No More Boxes - Ludum Dare 31: How to maximise a Game Jam - Restrictions, Learnings, Getting Players

Hi all!

I just completed Ludum Dare 31, and it was a fantastic experience with lots of things learned, things I’d love to share with ya’ll!

TL;DR summary:

Ludum Dare is a game jam - people from all over the world make a game in 48 hours.

Play my LD31 game No More Boxes here (4 players versus arena platformer) on Ludum Dare

And here’s a 4 player youtube gameplay video:

If you’re a Ludum Darer, especialyl hello! 😀

If you’ve read any of my posts from Ludum Dare 31, you’ll have seen how I celebrated this theme as a great restriction. While many moaned about the theme being too open-ended, I really enjoyed that it was a mechanical restriction rather than a thematic one.

(I guess the “everyone hates it” perception comes from confirmation bias for seeing negative posts but no “YAY LOVE THIS THEME” posts, after all the theme didn’t just materialise out of randomness - the majority of it voted for it in the slaughter for it to be chosen!)

How I interpreted the restrictions

In summary, I boiled “Entire Game One Screen” theme to these strict restrictions:

  • The entire game must exist on the screen when it starts
  • That means no instantiating new things
  • And because of the previous point, removing things would be bad as I couldn’t make new ones.
  • That means no bullets, no treasure chests/powerups/whatever, no collectibles.
  • No falling off the edge and disappearing… etc.

The thing with restrictions is that they really spark something different. Creativity with no restrictions is really, really stifling, in fact. So, embrace restrictions!

Setting learning goals

After I set that restriction for myself, I thought a bit more around what I wanted to get out of this jam. We as gamedevs (or gamedev wannabes) often have ideas that we don’t get around to making, and often that’s because we simply don’t have time or don’t know how. But if we never know how we never will know how.

So I thought about the stuff I wanted to learn with this time that I have now, so I can try and do THAT.

  1. I had been thinking about making a platform arena shooter. I haven’t really made a platform game controller before so I decided I’d do that.
  2. My platformer idea I had was to have players that could pilot robots, so players would control different things in the game at different points in time.
  3. I wanted to use built-in physics for hilarity - I usually stick to restricted movements with my game designs.

So with those in mind, I set out to design my game. A look at the outcome will show you that I’ve basically hit my learning goals:

  1. I made a platformer - the platformer controller was really tricky to get right, I could still improve it, but I now know a lot more about platformer controls. They are NOT easy at all, as I suspected when I started, but now I *know*.
  2. Players would come back as different characters, so I got the swapping controls between objects thing working, and I now understand it.
  3. Wrangling built-in physics so that it provided a good stable background against which platforming could happen was VERY tough. I had some experience with one of my previous prototypes Bear Chuck, but this was more freeform and thus harder. The results were glitchy but satisfactory, and a lot of learning was gleaned from it. As well as an idea of how I could improve the system.


Bonus: Give people the best chance of playing your game

As I sat through this year’s entries into LD I noticed a lot of problems that was excluding people from playing their game. Hell I made a fundamental “mistake” too, so let’s talk about that:

  1. The basic principle: LOWER BARRIER TO PLAY. This sounds so simple but so few people seem to keep it in mind. This encompasses many things:
  2. Web player. This is the single easiest and best way to get people to play your game - it works across Macs, Windows, and is usually the best option to deliver your game on if you want people to play your game. And you do, obviously.
  3. Be aware of current affairs: I said “usually” in the above point because Chrome is having a row with Unity web plugin. You can find more details if you Googled for it, basically Unity acknowledges it as Google not liking a tech that they’ve been using and Google’s shut it down with Chrome. I’ve been using Safari as a backup to continue playing Unity web games, but so many people won’t know this and it just appears as if the developer screwed up. So…
  4. Deliver in as many platforms as you can: So yes you got a web player, but it’s better to get a Windows and OSX build up alongside - not only are more options intrinsically better for getting more people access, it also gives streamers more options, if you get their attention.
  5. Single player option - Always *try* to make your game so it’s possible to play single player. Finding other players to play with is TOUGH when everyone basically just finished a jam, is dog tired, and is in front of their laptops at home. That said, I obviously went and made a non-single player game… So I broke this rule, but I thought long and hard about it. If you have time to make a single player mode, or some REALLY RUDIMENTARY AI, or whatever, do it.
  6. Clear, simple, quick instructions. FIRST. Consider the possibility of people not reading. It will always happen, and their failure to get stuff working is your loss, not theirs. I stuck my instructions at the top above the game, and made it as simple and clear as possible. Fuck sentences, just get people to understand it.


