J.K. Riki

Lessons from Ludum Dare

This past weekend I had the privilege to enter Ludum Dare 38, an online “game jam” where entrants work to make a game from scratch in just three days. Today’s post features that game if you’d like to play it, as well as some work-in-progress roughs and a bunch of lessons learned from the experience!

First of all, here’s the game. It’s called Mr. Fishy’s Small World. (Note for my mother: It features the kind of humor that my teachers had to discuss with you during Parent Teacher Meetings back in the day. Advance warning.)

The Event

Ludum Dare prompts people at the start of the event with a theme, and this session’s theme was “A Small World.” I did some visual brainstorming (see below) and we settled on a goldfish concept, his whole world being nothing bigger than a bowl of water.

From there my wife got to work on the programming end, while I tackled art and game structure. Given the propensity of goldfish to die rather easily, I had a ball coming up with random (rather odd) death scenarios that could befall the poor fellow. I also thoroughly enjoyed brainstorming alternate fish names for Mr. Fishy’s inevitable replacements. My favorite is Fishtopher Robin. (My wife rolled her eyes pretty hard at that one, which is a sure sign it’s a keeper.)

I completed a script for the game and each event, and we worked separately towards our common goal over the weekend. As the clock ticked onward, event after event was cut just to meet the deadline. The game linked to above is the soul of the intended creation, but would have a long way to go before arriving at what was originally planned!

Still, it was an amazing experience and one I’d be happy to do again and again. There’s something encouraging about completing a project (even in a mostly-incomplete state) in just a few days. It proves to you that you can accomplish such things if you buckle down and just do it.

The Lessons

So, with that in mind, here are a few lessons from the weekend:

1) Even with the limitations you have, you can achieve great things.

While Mr. Fishy’s Small World is no Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it was a big accomplishment for us. I may not be a master artist and my wife was learning whatever she used to program with as she went, but regardless we managed to combine our skills into a final piece of work. Whatever your current skill level, you don’t have to wait until “some day” to give things a shot. Start now.

2) Speaking of “some day,” you have to schedule it.

We ended up having a busy weekend apart from game creation, but I had scheduled our participation in Ludum Dare months ago. Rather than wait for some day in the future to collaborate on a game, we made it happen because it was written in ink on the calendar. You need to schedule your goals and work through and around “Life” when it tries to butt in!

3) Keep things simple, and let things go.

The biggest advice people give you about Ludum Dare is to keep things simple! (That and “be sure to sleep.”) We thankfully took that advice, but even so we ended up with a project much more complicated than we expected. What helped me was to keep an eye on the goal of “finish by Monday night” rather than creating some award winning masterpiece. I had to continually let great ideas go as time marched on. Most of the time I was able to do that quietly and peacefully. We only got into an argument once (a new record for us when we work together on a project).

Hopefully some of those lessons will prove helpful to you as well! If you happen to have ever considered entering something like Ludum Dare, let me encourage you to do it. Even if you fail and don’t finish, the experience will provide insights you can take with you and use every day after.

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