Browse around the entries until I find a game that looks interesting.
As much as I’d like to, I really don’t have enough time to try out all the entries. Having a title or especially a main image that stands out really makes a difference. I have subjective taste and preference in the type of games I prefer, so if you happen to make a game that looks like something I’d like to play, obviously I’m more likely to play it.
How to do well:
- Have an interesting title or screen thumbnail.
- Show some wit/originality with your title.
- Make that thumbnail communicate the essence of your game play.
- The one surefire way to get me to rate a game is, if you rate me. I will always check out your game in return. So rate my game!
Read the entry description.
If you took the time to write up a good description, I will give you the courtesy of reading it. I want to understand what I’m about to play before I start.
How to do well:
Describe the game in detail, especially how to play and what the goal is.
Also, be sure to describe your level of experience as a game designer/developer. I take this into account when offering feedback in my comments, but I try to score every game on an absolute scale. I try to be honest in my comments about what works and what doesn’t, because otherwise how else are you going to learn how to get better? But at the same time I don’t want to discourage someone new who may not yet have a lot of experience. If I do give you some negative feedback, keep in mind that the fact that you participated at all, and especially that you were able to complete a project in 48 hours is a real feat. Like finishing a marathon, it doesn’t matter if your time is world class, just finishing is an accomplishment to be proud of, and nothing I can say to you can to take that away.
If there’s a build that I can play (Windows or Web), I try to play it.
Like the LD instructions say, if I can’t play it, I don’t rate it, leave a comment explaining the problem I had, and moved on.
If the game really looked good, I may come back and try again later to see if the bug might have been fixed. But it’s very likely that I won’t remember to do that.
How to do well:
- Make sure you test your game and get it working when you submit it.
- Respond quickly to feedback if someone tells you they couldn’t play it.
- Have a web version if at all possible.
- If you do require a download, avoid making it require installation — just let me unzip and run an .exe. I don’t want to have to go to the Control Panel afterward to remove it, and I don’t want it in my start menu.
Play the game long enough to feel like I’ve given it a fair chance.
The amount of time I give to a game depends a great deal on how good it is. I don’t have a lot of time to begin with, and if a game doesn’t give me a good first impression right away, I’m not going to give it very long before I give up on it. If I suck at the game at first, I’m going to keep playing it, but if the game sucks, I’m only going to give it a minute or two, tops, before giving up and going to rate it.
How to do well:
- Don’t have a lengthy introduction or backstory. I want to play right away. Any story elements you put in the game should unfold as I’m playing. If you do have a lengthy backstory, make it skippable. If I have to sit through it every time I start a new game, I’m not going to play it more than twice.
- Don’t make the mistake of thinking that subtlety is the mark of a good game. Chances are I’ll miss out.
- Make sure that the game presents itself to the player in a way that makes it apparent what you’re supposed to do, and what the controls are.
Think and reflect on my experience
I take some time before I rate. I think it’s fair to let the experience sink in and waiting gives me a little time to collect my thoughts.
Rate and Comment
I have to rate every game according to a consistent scale, or else the ratings don’t work for comparing one game to another. I don’t always rate in every category. I generally try to, but if there’s nothing to rate, like if you have no sound in your game, I will not rate it for audio rather than give it one star. Unless of course the game is really hurting for lack of audio, in which case I might give it 1 star. It depends somewhat on how important I feel the thing that’s missing is to the success (or failure) of the game in question.
- Overall: I don’t treat Overall as an average of the other categories; this category in my opinion reflects the overall feeling I got from the experience of playing the game. You could have no sound and shitty graphics, and I might still give you a high rating if the game was good and I enjoyed playing it.
- Innovation: This might be the toughest category to do well in. It’s really tough to come up with an idea that hasn’t been done before, and makes for a good game. If you manage to pull this off, congratulations.
