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Ludum Dare 33: 2 Important Lessons I’ve Learned

The lessons that I learned are pretty obvious. But in the middle of a gamejam, it's easy to forget about them. I know that I won’t make those mistakes again. Hopefully by reading this, you won’t either.

Hey guys! Today I would like to talk about 2 important lessons that I learned during my participation in Ludum Dare 33 back in August. Ludum Dare 33 was my third participation in the competition category. The theme was “You are the monster” so I decided to make a game where you were a giant eye that hid in the moon and shot things. Because… what else would you do?


What turned out was “Aye, the Destroyer”

The lessons that I learned are pretty obvious. But in the middle of a gamejam, it's easy to forget about them. I know that I won’t make those mistakes again. Hopefully by reading this, you won’t either.

Lesson 1:  Considering the Target Audience is Key
"Aye" has some "hidden" or at least not immediately obvious features, such as healing and mana regen orbs. What I have discovered is that Ludum Dare is not the best place for hidden features and profound mechanics. That's because the audience that plays LD games usually plays a lot of them, giving a few seconds to each. Therefore, conveyance and mood are king, not balance and complexity. It’s unfair to expect people to have the time and patience to discover the ins and outs of your game. If they’re dying to much, they just go to the next game. Simple as that.

Lesson 2: Always Live Playtest
Since I didn't have anyone home to playtest, I tested the game with a group of friends online. The online tests went well.  People liked the game and were able to achieve a reasonable highscore. I was tired and there was nobody home to test my game, so I submitted it without live playtesting.

Luckily, about an hour later, a friend of mine texted me saying “Wow, I just figured out I can move!”. At first I was like “Yeah… of course you can, lol” and then I discovered my mistake.
Turns out that I forgot to tell players that they could move their character in the intro text. The important part here is that there was an intro text, but I forgot to mention movement in it. That created a situation where, even thought the controls were fairly standard for a PC game (WASD + Space + Mouse), people weren't moving. I think that without any text at all, results would’ve been better than with a faulty one. Because with no text, people tend to just try buttons to see what happens. But with a text telling them what works and not mentioning movement, players were discouraged to even try WASD at all. And, of course, that made the game way more frustrating than it should be.

To actually see people playing is an invaluable experience in game development and it teaches you way beyond what written feedback can. Other methods of playtesting and feedback are valuable, sure. But you must have live playtest at the core, otherwise you’re just risking to make stupid mistakes.

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