Ludum Dare 31 Postmortem

I made a game last weekend called Square Dance! Check it out here!

Why did I make a game last weekend, you may ask? For Ludum dare, of course.

Now that you’ve played my game and know what Ludum Dare is, let me tell you about my second completed game.

I’ve attempted Ludum Dare before, and I’ve always started, gotten discouraged, and given up. The games simply weren’t coming together. Didn’t matter what I used - C++, Javascript, or C#. How the hell am I supposed to make a game within 48 hours? It seems too monumental a task, especially for the compo where you need to make everything essentially from scratch.

But, as with many other things, all I needed was more practice and some luck.  After spending the week before pumping myself up and getting in the right mindset, everything just… clicked. I worked like a fiend, loving every minute of it. I didn’t even miss any sleep.

Here’s a list of things that went right.

  • I got really lucky with the theme. At first, I hated it - it was too limiting, it was a mechanic and not really a theme, it wasn’t snowman. But, here’s the thing: a “limiting” theme is exactly what I needed. “Make the smallest game you can” is good advice, but I hate it. How can you know what ideas are finishable in 48 hours if you’ve never finished a game? If the only games you’ve played have taken months or years to make, how can you know to make anything else? The theme really forced me to think smaller in a way that “Make the smallest thing” never did.

  • Halfway through, I dropped the idea of doing any graphics, leaving just squares. This allowed me to concentrate fully on the fun, which I believe is the most important part of a game. There would have been no way I would have been able to concentrate on the mechanics and the difficulty curve as much as I did otherwise.

  • On a whim, I went out and bought snacks an hour before the jam started. This was much more important than I thought it would be. I didn’t buy anything with caffeine - just some fruit and junk food - but this was enough to keep me energized throughout the compo, and provided me with excuses to take breaks throughout.

  • I bought and got used to Ableton Live 9 Intro before the compo began. I’m still not great at composition - not even close - but getting used to Ableton allowed me to produce some decent-sounding music with fairly little effort. The library of samples was especially helpful; with something like Musagi, I’m hopelessly lost.

  • I used Crafty. This, I think, is the single biggest reason I was able to finish. I actually had no experience with Crafty before I started the jam, which makes it all the more surprising that I have it in this list. Crafty is one of the most versatile and well written frameworks I have ever had the pleasure of using. It lets you do things right, but it also lets you break the rules when it’s necessary. I rarely felt hindered by the framework, and that is incredibly important in a jam where momentum is everything. That isn’t to say everything about the framework is impeccable - I’ll come back to that later - but I really fell in love with Crafty over the weekend, and will be using it more.


The list of things that went wrong is much smaller, and they’re mainly small niggles or corollaries to the things that went right.

  • Crafty’s largest weakness is probably in the documentation, which is lacking in many areas. Just to take one example, there’s no tutorial on how to create new components. It wasn’t a serious issue, but it did make me look in the source code on more than one occasion to figure out how to do fairly simple things.

  • Javascript still isn’t the greatest language to work in. Working outside of Crafty felt like pulling teeth. For example, one problem in my game is that clicks outside the play area don’t register. It would have been nice to pause when that the window outside that area is clicked, but this is non-trivial to implement due to the way the event system works in Javascript. I eventually cut the feature because it was just taking too much time.

  • I still believe that deciding to focus on graphics was a good idea, but it definitely won’t win me many points. With this game, it’s somewhat acceptable to have cut graphics as I was going for a bare aesthetic; however, learning some basic spriting will open up options for next time.

All in all, way more went right than wrong, and I loved the experience. Despite it all, though, I’m incredibly terrified that this was all a fluke. What if it was more luck than skill? What if it was just this year’s theme? What if I’m just not as inspired next time? What if, what if…

But then I take a deep breath and square my shoulders. After all, what can we do but deal with things as they come? Onwards!

(Cross-posted to the Ludum Dare website)