Whether you're an indie developer or not, you'll likely have heard of the Ludum Dare
48-hour competition and game jam. Three times a year, hundreds of developers come together online to create games based on a set theme over a single weekend, and subsequently vote for a winner in the weeks after.
Up until the start of 2011, Ludum Dare had a fairly sizable following, with around 170-240 indies applying for each competition -- but mid-2011 saw the gathering explode, first up to 600 submissions, then 900, until its record of around 1400 games last year.
This record was shortlived. During last weekend's Ludum Dare #26, offering the theme "Minimalism" to its participants, 2347 games were created with 1715 submitted in the main competition. More than 2000 games that didn't exist before the weekend are all of a sudden readily available to download and play.
Indie dev Mike Kasprzak runs the contest these days, and he says that there were some clear trends during the competition this time around.
"I'd say there's definitely a trend towards mechanics-driven games versus content-driven games," he tells us. "What I mean are games where mechanics dictate what art is made, versus the art dictating what code is written. It's not surprising really. The time is short and the main event is solo, so the vast majority of those entering skew programmer-ish or technical."
Kasprzak was extremely pleased to find that a variety of middleware developers got involved this time around. While Unity was the big favorite as per usual in terms of game engine used by participants, The CraftStudio and Construct 2 toolsets were also very much involved.
"Both take a very different approach to programming as visual development tools," he adds. "I've been developing games for such a long time now that I don't even know what to recommend to a beginner anymore, so it's been wonderful having those behind such great tools come forward and find me."
Collage showing every entry from the Ludum Dare #25 competition
Ludum Dare always sees a wide range of visual styles and qualities, but the "Minimalism" theme for this competition really caused visual styles to skew towards the simple end of the spectrum.
"We do have some really great looking submissions, not to mention way way more games than we've ever had," notes Kasprzak, "so I'm not convinced this 'visual minimalism' is a trend, just a result of the theme."
There's a lot of talk about story-telling in the video game industry at the moment, what with games like The Walking Dead
proving so popular last year, and the Twine game engine focusing entirely on crafting tales. However, it would appear that this competition's theme shifted any possible focus away from storytelling overall.
"For us, the theme is definitely the most volatile part of the event," says the organizer. "Last Ludum Dare we had a record turn out, yet saw 1300 games finished instead of the 1400 games we saw at the prior two events. Part of that was the timing (December/Holidays), but I think the theme always has an impact on our results."
"I did a quick check on Twine games this versus last event, and we went from 8 to 18, continues Kasprzak. "So Twine games are definitely growing, but I still don't think enough people know about Twine. I wasn't even really aware of it until Terry [Cavanagh] and Porpentine's talk at GDC, though I had seen some things made with it. Informing existing game developers about tools like Twine is good, but who really needs to hear about it are the non-programmers. And since we're generally a programming/gamedev centric event, the non-programmers aren't really looking at us to discover they can make games too. Chicken and egg."
Fit to burst
Back in 2010, it was feasible for an eager spectator or participant to blast through every single Ludum Dare submissions over the course of a week if they so chose. These days, you'd be lucky to find the time to play a mere portion of the total games uploaded to the LD website.
Of course, ever-increasing size usually begets some form of change to accommodate, especially when it comes to the way in which an event is organized.
Kasprzak is all too aware of this. "I run the event, and of course it's free for anyone to participate," he says. "But as we grow, the event seems to take up more and more of my time. I have no plans to stop, but it is something I need to take seriously when it comes to the time commitment."
He continues, "I'm often asked by people how they can help, and I do struggle to figure out where I can share the burden. The team in the IRC channel is amazing. I used to have to answer a lot of questions in addition to all my organizing/administration/MC'ing related tasks. Today they've become this amazing filter that only highlights the serious issues for me, like people who need accounts fixed or activated.
Kasprzak also gets plenty of help in the run up to each competition, especially when it comes to the pre-event theme voting, and he's always thinking of ways to make the Ludum Dare experience better.
"I know the website is rough in places, but it works," he says. "I'm not going to promise we'll make it better by next time, but that's always something I'm thinking about. I want to do more. I think the community deserves more."
"I think as long as we're still an active part of the community, we'll be fine," he adds. "I'm not just running the event, but I also made a game this time too. I regrettably do distance myself from the community at times (the IRC channel can be too much fun/distracting), but as long as we're still there participating, I think we'll keep making the right choices."
Why Ludum Dare?
Thousands of developers take part in Ludum Dare each few months, each with their own reasons for doing so. I decided to ask a handful of notable indie devs exactly why it is that they take part in Ludum Dare, and what is so important about the competition.
Jan Willem Nijman
One half of Dutch studio Vlambeer, Jan Willem Nijman created FOLD
for the competition alongside a team that consisted of Daniel Carneiro, Kitty Calis, and David Kanaga.
"We happened to be at A MAZE Festival
from Wednesday to Friday, and decided to stay in Berlin just a bit longer. On Saturday an A MAZE gamejam was happening, so the right thing to do was sit down with our laptops and make some stuff!
