Making a 1 hour game, for a 48 hour game jam

Might have been a Terrible Idea

So I entered a game jam. A 48 hour accelerated game jam called Ludum Dare and this was the 30th time it had run, with over 2,500 entries. This time the theme was “Connected Worlds”. My entry was Alice, a typing game with an 8 bit feel, connecting the worlds of games and literature as the source for the words was “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” as intially hosted on Project Gutenberg. One of the main criticisms of the game was the fact that I was really reaching for the theme to fit.. and I totally was.

Alice

Games as Art

Now, the arty part of me absolutely loved the idea. How cool would it be if you could gamify classics, what if there was a quicktime event during Crime and Punishment where you had to slow your heartbeat? Or in Romeo and Juliet where you had to try and awake from your deathlike state? The realistic part of me thought it would turn out borderline playable and the coder in me just saw an opportunity to hack away without any regard for structure or coding standards.

So I aimed for a game I could finish in an hour. That meant no images, shaders or niceties. A lot of indie devs I speak to talk about the paralysis of not shipping a game because they’re either imperfect or fear the negative feedback. Their catalyst is often just to ship something, anything of any quality and just get over that hurdle.

An hour is a long time. Especially in Unity, after a couple I had a playable prototype:

  1. I could type space delimited words from text
  2. There was a lose condition
  3. There was an scoring mechanic.
  4. The text was fed in from public domain text that only required filtering the carriage return feeds (/r/n)!

Pretty sweet, I even got to play around with coroutines a little (the red background effect when you type a letter incorrectly is a cheap and nasty coroutine colour lerp). I’d been thinking about playing around with lightweight synchronisation primitives and always thought I’d invest some time in the boost implementation, but a 20-30 minute play was pretty fun in Unity.

Make Fun, Not War

Then it was time to make some audio assets. I really wanted to make some harmonised sounds for the key presses and have some nice ambient track in the background, but I’d already doubled the time I was aiming for so it was time to get quick assets.

bfxr is perfect for generating quick 8-bit sfx. Its web based and derivative generation was within the rules of the competition, so I went with that. Not harmonised but I got all the fx for the game within a few minutes.

Then I wanted audio, I tried a few quick generators but wasn’t happy, I burned an hour or so doing this too so in the end I admitted defeat and went for a horrendous siren effect of sorts that steadily gets louder the more your timer dies, but it was generated by the power of maths and again was within the rules.

Needless to say, that got fairly negative feedback.

A Sinking Feeling – Making a 1 hour game, for a 48 hour game jam

Overall I’m pretty happy with what was produced in the time I could spend commuting in a day. I feel pretty bad that I didn’t reach for something with more ambition, probably more like a game but for my self-imposed time restrictions it’s actually kinda fun. Plus it makes the artist in me happy for a while. The feedback so far has generally been pretty positive, much more positive than I expected actually and it’s pretty nice to just fire something out to the world.

The biggest lessons I learned:

  • You can make a game to fit virtually any timescale.
  • Indie dev is more about the concepts and content than technical proficiency.

There are a lot of incredibly talented people out there making really ambitious projects with archaic tools, but they finish, and the games are fun.

I’d like to give LD31 a go, would probably invest more time in asset creation and learn to use a few more tools. There’s an incredible resource on the LD site for a number of free tools that I’m itching to try.

Source is all up on GitHub if you fancy a giggle, binaries up on itch.io.

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