7 Tips to Improve Your Experience at Ludum Dare

Since Ludum Dare is going to happen this weekend, I decided to put together few ideas of things I’ve learnt participating in LD and some other game jams. I believe this could be helpful, specially for  people that are participating for the first time.

1. Set a Goal

I think it’s good to set a goal before you start your jam, regardless what you want to do, it helps you stay on track all the time and in the end will be easier to achieve that goal if it’s very clear for you.

By setting a goal I mean what you want to accomplish with the jam and is not necessarily making the game. For example, you could decide to learn a new tool or improve the art of your previous game.

In the global game jam of 2012, learning HTML5 was one of my particular goals of the jam. We managed to create a very simple game: Serpens Ruby. Since we didn’t know how to use HTML5 that well, we struggled a lot but the experience we got those two days helped a lot to create Fluff Eaters in HTML5 later the same year, which turned into a commercial project in the end.

Another example, my last Ludum Dare in 2014, I wanted to improve the art of my games with KIWI, the overall game is not that cool but I managed to accomplish what I wanted, compared to the previous jam, the art was much better.

Watercolor: Game made for Ludum Dare in December 2013
Kiwi: Game made for Ludum Dare in December 2014


2. Choose the right tool

If the goal of your game is not learning a new tool then choose the best tool you can use. A lot of people use big engines like Unity, others prefer work without engines, it really doesn’t matter what you use, if the tool you use suits you well, that’s enough. Focus on whatever language or tool that helps you turn your awesome idea into a playable game, something that fits well the idea you want to communicate.

For my first LD I used one of the few tools I knew how to use at that time: XNA, which now I think is not the best tool to work with for a game jam but at that time it helped me create a fully playable game.

Since my second submission to the jam, I’ve been using OpenFL which is the one I use for commercial projects as well.

Caramelo: Simple runner made with XNA for the Ludum Dare in August 2011

3. Think about your schedule

Two days is a very short time to create something that is good but it’s possible. Before starting, think about general steps in the process of creating a game, what you have to do in order to start with an idea and end with a fully playable prototype and set time limits for each task. I’ll give you an example of what I usually do:

First eight hours:
  • Brainstorming – around 3 hours, maybe more –
  • Proof of concept – 4 hours –
  • Test – 1hour –
Next fourteen hours:
  • Programming (focused on the core) – 7.5 hours –
  • Art (focused on the concept) – 5.5 hours –
  • Test – 1 hour –
Last fourteen hours:
  • Programming (use feedback to improve, juice) – 7 hours –
  • Art (use feedback to improve, add details) – 4 hours –
  • Sound – 3 hours –

Depending on how you progress following the schedule (which is only a guideline), you’ll be able to evaluate whether you have to make changes to it or not, you’ll iterate depending on how everything goes.

4. From the core to the edge

Identify the core features of your project, what is the most important part of it? usually for most games mechanics are the core. Once you decide what the core of your game is, give priority to the rest of tasks you have to complete.

Focus on the core until it’s working as you expected, after that use the priority list to keep working on each task until you complete all of them or until time is up.

The advantage of working in this way is that if in the end you cannot finish what you expected, you at least will have the most important part of your idea done to show to other people.

The way I usually decide the priority list is described as follows:

  • Player controllers
  • Goal (winning condition if there is any)
  • Challenge (losing condition)
  • Enemy behaviours
  • Level design
  • Items
  • Extra (effects, better graphics, better sounds, etc)

Of course depending on the game, some of the elements in the previous list won’t be necessary or will change, just identify how this strategy works for you and apply it.

Gameplay screen
ZIN: Game made for Ludum Dare in April 2013

5. create for the Web

If you can choose a tool that has a capability to export to web (preferably HTML5), then use that one. The main reason for this is that you want people to play your game, after the two days of hard work, the game you make will be played and rated; the more comments, feedback, rating you get, the better. Not everybody has Windows, not everybody wants to click 3 times to download and play your game, the sooner they get to it, the happier they will be.

6. Juice

After finishing the core idea of your game, when you have a playable prototype that is strong enough to communicate what you wanted to make, you can focus on adding – juice -, which I really believe will make a difference and will make your creation stand out from the rest.

Adding little details that make the game feel better is something that any programmer can do, feedback is a very important part of what makes games feel – right – and you will appreciate it.

If you haven’t watched it yet, take a look at the following talk about juice, it will give you ideas to improve your creation.

7. Sleep

Finally, everybody says this but sometimes we forget how important it is. You have to sleep, if your body is not in optimal contidions to work, you’ll very likely make a lot of mistakes, that you’ll have to fix and possibly will lead to failure. If you read tip number 5 you’ll notice that the schedule I showed as an example includes only 34 hours, the other 14 are ideally for resting.

If you have questions, comments, suggestions, whatever you want just let me know on the comments, good luck with the jam and have fun!

7 Tips to Improve Your Experience at Ludum Dare