Daniel is a great graphic designer and I really wanted to do something with his nice colors, so the Ludum Dare 'Minimalism' theme fitted right in. David Kanaga was stting across the room so we shouted, 'Hey David, wanna make some music?', and he said yes.
After that we jammed for an hour or three to get the basics working. The rest of the time was spent coming up with a name and I fixed some small stuff on Monday.
Why Ludum Dare? Because they know how to make everything work well. It's important because it's the biggest, it's something people can build on."
Sos Sosowski no doubt has a soft spot for Ludum Dare, as he previously created the very first version of McPixel
as part of the competition. He then, of course, expands on the original concept, and the game was later released via Steam.
The game Sosowski created for the latest Ludum Dare is called PONK
, and quite brilliantly, it was created entirely on a C64
"Ludum Dare is a melting pot of productivity and motivation. People from all around the world suddenly create nearly 2 thousand games over a weekend. Games they even had no idea about before it started!
It not only helps to motivate and get stuff done within an unbelievable time constraint, but also helps to get started on something new.
Ludum Dare provides a way to create a game quickly for developers who are just starting their game making adventure providing a friendly and hectic atmosphere perfect to get stuff done quickly.
Moreover, the community is really helpful making nothing impossible during the LD. For professionals and indies working full time on big projects, it provides a breathing window where one can output an urge to work on something different that every other day. This way, LD is one of the most important events for all game developers."
Paul Greasley created an arena-based multiplayer shooter called Undercolor Agents
in his 48 hours, and has also participated in the Ludum Care competition many times previously.
"I like making games with a theme I would never normally attempt if I wasn't doing the competition, I also like making free games and the atmosphere and excitement of doing a game across a weekend, leaves lots of room to experiment!"
Markus "Notch" Persson of Minecraft
fame is a Ludum Dare regular. Although he created a game called drop
in 48 hours over the Ludum Dare weekend, he decided not to submit it, as he didn't feel that he had time to make original music for the game.
"I've participated in Ludum Dare several times, and for me it's usually about the satisfaction of actually finishing a game combined with the excitement of a competition.
I've never won the competition, mostly because there are people out there who are way more talented in making interesting games under those constraints, but I've always enjoyed it. This time around, I never submitted my game to the competition because I didn't have the energy to make original music for the game once the gameplay was completed.
I don't know if Ludum Dare is important. Does it have to be?"
Although Scott-Baron realized too late that the game he was creating for this Ludum Dare competition was far too big in scope for the 48-hour timeframe, he's still happy that he took part.
"I participated in Ludum Dare this weekend, but in the end I failed to submit something. The event was a big success for me, however, as I came up with an entirely new game concept that I wouldn't have otherwise. I'm going to work further on the game and aim to release it some time in May.
The use of a specific theme and tight deadline stimulates the creative process in an interesting way, and one can choose whether to experiment wildly, or simply challenge their own skills with game production. The sense of community encourages competition and camaraderie, and can drive the designer to come up with something imaginative and unique to stand out from the crowd. Game designers are at their best when they're trying to make something noteworthy with limited resources.
It's very hard to take a game designer seriously if they've never participated in something like Ludum Dare."
Sophie Houlden has taken part in a ridiculous number of Ludum Dare competitions, creating games like Fib, L E A P E R
and 3 Missing, 4am
. She created Dream Fishing
for the latest contest.
"Why do I take part in Ludum Dare? For a bunch of reasons. It's great practice for making game - I see gamejams as helping improve my skills just as doing quick sketches improves my art skills. It's important to put aside some time just to experiment and screw around so you can figure things out that you wouldn't know only ever working on stuff that 'matters', and then you can apply that new knowledge to other things later.
"Also it's nice to take a break and just make games for their own sake, since sometimes game development takes ages and can be a real drag - but if I take part in Ludum Dare, the odds are I'll have made a finished game by the end of it. Having a success like that does wonders for my motivation and self-esteem. It's also a big plus knowing there are a bunch of others going through the same thing that you can chat to, it really makes it an 'event.'
"Ludum Dare is probably the largest game jam, and it's welcoming and accessible too. The inclusion of the 'LD jam' as opposed to just the competition means that now the event is for everyone
. There are indies like me, professionals taking a break and jamming together, and people who have never made a game before.
"I'm not even kidding, just right now somebody in IRC said they had finished their first ever game this weekend. That's amazing! A lot of people want to get started making games but don't really know how to take that first step, and having such a prominent jam with a welcoming and helpful community provides a great resource for anyone wanting to become a game developer."
Best known as co-founder of 3D Realms, George Broussard took part in Ludum Dare and created The Road
, a simple game about life and death.
"I've followed Ludum Dare for a few years and always enjoyed looking at the games people make. I've participated a couple of times couple now and found I just very much enjoyed the challenge of making a solo game in 48 hours. It's very rewarding and it's a great way to push yourself. It's fun to create stuff with all these other people.
"What's so important about it? It's good for the industry. A lot of really clever game ideas and mechanics are produced every competition. Ludum Dare has grown from less than 100 participants to 2300 in the last few years. As the indie game and mobile space explode, I think Ludum Dare can help train a whole new generation of indie developers that end up on a mobile device near you."