- Fun: Simple enough, how much fun did I have from playing your game? What makes a game fun? Mainly I think it comes down to the challenge curve and the aesthetics. If you are capable of doing only one well in the time allotted, go for a good challenge curve. Don’t make the game too hard at first, give the player an easy introduction to playing the game. Don’t punish the player for making mistakes. Play is about exploration and experimentation. If I do something I wasn’t supposed to, it’s OK to give me a little negative reinforcement, but keep it light — don’t make me start the level over. Give me a chance to get right back where I was quickly and try again. If you have a challenge that is really tough, consider offering some kind of cheat so that if I just can’t get past it, I can still experience the rest of your game so I can give the whole thing a fair shake.
- Theme: How much did the theme inspire your design? Sometimes it just comes together for you perfectly, and sometimes it doesn’t. If you created a great game but it doesn’t fit the theme, I’ll still rate you highly in the other categories, but you won’t get a good theme score. Weak theme scores often result from making a game within an established genre, and simply applying a veneer of theme without thinking about how to create a game that integrates deeply with the theme on a mechanical level. Conversely, a game that does well with the theme integrates it deeply with the mechanics of the game play, and does so in a way which creates a fun, challenging, interesting, and/or rewarding play experience.
- Graphics: There are a lot of ways you can have good graphics. So many factors, in fact, that it’s tough to put into words. The main thing is that your graphics have a unified, consistent aesthetic. Simple graphics can be fine. Graphics that successfully emulate a classic game system, such as the NES or original Game Boy, often go over well. Good sprite animation and pixel art really do it for me. Doing something novel, such as scanned photographs or drawings, can give a great effect if done well. Lighting, shading, particles, blur, glow, and other eye candy, if well done, will enhance your score. If you do something with 3D models, they should be well done. This is much more difficult to accomplish. Getting textures and lighting effects done well is critical to pulling off good 3D graphics.
- Audio: If you have music, I’m more inclined to rate you a star higher than average, but your music has to be good. It not only has to fit the style of the game, but it needs to not be annoying when listened to repeatedly. Sound effects should fit the action on the screen, sound pleasing, and go together well with the other sounds in the game. Also you should make sure that anything that should have a sound effect, does. Audio cues are very important to convey information in most games. Some games don’t need audio, but they are few and far between, and there almost no games that can’t be enhanced with effective use of audio. Some games make special emphasis on audio, such as music games, and if a game integrates the sound effects or music into the game play especially well, they get top ratings. Most games with good audio get 3 or 4 stars, but a huge number of games that I rate don’t exceed two.
- Humor: A lot of games don’t go for humor, and that’s fine. If you do try to make a funny game, I’ll rate you in this category; if you obviously didn’t, I rate it N/A. If you did go for something funny, I rate it according to how funny I thought it was.
- Mood: In my opinion, mood and humor really could be consolidated into one category, but as it is, I rate this category based on the overall mood. Was the designer going for a particular mood? Were they successful? How well did the various elements of the game contribute or detract from this mood?
- Missing category: Controls: I really wish Ludum Dare would add a Controls category. Controls are so critical to a fun, effective play experience, and it is not trivial to implement responsive, intuitive controls. Unless your game is very novel, it should probably implement some standard control scheme, such as WASD or arrow keys. Supporting multiple input methods is a plus — if I can play it with a gamepad instead of the keyboard, I will try to do so. I often don’t bother to try this out, though, so be sure to note it in your description if the game supports a gamepad/joystick. A lot of the time I play games on my laptop, and for the reason I often suck at games designed to be played with the mouse. Because of this I don’t much care for games where you control movement with keyboard and aim with the mouse. But I try not to hold that against the game when judging it on Overall and Fun.
If I have anything at all to say about your game, I’ll leave a comment. I like to say what worked for me as well as what didn’t.
What else? Oh, I wish that LD would add a feature to the site so that when I submit my ratings, I have the option to share the game I played and my rating of it on social networks. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, whatever. We all have a lot more friends in our circles who play games than people who build and rate games for Ludum Dare. If we could harness our friends and get deserved attention to games that we enjoyed, it would really do a lot for our community. While I can manually share these games with my social networks, and do, I’d really like it if it were more convenient/easy to do so.