About devwil (twitter: @Devin_Wilson)
Ludum Dare 26
Ludum Dare 25
Ludum Dare 24
Ludum Dare 23
Ludum Dare 22
Awarded by random1234 on April 25, 2012
I was pretty sure that I knew what I wanted to do for Ludum Dare 24 long before the theme voting even started. Not in specificity, mind you. That’s not quite in the spirit of the competition (‘the spirit of the competition’ being under higher scrutiny than usual this time thanks to Kongregate). Still, I was pretty certain that I wanted to do a piece of Interactive Fiction. This fall I’ll be taking a class about the subject, and I’ve spent the past few weeks reading things like Espen J. Aarseth’s Cybertext and Janet H. Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck.
I was, however, prepared to do something in Processing if the theme demanded it from my imagination. ‘Parallel Worlds’ may have spawned a Neoplasticist bit of nonsense, but oh well: it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe I made a spiritual successor to Pac-Mondrian in a… Parallel World, but I digress (and I apologize for the bad wordplay).
Frankly, I’m not a strong visual artist. Graphics are typically little more than a means to an end for me. I mostly get ideas about systems and narratives, not images. So text-based game design has sort of captured my attention lately.
In the days leading up to the revelation of the theme, I studied the documentation of a few different systems: primarily Inform and TADS. The pseudo-English of Inform actually put me off and the familiarity of the syntax used in TADS was appealing, but I still couldn’t help but feel like there was too much going on under-the-hood that only surfaced itself in really cryptic ways. Too much felt out of my hands.
I’m also not sure I love the aesthetic of parser-based Interactive Fiction. Recently I played 9:05 by Adam Cadre and the limitations of the typical Zork-style interface really made themselves apparent to me. I do think 9:05 is a clever little piece of IF, but I spent something like 15 minutes in-game (as each command took a minute of in-game time) just figuring out how to unlock a door with a keycard. When the interface is that clumsy and arcane (and intrusive), I can’t help but be turned off a bit.
I also have a general distaste for puzzles, which IF is well-known for employing as its main ludeme. I think puzzles often come across as a very unkind expression from the game designer to the game player. It’s an obstacle whose structure is laid bare as arbitrary, perhaps more so than any other design convention. To me, puzzles and grinding are (typically) unfortunate traditions that keep audiences away from content and, frankly, waste the precious few moments we’re all granted in our time on Earth.
And speaking of grinding, the emphasis on rooms and doors in physical space make IF feel too much like a dungeon crawl, regardless of a work’s actual tone or subgenre. Typing “north”, “east”, “north”, etc is just too specific a paradigm for me to feel comfortable within, at least for what I feel like creating. It demands a specific spatial relationship between parts of your work, one that I think draws the medium closer to time-wasting than mind-expanding.
Hypertext fiction, on the other hand, can be a little more liberating. You move from webpage to webpage, clicking discrete links—not guessing at commands to type at the digital Game Master who is keeping you from the game’s meaningful content. The interface isn’t a puzzle in itself, and while there may be fewer gratifying discoveries for the player in hypertext fiction, I’m very happy that I found Twine, a tool for making hypertext fiction that I used for Ludum Dare 24. Twine isn’t perfect, but it stays out of your way, which I wouldn’t necessarily say Inform and TADS do very well.
The ‘game’ I made is Dhp 129: HF, a spiritual successor to an earlier game of mine (Dhp 129). The HF stands for two things: “Hyper Fighting” if I’m joking, and “Hypertext Fiction” if I’m not. Now, I described it as a ‘game’ because it’s not a typical IF adventure. As I said, I wasn’t in love with the spatial structure of traditional IF, and—as you will see or already have seen from playing (if you’re so kind to do so)—this game doesn’t favor moving from room to adjacent room. It jumps from time/location in emotional space-time to time/location in emotional space-time, much like traditional literature can. I think this is an important quality that most games miss out on. Sure, Skyrim’s got fast-travel, but there’s a reason that film directors edit out actions that we can take for granted. Action games are, at their core, about moving from one place to another. I submit the genre of platformers as evidence.
But enough criticism of our medium. Let me now defend myself from criticism!
Sometimes a theme’s relevance to any given Ludum Dare game is tenuous, and if anybody wishes to level that criticism against Dhp129: HF, that’s fine. However, while aspects of the work are based on ideas I had a long time ago, I hadn’t decided on making this kind of a game until after the theme was announced. I was fully aware of said theme when I was brainstorming, and this was the concept I was inspired to work on. For me, that’s good enough. Still, know that I did spend a few minutes wondering if it had enough to do with ‘Evolution’. I now feel pretty strongly that it does comment on multiple definitions of ‘Evolution’.
And as a final note, I want to share both the excitement and anguish I felt over this project. There are descriptions of horrible things in Dhp129: HF, and I did my research. I watched very unsettling videos that made me feel very uncomfortable, physically and otherwise. Also, with this being the most prose I’ve written in a very long time, I feel that I opened myself up a lot on this project. It can be very easy to hide behind sprites, physics engines, and tilemaps, and I invite you to make something rawer yourself next time you make an interactive-whatever-you-make. The game is written in the second-person narrative voice that is so common to IF, so it may not be as naturally revealing as something written in the first person… but making this was cathartic nonetheless.
