Ludum Dare 36: Pride in failure

(If you want to play the game in question before I rip it apart, it's over on

Just two weeks ago I was trying to put together a video game in 72 hours. I had a concept that I knew I could build in that time and I ran with it, even if it wasn't the most unique or interesting thing. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I could had made working with such limited time, even though the game I built sucks. Like, really sucks. 

The game isn't fun or interesting, there's no good feedback when a shot is launched, making the base gameplay stale. The wind system doesn't shift in a way that makes it interesting, and is more of an annoyance. There are usability issues everywhere as I did not plan the UI around the background image I drew hastily in 20 minutes. (and was one of the last things I did before the deadline) So with descriptions like this, it's not surprising that I did not hit any sort of quality standard, but I am still proud of the experience.

Quality in creative works in a hard thing to achieve. I liken it to a dragon you are trying to chase, in a dark non-euclidean void. It seems so simple: its right there. Making the assumption that you just need a little push towards it and you'll reach that goal is an easy one to make. However, you find very quickly that making it just a few inches in that direction is much much harder than one could imagine. That difficulty is where you learn as a creator, and far too often I see and hear of those with inspiration simply give up as they find they can't find the right path to success. This is a part of the process that should be celebrated, as you are actually creating, with success and failures just being the result of it all. You know the whole saying of "It's not about the place, it's about the journey"? It's overused and cheesy as could be, but its so very applicable in being creative.

So, back to making things that suck: what does having a project that, in your eyes, fails actually mean? It means you've learned. Back to my weird depressing analogy: you've navigated part of this maze before. You now know that doing one thing will be good for a project of that type, and you know many things that are bad; you can cross off those paths the next time you tackle the same subject. This is important. You aren't going to make just one game, one prototype, one texture, one model. You are going to make many, and how you slowly make your way towards quality. This is just a step for me, part of that journey.

Update October 9th 2016: due to the sensitive nature of part 2, no matter which way I've written and re-written it, it does not come off in the constructive way it should. As such I not be publishing part 2.

The art of a Pass: Polish

So, a this point you've built your level: it feels the way it should with encounters and puzzles feeling well rounded and interesting. The design at this point should invoke every aspect you were designing for, all without the artistic flourish of lighting, clutter, and maybe a little tweak here and there. This is where you make things pretty and effectively communicate player path for those unused to your level. This also is going to take several attempts, this isn't like the other passes where you do one, test it, and usually it all checks out. You'll see a little thing out every now and then, you're going to find ways to better optimize that particle effect, or use that rubble in a much better spot. Polish passes likely would never end if you let it, so at some point you will have to declare it "done" at some point or another.

The art of a Pass: Complete

Complete is what it sounds like, with some caveats. This is where fixes start happening, anything you had to do to quickly go through the last pass (see kitbashing) gets finalized with proper art, and aspects beyond the golden/critical path gets some love. What parts do you focus on? Well that depends on what your own tests during the Gameplay pass was. Realistically that should mean "all of it", but keep in mind that aspects that are more art driven, like lighting and clutter may not be in that category. At the end of this pass, you should be able to put the current state of your level in front of a player and only feel bad about it, but not cause them to feel the same. The tests from this should help aim you where to begin your next pass: polish.

The art of a Pass: Gameplay

This is where rubber really starts hitting the road. Using the results of your tests of the Layout stage, you should have a good idea of space in your environment and build on it. It is going to be ugly kitbash it if you have to, even if it only sort of works. That isn't important, what is important is that it can work and be tested. This is a step that often many folks get hung up on, begin worrying about little details that should not dealt with. That said, I'm going to contradict myself and mention that some basic optimization should be done now. It may seem odd with crude nothings in place, but it is still part of a good pass and should be tackled. It also avoids problems like the image below where aspects like RoomBounds or RenderVolumes just wont fit right in the space you had intended. Next up we're going to be looking at a bastardized 'ship-it' quality tomorrow.



The art of a Pass: Layout

With a solid plan in, now is a time to think about layout and space. At an early stage, this can be a little paralyzing or overly liberating, it shouldn't be either. This is where we take this blog series' namesake into mind and reference the previous step where possible. This should help organize the outline in a more logical fashion with as few questions left to your overly excited brain. Now don't get me wrong, you'll want some of that in there as it will help shape aspects such as the player loop, but rely on it too much and you'll end up with spaces and concepts you cannot build or are too complicated to communicate to the player. Rely on your head too little and you'll end up with a nondescript floor plan filled with spaces that have no sense of self or history. Its a balancing act that does figure out with a little experience and luck.

The art of a Pass: Planning

It all starts with Planning. This is even before layout is thought about, and should be simple and short but lead into the actual building of the layout. You need to be able to summarize what is special about the level: history of the place that may not be surfaced to the player, main kit and size. This will help focus and ground the design, as the summary will do as I said it will: answer questions. If your summary is not a good reference to figure out whether you should put a specific room, then it is either too broad or too specific. (And if you are following the 1-2 paragraph limit, chances are it is too broad) This also stops making any design decisions in any other part of the project which would be harmful in taking up not only your time to then stitch into what is on the screen, but also other team members who then have to create any art or code, should it require it in a different project.