision and direction right from the start. If the idea already sounds like it’s going to be an hassle and you haven’t even begun it’s execution, then it’s preferably better to rethink it. The moment everyone in your team understands the concept is a pretty magical moment and one that you can really tell when it really happens.
- Consider time and resource limitations and work little-by-little. Although every member knew exactly what they had to do at a given time, because of the lack of direction and scope, we ended up not having a clear distinction on what each of us should be aiming for. If the direction was established earlier on as point 1. mentioned, each member could have worked more coherently to improve gameplay.
Another aspect we felt we could have performed much better on as well as the judging phase, especially with it being the first time we were judged on a Ludum Dare. Since it was at the time where everyone on the team was busy with their personal work, school assignments and commissions, we ended up not putting as much heart and thought into it as we could have possibly have, making it the Ludum Dare we have posted the less, commented the less, and received the less feedback on of all of them, especially when compared to our latest ones.
From that point on, we realized it was important to do things differently, and that, for our next Ludum Dare we’d have to rethink most of our workflow, focus on the scope of our next project, and involve ourselves much more in the judging period.
The Next Ludum Dare
Four-months later, and cue Ludum Dare 38. For the second time, we decided to assemble exactly the same team that had participated in Hyper Holomayhem‘s development, meaning we were practically giving a second try at our team’s structure. During the whole development of this new project, we took into considerations the things that we felt we hadn’t played out as we expected during Hyper Holomayhem.
For starters, just as the jam started, we decided to make sure we’d completely settle on an idea before beginning the game’s development. After almost two hours of discussion and some rough sketches, we had settled on the idea that would lead up to Petty Puny Planet’s creation. Having a clear vision from the start allowed us to plan ahead much better, and by the end of the first day, we already all of the base gameplay down, allowing us to further refine the concept, additional features and polish and add content for the remainder of the event, a polar opposite situation to what had happened with Hyper Holomayhem. How did some of these rough sketches look into the first hour? Well…
…even so, it was this much of a simple sketch that allowed everyone to understand what we were trying to develop.
Same-wise, when it came to the the actual judging phase, we focused on making sure that we’d spread the word about the game across as needed, and, even if we were still on a busy time of our personal lives like we had been during Hyper Holomayhem‘s development, that we’d take a moment off each day to guarantee we gave the game the attention it deserved.
At the time, we also cemented the name of our brand-evolved-into-collective Whales And Games, using its logo, name, and likeness for the first time ever in this project. Looking back, our focus on the judging phase after a rough first experience, and on getting the branding out for the first time, was an important step that helped lead to everything that came afterwards.
And finally, we arrive at Ludum Dare 40, which judging phase is going on at this very moment. With all the lessons learned with Hyper Holomayhem and the latter, Petty Puny Planet, we took up the Dah-ray once again, creating and developing our currently in-judging game, Jazzy Beats. Applying the lessons we learned through the development of Hyper Holomayhem, and the changes we’ve made to our workflow through Petty Puny Planet, we we’re able to deliver a project which we believe transmits the same values we have as a collective. For many, those values might not be the most important thing when it comes to game jamming, but for us, game jams are a opportunity to try new things, whilst also showing what Whales And Games is truly about.
On Hyper Holomayhem first anniversary, we might not have been able to ship a massive content-update to it as we did with our Ludum Dare 36 game, Colossorama when it was it’s one year anniversary, but it’s still a game to look back at and, for all it’s flaws, realize it was an important milestone that helped us define a lot of our working procedures and direction to go. It’s a game that, even if we aren’t as proud of as much as others, it’s a game that we, at Whales And Games will always consider a part of the family and of our history. One day, we’d like to go back and give the game the proper treatment and love it deserves.
In behalf of our team, thank you for reading, and for all the support you have given us during these past Ludum Darethat has lead us to the point where we are today. We might have gone through some hardships, but getting feedback, and seeing people playing our games is what drives us to keep on going! If you’d like to do some chit-chat, or would just like to keep up with the different things we develop, we also have our very own Discord! It’d be nice to see you there. Thank you! ?