I hope you don’t hate it!
You may have already noticed my thoughts on the matter on Twitter, but I thought I might free myself from the confines of 140-characters-or-less and talk about the Kongregate issue in a blog on the Ludum Dare site itself.
Perhaps I’m being naïve, but I can’t imagine this will affect people’s design decisions all that much. I always think it’s beautiful that—in just a weekend—so many people make so many computer games (which take considerably more effort and expertise than, say, a doodle in the margins of a notebook), but suggesting that Kongregate’s (mostly) independent competition will necessarily compromise the quality of games seems insane to me.
As I pointed out on Twitter, are Ludum Dare purists worried that there will be more conventional shooters and platformers or fewer of them because of this? The suggestion that pandering to the Kongregate audience is substantially different than the direction most Ludum Dare entries would’ve taken to begin with strikes me as ignorant. I dare say I’ve played many more entries than your average participant in the Ludum Dare competitions I’ve been a part of, and trust me: it’s not as though most of the game designers involved are throwing caution to the wind and really trying to shake things up.
I won’t embarrass him by including his name, but one person in particular on Twitter has struck me as especially unreasonable about this whole thing. He’s speaking as though there is already empirical evidence of Kongregate’s contest squashing all innovation that would have inevitably sprung forth from the 48 hours of sublime artistry. As I said, there’s a lot of very safe and traditional game design in the Ludum Dare competitions I’ve been privy to, so this is a complete exaggeration of the reality of Ludum Dare sans prize money.
He claims that greedy designers are already writing their flagrantly populist design documents ahead of even the final round of theme voting, because they’re so driven to appeal to the Kongregate set. Perhaps this speaks to my own failings as a game designer, but—and I touched on this already—what exactly would you do differently to appeal to the Kongregate audience? Make a fun game? That’s what most people try to do in the first place. Having some experience with Kongregate (and even Kongregate contests), I don’t think that audience has anything specific that they gravitate towards.
He is also refusing to even play any Ludum Dare entries submitted to Kongregate, and he’s even suggested refusing to engage with browser-based games at all. This, more than any amount of prize money, is what’s actually violating the spirit of Ludum Dare, in my opinion. First of all (and some of you may know my controversial history of this argument), more browser-based entries is a good thing, not a bad thing. Second, people taking their chances on a 4-figure cash prize by uploading to Kongregate a game they may have made regardless of the monetary incentive do not deserve to be ostracized.
There’s another critic of this Kongregate situation whose arguments I mean to refute. He wrote a blog highlighting the two main reasons that this contest is the worst thing to happen to computer game design since money was invented because here is my snarky run on sentence about how I think this person’s views are not valid.
His first of two points is about how the money will influence the design of games. As I’ve said, I don’t understand this. Other than making a game that can report statistics to Kongregate’s servers, I see no obvious path for Ludum Dare entries to stray to.
His second point is even sillier to me, though: he claims Kongregate’s contest is “downright robbery” and “exploitation” because of “sponsorship stealing”. Look: Kongregate is not forcing itself upon a single game or game designer. Furthermore, Ludum Dare entries need to be made publicly playable to begin with, and I imagine this hurts your chances of having your game picked up. Having never dealt with sponsorship (which we must acknowledge as its own kind of exploitation), I will not claim expertise on the matter. There may be examples of Ludum Dare games gaining sponsorship that I’m ignorant of, but this argument that Kongregate is exploiting developers can be remedied very simply regardless.
If you don’t approve of Kongregate’s involvement in Ludum Dare, the best way to protest is not to decry Ludum Dare. You don’t need to decry anything to rob Kongregate of any exploitative power over you that you think they may have. Simply do not submit your game to Kongregate. Problem solved. You’re not subject to their oppression/tyranny/genocide.
The people complaining the loudest about this ordeal impress me as little better than the greedy developers they’re imagining. They come across as extremely competitive, and I honestly wonder if they themselves are participating in Ludum Dare for the wrong reasons. They sound like they’re coming from a position of pointing out foul play, yet there is no Ludum Dare to be won or lost unless you prioritize the ratings process over the creative process. There is absolutely nothing about this Kongregate competition that prevents people from adhering to the reported spirit of Ludum Dare: making a game for the sake of making a game. There is no coercion coming down from either Ludum Dare or Kongregate.
Fortunately, the complaints I’ve addressed in this post seem to be coming from a vocal minority. Most people with an opinion on the matter seem to be in the “This doesn’t ruin anything.” camp, where I clearly find myself sitting as well. Speaking with the urgency that some have, you would think that Ludum Dare 24 had already taken place and we’d seen nothing but Call of Duty and Madden clones with unsavory microtransactions, made by people wearing suits only after asking their shareholders if they approve of the marketability of their game concept.