So, whew, that’s a lot of text just on how Ludum Dare went. So I’m not gonna talk about the game for now. I might come back and write more about it, definitely gonna do a post-jam brush up of it, and finish up Amy, and maybe add more features I had in mind while playing like a shifting arena or 6 more characters 🙂

Please go and give it a play! Here’s a little thing I made about the characters in No more Boxes 🙂


Comments ( 5 )

  1. / ReplyReyn Vlietstra
    I absolutely agree on the lowering of barrier to entry. I find myself almost exclusively playing web games and only downloading something if it looks interesting enough. To me it seems 50%+ of darers are using dropbox or mediafiresomething that gets blocked by corporate firewalls (shhh), not that they have many other choices. I got some bad comments on ludum dare 30 that made me decide not to do a multiplayer(MP) game again and if I do it has to be a local MP game. At the time I thought it might be worth it to build a ludum dare MP game finder. The idea was to publish an api and host a service for games to register themselves with the number of players currently playing and maybe also get notified if you express interest in a game. (Need more free time) Deciding to build a single player game this time was more work than I thought. My little farmer went through a midlife crises because he couldn't decide what the point of his life was. MP games have an inherent goal, beat the other guy. I missed that :P I also realize how important it is to explain things and decided to show in world popups when the player gets close to anything and explain what he was looking at. So ... yeah lots of sentences there but it seemed to work, most people could figure out what was going on without a wall of text tutorial. The first game I made for ludum dare (27) had an online score list, very crude but it worked. The natural extension to your game is to write some network code and let people compete on a more permanent ranking. Could be another interesting project to build a unity asset that allows darers to easily publish scores, I'd be surprised if there isn't one. I think its a great idea to decide what you want to learn before going in. Last time was networking, this time I picked nav meshes and the new UI, which worked out ok. I'm going to have to check the API to see where to from here. And theres my wall of text :P
  2. / Replytuism
    Dude, that is a fantastic idea about providing a platform for hooking up multiplayers for LD, but it's a huge mammoth and daunting task that I don't even know how it might be accomplished given that LD relies on the goodwill of awesome people rather than profits of companies. The possible gamut of apis needed must be staggering - I imagine that a FPS and a platformer and an RTS and etc etc etc all have different netoworking API needs? The idea sounds AMAZING but is so grand :) I'm a beginner when it comes to dev. I can't even dream of understanding networking :P This is only my 2nd LD, my previous one was LD29 and I only mostly learned Unity there :P And yes I definitely understand that multiplayer games - if one could find other players - intrinsically provide a set of interactions - a set of interactions that would otherwise have to be programmed into your game - whether it be content or AI or whatever. So MP is kinda like cheating :P But only if you can get enough people to play it :) So, win some, lose some :) Reading is the worst form of eduction, I feel. Tutorialising and walloftexting people simply turn them away, I absolutely believe that. The more rudimentary interactions are the better, especially in a jam setting, if not generally true too. Actually, an online highscore list is AWESOME, it's kinda creates an asynchronous multiplayer experience :P If one could implement it easily without hampering the rest of the game being fun then yeah, great idea :)
  3. / Replyreyn
    Hi. Unity already provides a very easy multiplayer API that any type of game could use, watch a couple of tutorials. You mark methods to run remotely by using the [RPC] attribute and then call them kinda like you would a "coroutine". I ran into some dead reckoning and physics issues, but they are all solvable. I think its definitely possible to build a little lobby room for people who want to play ludum dare multiplayer games. There doesn't really need to be any integration into the games explicitly for a lobby, just an official chat room with some listed games, but an API to submit the number of players in them would be even better. It shouldn't be too hard because unity has a master sever that keeps track of games (If you are using unity and it's network stuff). Your comment about different types of games made me think that score isn't just a number, some of them might have different categories of rankings. It might be a nightmare coming up with an API that caters for both battlefield 4 and mario. Yeah ... so I think I'll see what a game lister and score keeper would involve and might make that my vacation project :) Thanks!
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