Ludum Dare 30 Retrospective

Physical prototype with Risk cubes and LEGO axles.

Physical prototype with Risk cubes and LEGO axles.

Not that there’s much on which to retrospect, since I threw in the towel less than a day into the game jam.  My brain simply was unable to appropriately concentrate on the task at hand, no matter how much I tried.  Eventually I decided to simply cut my mental losses and not burn an entire weekend on a stressful activity that was clearly going nowhere.

Part of the problem was certainly that I had some personal stuff on my mind.  While that overall fact obviously impacted my efficacy with the jam, the details are irrelevant.  But there were some aspects of my mental processes that are very relevant to a retrospective.  First, and of course most notably, I’ll cover what went poorly, followed by those few elements that actually went well.  Such as the physical prototyping you see here on the right.

What Went Poorly

My overarching objective was creativity/innovation.  As pretty much anyone knows, it is hard or impossible to demand innovation from oneself and expect it to just pop out on command.  I spent a number of hours demanding, searching, and reconsidering, around in circles, but it never came.  Maybe I just got unlucky (well, failed to get lucky), but maybe there are better ways to approach the design process that increases the probability of innovation without focusing explicitly on it.

I could try to blame this on the theme.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t thrilled by the notion of connected worlds, and I very much wanted to avoid using a mechanic that had been done to death.  So a lot of my options were rejected at face value.  Even if I could have found a way to add something innovative to an otherwise cliché idea, I never gave that option a chance.

I think I also failed to properly manage my scope.  Most of my ideas involved mechanics that were too complex to quickly evaluate or implement.  Combined with my demand for innovation, I explored and rejected quite a few ideas.  Sometimes I tried to refine rather than outright reject, but that generally just involved a large number of small rejections, before ultimately resulting in a large rejection as I tried to step back I try something new.  I’ve read that brainstorming sessions should avoid negativity or rejection; just let all the ideas flow and worry about pruning out the bad ones later.  That’s a skill that I ought to exercise, because I fail pretty egregiously right now.

What Went Well

It wasn’t all a failure.  I had a few new tools and processes I wanted to try out this time, and was generally satisfied with the result.

The first was the tablet that a friend got me earlier this year.  I’ve begun taking more notes on a wide variety of subjects using the tablet (and the Evernote app), and I thought it could be especially useful for the design process of a game jam, so that I could later review my thought processes after the jam was over, when I had more time to reflect.  And indeed, I now have quite a notes available to peruse.  Some of them might actually hold potential as game design elements, but just weren’t appropriate for a 72 hour project.  I haven’t reviewed those notes yet, but will likely get around to that later this week.

The second was my attempt to utilize physical prototyping to explore ideas.  I pulled out some colored blocks from my old Risk set and some LEGO axles, and toyed around with a variety of node/connection mechanics.  Some of the ideas turned out to be a bit more intriguing than others, though none of them ended up with the feel I was looking for, and generally seemed to be lacking any real fun.  But at least I had more concrete evidence for this judgment, rather than relying purely on attempting to step through the gameplay in my head.  The latter is very good at falsely claiming that an idea would be fun when in actuality it wouldn’t be.  But I suspect that it sometimes also rejects an idea as not fun when it really would be if there were a functioning version of the mechanic to try out.  I didn’t get lucky like that this time, but it was good to get some practice with it.  I plan to continue turning to physical prototypes to help me think and test.

For Next Time

I do intend to return to the Ludum Dare scene this winter, so now’s a good moment to ponder if there’s anything I should do in the lead up to the next jam, that I didn’t do this time.  First of all (if life allows of course), I should try to bring everything that isn’t relevant to the game jam to a decent stopping point, so that I can focus better on the jam.  I should also do some more technical preparation ahead of time.  This past weekend, I was planning to just wing it, but hadn’t practiced much with the tools that I planned on using.  Had I not tripped up at the brainstorm/design stage, I very likely would have tripped up at the implementation stage.  Finally, I should focus on one mechanic, and I shouldn’t care too aggressively whether it is innovative or not.  Just pick something and go.  Maybe begin that last suggestion with some purely positive brainstorming with minimal rejection of ideas.  I was swinging the axe of rejection around all over the place Friday and Saturday, and it doesn’t seem to have done me much good; should have grabbed the wand of buffing instead.

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