I just recently participated in Ludum Dare, turning out this “gem” of a game called Inside the Blockhead:
More information is on the Ludum Dare game page, but please bear in mind its a little rough-looking: the Ludum Dare site is still trying to work through all of its kinks and some of the stuff I’ve seen working on other pages isn’t working on mine. *shrug*
Anyway, it certainly isn’t my best work, but its important for several reasons. The going has been a bit rough as of late for me with my game design ambitions, but this game was a breath of fresh air that really really helped me to feel grounded again. I’d like to share the post-mortem I posted over on the LD site here as well:
A Brief History
Let’s start from the beginning. Context is important here.
In August of 2016, I decided to move back in with my parents and take a crack at indie game development as a solo developer. There were multiple contributing factors to this: my immediate family had moved across the country (United States) for my father’s job; I was living alone with a job I had come to dread; I had a deep interest in game design that I wanted to sate. So after much consideration and discussion, I packed up what was important to me and took a three and a half day road trip across country to rejoin my family and pursue “the dream.”
Yes, I knew I was taking a chance. I was leaving behind a well-paying job that I’d more or less attended college to get to. I had built up a nice reservoir of cash savings from my job to keep paying the bills that would follow me (car payment, insurance, etc.) but surely that would not last more than a year, if that. The margin of success in the indie world had become razor-thin. But I had a family backing me up and a college degree as a solid backup plan, so what the hey. Sometimes, you just go for it.
Needless to say, I wasn’t prepared for what I’d gotten myself into. I spent months trying to gain traction and nail down a solid concept. I’ve heard the statement “just make the game,” but let’s be honest, how helpful is that statement? How helpful is that when you’re watching your funds slowly waste away? When you’re staring down two months of work that have unexpectedly ballooned on you? When not only energy and motivation are gone, but your confidence in what you’re doing? Make no mistake when I say that I have family and spiritual/religious relationships that keep me sane and above water, but as far as my work life went I was thoroughly burned out.
Eight months later, and this is all I’ve got to show?
On to Ludum Dare 38
If there is one thing us developers tend to be good at, its ambition.
I considered myself slightly crazy for wanting to do Ludum Dare 38. I had failed pretty hard at LD36 and didn’t even try LD37. I had completed Ludum Dare in the past, but this was with the help of proprietary game engine software; I had never finished an entry using my own homemade engine/framework that worked on top of OpenFL. And I was going to do this, even though my first commercial project had me thoroughly unwound?
Sure, why not. Gotta keep pushing yourself, right?
So into the fire I went. Even with the luxury of knowing you can churn out “crap” for a jam, it still took me a little bit to settle on an idea. Once that happened, progress was still slow. Those first 24 hours were a bit agonizing. After all, I was trying to deviate a bit from my old ways and do something new.
The collision code I came up with? It assumed you could only take collisions from one direction on each axis. Its incredibly “dumb” logic… but it worked for what I was doing. I stopped trying to hyper-compartmentalize everything. I stopped enforcing arbitrary organizations and constructs which, useful in their own right, just weren’t working for me.
Something started happening. Slowly the pieces were coming together and, more importantly, I felt that old developer’s fire coming back. As the momentum started increasing and as the product started taking shape–even if only in the final hours of the compo–I could start to see the toil and struggle of the past eight months paying dividends.
What? A 48-hour game made the last eight months feel worth it?
THIS game? The one with the terrible programmer art? No audio? A single level that doesn’t even have a proper intro or outro cinematic of any kind?
Indeed, my Ludum Dare entry is not a masterpiece. What it is is progress.
Reflections on the Whole Experience
Let’s be straight: this game has not fixed all of my problems. I still have a commercial game I not only need to finish but market. I am, more or less, broke at this point. I have spent over eight months trying to “mak gam,” bouncing between different projects, trying to find my footing and metaphorically tearing my hair our in the process.
And I’d do it again. I don’t regret it.
The following thought has crossed my mind several times over the last few months: “Wow, if only I’d known X when I first started out.” The thing is, I probably wouldn’t have figured “X” out had I not started out in the first place. We can theorize and read advice pieces all day, but if you don’t actually try to put things into practice, what have you actually accomplished?
I feel like we can become obsessed with safety. Whether it be in programming with a particular ideology or some real-life circumstance, we are terrified of failure and loss. And should we step out and things start going wrong, we can end up shaking our fist at the world in utter disgust of how unfair life can be. “If only I didn’t have a 8-5 job, I could do game design all the time!” That’s a sentiment that I, in one way or another, took to heart. I’ve already elaborated on where it got me.
And you know what? That’s fine. I propose one of our main problems isn’t that we fail; rather, its that we are unwilling to deal with the consequences of it. What you value plays a big part in that statement, but we still have to be willing to sacrifice something. You have to be willing to participate in some “give-and-take,” even though more often than not the exchange rate is going to suck. Though I risk waxing eloquent, I’m reminded of this Thomas Edison quote:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
I understand everyone’s circumstances are different; I’m certainly not advocating everyone just starts acting with reckless abandon. Like I said, I have a family that has been helping me out since the beginning. Call it an unfair advantage, but I do not apologize for that. I mean, it certainly hasn’t removed all risk from the equation. Some people may be able to take more risks than others while some are far less enabled. But I think we can all keep pushing–even if just a little–in some form or fashion.
So in closing, do you. Work the 8-5 job and do late night coding sessions, or leave everything behind and strike it out as a solo developer. Play it safe or play it dangerous. Even change your direction every once in awhile and try something new, if you’re so inclined. But whatever you choose at any particular moment, own it.
“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.” -Thomas Edison