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A small and concise post-mortem of my Ludum Dare entry. A little modest post about how I've hidden my weakness as a one-man army, and how to explain your game's rules in 5 seconds.

Simon Lachance, Blogger

August 30, 2013

5 Min Read

This is a small and concise post mortem of my Ludum Dare entry.  Nothing life-changing, just a little modest post about how I've hidden my weakness as a one-man army to create a nice little game in 48 hours.

Also,  my english is not main language of mine so apologize me for all the faults.

Ok, I'm not THAT bad ;)

Let's start with a fun fact :  I told my wife I wanted to enter the contest the day before it started,  asking her if she could take care of the kids for 2 days. She said yes, but decided totally-voluntarily-as-a-free-will-human-being to get sick the day it started, so I had to either abandon the idea or do the Game Jam on Hardcore mode : Alone, with 3 kids.

I chose the Hardcore mode.

Picture of me 3
It's really weird to have a boy's dream job AND and being an adult with responsibilities.

As for my game,  I had a cool idea at first, but the reality struck me right in the face,  I'm a coder, not an artist.  So 99% of my ideas went to garbage, because I would have spent too much time on trying to draw, and most likely give a bad impression, or wrong feedback to the player.  Is that an apple,  or a ski-doo?

I had to improvise.

Since I was alone I had to go with an Atari and/or Commodore 64 feeling for the game to be interesting.  (Yeah, I suck that much). At least, if the visual sucks, I can say it was meant to be that way.  It won't appears ugly, it'll look planned.  

Next, the music has to be in line with that "art direction" so I thought about chiptunes music. This is where I discovered the awesome soundtrack of Shawn Daley and Keith Chiptunes (link at the bottom).  The music was so good that it made the visuals looks good,  the music explains to the player that the Art direction was intended.  My art weakness problem was now solved.

[Note] I realized I couldn't use somebody else's music after the contest, oops! Let's just say I enter the Game Jam instead of the compo alright?

Random Personal advice : My biggest weakness being the visual,  I wanted to shift the player's attention on something else. The music is usually what I put on the front.  In this case, each level is synchronized with the music, each 10-seconds verse represent a level in the game.  That makes the player concentrate on the soundtrack to visualize what's coming, driving his focus away from the visuals.  My point here, try to hide your weakness by making the strongest elements of the game on the front.  

Teaching a new game mechanic in 5 seconds: I wanted to put an upgrade system with 3 choices, for replayability. Nothing new here.  The hard part was to make the player choose his upgrade within 5 seconds, to be sure the music stays in sync with the level system.  (Remember, the music is the main focus of the game)  

That means, in 5 seconds, I need to
- Explain to the player he need to chose within 3 upgrades
- Explain each upgrades and what they do.
- Tell the player he has 5 seconds to make a decision. 

That might not appear that much, but it's actually a lot of information to convey for a very short time. 

So I went with a "upgrade zone" system.  3 zones or tunnels are coming toward the players, slowly covering the whole screen.  When the hero enter one of the zone, his ship is upgraded with the selected zone's upgrade.  If he switch zone, he get the other upgrade.  


That looks very simple and stupid, but I want to pinpoint all the informations that I give to the player here. Let's look at the list again : 
- Explain to the player he need to chose within 3 upgrades : There is only 3 zones, and they are slowly covering the whole screen,  so there's no other choice then enter 1 of the three zone.
- Explain what are the upgrades and what they do. : By entering a zone, the ship upgrade according to the zone, giving the player a preview of what he can have.  This gives a lot more information than words could do,  you see and feel directly what the upgrade does.
- Tell the player he has 5 seconds to chose : The 3 zones are slowly covering the entire screen, leaving the player no choices but to be in one of the zones by the end of the 5 seconds.  

In the end, the player understand and take a decision within 5 seconds, without even noticing all the new rules I've put in his head. It just feel right. And that's something REALLY hard to do : to teach the game's rules without the player even noticing. The best video that explain this is by Egoraptor, and I strongly advise all Game Developer to watch it twice a day : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FpigqfcvlM

So ! I'm proud of what I did within 48 hours, especially on Hardcore mode ;). I'd like to give the game more love, and I probably will. 
Try out the game, I had a good time making it, I hope you'll enjoy !

THE GAME : http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-27/?action=preview&uid=27175


Shawn Daley :https://soundcloud.com/shawndaley
Keith Chiptunes : https://soundcloud.com/keithchiptunes

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