This weekend I participated in Ludum Dare 36. During past couple of weeks, I invested some time preparing all the tools (and stocking my fridge) and making sure I had all bases covered during the jam. With a great experience in LD35 I was expecting this one to be even better. This edition will be a little different, because there won’t be ratings (I’m fine with that, although I like to be able to have some KPI about my performance).
The selected theme was Ancient Technology which I didn’t really like a lot, even though I got some interesting ideas. My second best choice was doing another puzzle game using the abacus mechanics, but in the end I opted for doing something around “writing” and the result is Decypher.
What went right
Ideation: As I mentioned in my previous LD postmortem, I wanted to invest more time researching and pondering different games before started making one. I am happy with the result because, for once, it looks like my game really fits the theme in a non-obvious way. Even though Egypt was a quite used setting not many people have thought of the glyphs as a “technology” (only 3 of 881 as of today)
Art direction: I also was not happy with the look and feel of my LD35 game. Not because of my skills pushing pixels, but because I felt the game didn’t had a cohesive look. I think this entry got much better in that regard.
First, because I limited the glyphs palette to 32 colors. I started with the Windows 16 colour palette and I added some extra tones I needed. I know if I had been practicing more pixel art I could have been able to limit myself to that palete but I don’t know how to get different tones with dithering.
Also, the idea being a Win 3.11 program kinda felt really thematic (you can say it’s “ancient technology”) and it really made the UI super simple to make. I could have done a better work with the fonts, but I didn’t want to spend too much time finding replacements.
Time: This was probably my most relaxed game jam, which was really good because I was on a housewarming party on Friday and I was a little tired over the weekend. I did maybe too much cuts to my original idea. Initially I thought about implementing a chat window where you would get messages from a group of archaeologists trapped in a pyramid but on Sunday I preferred to chill and just polish and make content for the game that I had and not add more stuff.
What went wrong
Writing is hard: I was doing quite well this jam, as I found a simple idea that may work, the art style was getting into shape and I didn’t had too many programming problems as I this game is basically game UI (which is something in which I have lots of experience). Luckily I decided to start writing the content on Sunday morning and I discovered that… OMG I don’t know anything about game writing!
I have written some gags for a local radio show and some articles got published in the spanish version of Eurogamer but trying to write narrative is harder than I initially pictured. I had a rough idea about a love story between the guy writing the hieroglyphs and a girl called Dalila, but it wasn’t really nothing so special that people would want to read it just with text boxes. So I was committed to put the content into the puzzles and its solutions. That is easily said than done. I think I got a couple of interesting answers, but trying to do something fancy and smart may not be suitable for somebody without previous writing experience. Specially, with a 48 time limit.
No music: I had been trying Bosca Ceoil and I like how easy is to use and the results you can achieve. I planed to use it to do the music but when I had the idea, the project kinda asked for no music, as it was mimicking a software program. Maybe I could have put it just for completion or to use the extra time, but I didn’t think those were good reasons.
Too simple: In the end, my idea worked in the sense of being feasible. And the scope was the right one for a 48-hour compo. But I feel the game mechanics weren’t particularly strong. It’s the actual definition of a puzzle, because when you know the answers the game has very little replayability.
I’m happy to do toys in gamejams, specially because I know that the average play time of entries is very low so I kinda prefer to make vignettes instead of trying to achieve long projects that I will keep developing as a side-project.
I may seem too hard on my performance this jam, but I think that is because with it being quite relaxed, as the idea I settled ended up being easier than expected and me becoming quite used to Unity, I got the feeling that I may have squeezed something else. Still, I don’t regret taking it easy this time, because even if I tried to push some extra features I didn’t had anything on my task list that I felt it would really improve the game.
I learned a great deal about my skills in this one, as I will try to avoid heavy story games in my following jams, at least until I have been able to learn something about writing (I have the FILM CRIT HULK screenwriting book in my reading list).
And, of course, it was really fun to think of a game without any kind of preconceived idea or genre I wanted to try.