This is how it went
Hey all, Evan here. Today I want to give you some insight on the way we here at BlindFold Studios tackled Ludum Dare a few days ago. Now let me get something out of the way first. Game jams are hard and not only in the sense that you have just a couple of days to make a full (or not so full anyway) game. There are lots of things that can go wrong in the process and throw you off track. In addition, you need to plan way ahead in order to be as prepared as you can be when the theme of the jam is decided upon through the voting process.
This was, personally, the first online game jam I took part in with BlindFold Studios, having previously worked on two more here in Athens, Greece. For LD39 Paul had the idea to give another member the creative lead and I think this was a brilliant idea. Firstly because he (and therefore the entire team) will be able to see how each member can handle a stressful situation like this and second because it gives each person the creative freedom to express their ideas and explore new concepts. So let me go through the steps we took in order to make this game happen.
Since a pool of 16 themes already existed for the public to decide upon, we decided it was not the best course of action to wait until the theme was out in order to start designing our game. The themes at this point were anything but specific, being only vague concepts like “running out of power”, “you are alone” and others following the same style. What we did at this point, was make 4 groups out of the above 16 and start brainstorming on what game ideas we could come up with that could fit all 4 concepts of each group. To me, this sort of preproduction was imperative, since we already knew exactly what kind of game we were going for from the moment the theme was out. In general, 2D is what we do as a team, so going for a simple 2D game was a no brainer – it is redundant even mentioning it here. We all flirted with the ideas of going for either a platformer, a top-down or isometric game. Not having much experience in isometric, we quickly disposed of that idea. Top-down was also discarded fairly quickly as a concept, because Talal is mostly familiar with side-view characters and that would slow the process down for us, which was something we had no room for even if we were going for the 72 hour deadline.
Running out of power
I guess it is obvious by now what the theme was. But we had plans for that anyway. The game’s story, setting and mechanics were all up to me to decide, and while this seems like a cool breeze of creative freedom, it can also put much pressure on one person. Paul had the idea to have a foundry as our primary setting and I really liked that, since I didn’t want to go with the over-explored setting of a castle or an island and so on. A foundry provided a very interesting colour palette for us to work with using shades of orange and grey that contrasted well with each other. The story goes like this: a boy is captured by some crazy old scientists that use our player as a guinea pig for their experiments. They do to him what William Stryker did to Wolverine (I know, I know: how original). The experiments are successful but they come with a twist the badies did not expect. Each time our boy dies, he has the ability to spawn another iteration of himself, all the while having his world somehow linked to his past deeds. The gameplay implication of this was that we would have traps set out across the level (say, lava falling to the ground) that our player would not be able to traverse through without dying. Thus, because of both of his powers, he has the ability to die in place without his skeleton melting away, while using his previous dead body to block the lava (in our example) and walk under it. We were all excited by this mechanic and we immediately jumped on board with it. To tie this all up to the theme, we decided to allow the player an explicit timeframe after which the last dead body (currentRun – 1) would disappear, while all the previous bodies would remain in place.
We also decided to focus on sound effects rather than music, since, to me(no hate), a game without music can work well, where a game with no sound can be hard to pull off. Since the game was not very complicated we decided to use Unity’s built-in audio engine and not worry about integrating Wwise into our project. It was sad, it hurt me, but this was the most efficient course of action. The mechanics were there, the art side of things was moving fast with Talal creating the character in less than half a day and life seemed so simple. Alas, as we all know this is rarely the case. A small detail I haven’t mentioned yet was me having to design the level. Boy, oh boy this was hard. Not hard in the sense that you have a problem that you can solve with hard work or something of the sort. I painfully realized that, having played countless platformers and games of similar style that I. Can’t. Design. Levels. To me this was the hardest part in having the creative lead in a project. You need a dedicated team for each discipline and having one person assume multiple positions can really hinder the process of making a game. It’s not a bad thing to admit either. Now I know that I cannot design puzzle platformers. Or maybe I need to practice doing it more often. With Talal working on the art and Paul having taken a back seat behind me, I am sure he was wearing his evil smile throughout the weekend being free of all the “big” decisions. Anyway, I finally managed to scrap together a level and game it off to Paul to make in Unity with Talal’s assistance.
Having assumed creative lead and with LD39 in the past I can safely say it was a revealing experience for me having learned what I can and cannot do. Taking a back seat and making sound effects and music can seem like you have just a few responsibility with others deciding on the style of the game, but leading a project is the way to go when you need to get your ideas across and communicated them to your team.
With that said, on to the next one. Talal you’re up.