Wow, wish I could write like that, you should really make a visual novel for a jam once! :D
Ludum Dare 44 Postmortem
The 44th edition of Ludum Dare was my 18th finished jam game and ninth Ludum Dare entry. Despite initial reservations on the theme and some relatively major issues with the result, this was one of my most successful jamming experiences.
These are my thoughts on some particular parts of the experience. You can also watch the full 19.5-hour dev cycle on Twitch (although some of it is unfortunately muted due to music).
What Went Right
Throwing away several initial ideas, and running with the least terrible one.
My first response to the theme was strong and negative. I didn't like it. I still don't like it. But it's the theme, and it's meant to inspire, so I set about trying to find some way to rectify my thoughts leading up to the jam - and playing a lot of Mount & Blade - with concepts the theme suggested. Most of them simply didn't work, so when I found one that had a little glimmer of potential, I decided to go with it.
Planning on paper and using The Infinite Board Game.
I've always supported the idea of game mechanics coming before anything else. A game should be playable, interesting, and fun in its core loop, and then everything else can build decorations on top to make it even more compelling.
I sat myself down with pen, paper, and The Infinite Board Game, a prototyping tool I've found super useful in recent game jams. I played through a few different ideas. One would only work with multiple players and some others fell apart as I played through them, but then I found myself running multiple passes through a particular idea of collecting survivors and maintaining food supply.
Intellectually, I was averse to the idea of doing a survival game. After all, there are so many survival games, and I don't find that constant upkeep of resources to be particularly compelling. But combining this with the "keep things personal" mission of my Mount & Blade inspired ideas, I saw a spark. Something was there. So I went for it.
Using cut corners as inspiration instead of roadblock.
Every time I hit a snag in programming, assets, or design where I knew it would be a long road around to get little gain, I powered through without that piece of the puzzle.
For instance, the initial concept was to pick up passengers with a hook coming down off the ship, like picking stuff up with the helicopter in the Strike series (Desert Strike, Jungle Strike, Urban Strike, etc.) but I knew this would be difficult both to implement and to get feeling right. So, I decided that the ship would instead teleport passengers up onto the ship using a targeted beam.
Another instance was when, late in development, I wanted the ship to move slightly when turning to help the player understand which direction they were going. I know how to use Update (or coroutines) to lerp the rotations and create a smooth transition toward the desired direction, but I also understood how much time that would take to get right, so instead I simply have the ship snap into the desired direction. Instead of hating the simplicity of the final result, I convinced myself that it looked "retro" in having so few frames, almost like it had been built with a sprite sheet rather than a full 3D model.
What Went Wrong
Struggles with Blender and no time/skill for tweaking visuals.
I pulled in some models late in development for the ship and survivors which added a lot of needed flavor to the game. However, the game could have used a lot more visual pizzazz in filters, shaders, animations, etc. - not to mention a few tweaks to give its own unique identity.
The ship almost ended up untextured because I'd forgotten how to edit an existing texture in a Blender model. Luckily, my awesome Twitch viewers helped me out on that front.
Minimal experience with flight simulators.
The controls for the game ended up less than ideal because I cut a corner that really shouldn't be cut - only having one action for each control. This locked me out of using face buttons for anything but the shop. Ironically, my attempt at avoiding these duplicates resulted in some awkward bugs around the shop.
Going into the jam, I had no idea I would be making essentially a flight simulator. I've played a handful for short periods of time, but never really studied them as a genre I would work in, so the controls were missing some things that flight sim buffs were expecting, like shoulder buttons for rudder controls.
Over-scoping. Always over-scoping.
The ultimate result of this jam was a 3D flight simulator survival science fiction game. That's a lot to cram into a weekend. However, I'm proud of the bits I managed to piece together by cutting corners. Next Ludum Dare, I'm going to aim for stupidly simple. But then... I always say that.
Very little went wrong with this jam, and I'm pleased with the result. It's sparked several ideas for how to continue, but since these ideas require quite a bit of content and development time, I'm going to put it on the shelf for now. We haven't seen the last of The Final Rescue.
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