Instead, let’s entertain the very real possibility that this extra incentive will inspire people to make games that stand out even more than they would have. Maybe participants will take extra care to make their games more fun to play than they are laborious.
Whatever Ludum Dare will actually look like this time around, the rules haven’t changed for what counts as a Ludum Dare entry. It’s up to you whether or not you want to hand over your power to Kongregate, and I’m not just talking about publishing your game. If you think Kongregate has ruined Ludum Dare for you, then—yeah—they probably have, but it’s your own fault. I’m personally prepared for Ludum Dare to be just as interesting, boring, fun, frustrating, inspiring, and defeating as it has been for me in the past.
Some individuals are getting irritated with something I’m doing, and I want to defend it briefly in a blog post.
Once upon a time, fewer than 100 games were submitted to any given Ludum Dare event. That time has been history for a while now.
The 23rd Ludum Dare saw 1,402 entries. It’s incredible that so many people were so creative in such a short amount of time, but it presents a problem: I don’t want 1,402 weekend-developed games sitting on my hard drive, and it’s a huge task to play 1,402 games.
Thankfully, some of the 1,402 games submitted (mine included) are browser games. I’ve been playing as many of those as possible. I’ve gone through dozens of them this afternoon and promoted a handful on Twitter.
However, I’m not downloading any games to run outside of my web browser. Not a single one. If a game gets a ton of buzz, I might check it out, but I wouldn’t even guarantee that.
First of all, I use a MacBook Pro. Predictably, I’m usually running OS X on it, and that discourages me from playing a lot of the games submitted to the competition. I’d actually really like to buy a dedicated Windows machine soon, because there are some well-regarded games I own on Steam that I’ve been sitting on for months.
I paid for those games and I’m not playing them. I want to play those games and I’m not playing them.
So, frankly, I’m not likely to boot into Windows to play games that I probably won’t like. I don’t mean to insult people’s efforts, but I’m honestly very unimpressed with most Ludum Dare games. But hey: it’s a lot of beginner developers and/or folks with very little time to make a game. They can’t all be zingers. I’m also unimpressed with most computer games in general, so it’s not specific to this very cool community.
In a blog entry from today, Phil Hassey (one of the organizers of LD) said:
“Lastly, if you attempt to play an entry, but can’t, please just leave a comment to the user stating that you can’t judge their entry and explain why. “I don’t have a Mac” or “I can’t install Java” or whatever are all fine reasons. It will help them know how to create an entry that even more people can play next time!”
On every game I pull up the page for and don’t download, I’ve posted the following as a comment:
“***I’m posting this on all non-browser games I bring up in an attempt to encourage folks to make browser games next time around. Do not take it personally.***
When hundreds of people make non-browser games, that means that, to play all of the entries, I would need to download hundreds of games to my computer. I typically use OS X, so Windows-only entries are particularly inconvenient.
Please consider making a browser game next time.”
I think this is reasonably polite. It’s also in harmony with the tips provided in the Ludum Dare competition rules:
“To reach more participants, web entries are best (Flash, Unity, Flixel, Flashpunk, HTML, etc). They’re quick to start playing, and cross platform.”
“Having to download Python, PyGame, MSVC runtimes, XNA Frameworks, and other addons just to play a game will frustrate some people (hence why Web is so popular now).”
I would extend this second guideline to say “Having to download anything other than a one-time plug-in (Unity3D, etc) is annoying and discourteous to potential players”.
Some people disapproving of me for “spamming” my pro-browser game message are acting like I’m attacking people for using the tools they’re comfortable with. It’s as though I’m yelling at people and saying they’re bad people for not making browser games. This isn’t the case at all. I’m kindly asking them to consider making a browser game come next Ludum Dare. I could quietly rate their games with 1s across the board to really “punish” them (as I’ve been accused of doing), but that’s completely uncalled for.
There are very few good reasons not to make a browser game. If you want to make an Android game that is really dependent on accelerometer or multitouch input, go for it (but don’t be surprised if only a handful of people play it). However, virtually every game that has been submitted to Ludum Dare probably could have been made for web browsers with no trouble at all. Your platformer doesn’t need to be Windows-only. Your shooter could have run in a browser tab.
If you don’t know how to code, there’s Stencyl, Construct 2, GameMaker, and other tools. If you do know how to code, you’re just being stubborn and user-unfriendly not to make a web game. Frameworks and libraries obviously take some time to become familiar with, but if you know object-oriented programming you aren’t going to be utterly blindsided by any of the popular solutions for browser games: Flixel, FlashPunk, Unity3D, and Processing, to name a few. I’m definitely not an expert programmer and my entry point into game programming was these kinds of tools, but the learning curve isn’t so steep that we shouldn’t encourage people to make web games.
Few if any people are going to play all 1,402 games submitted to this Ludum Dare, and we can only expect this event to grow. Perhaps the organizers should really consider making Ludum Dare 23 the last Ludum Dare competition in which non-browser games are allowed (the Jam could be anything goes). It’d potentially cut down on the entries (which has its pros and cons), but it would definitely make every single game more accessible.
Everybody needs a web browser to participate in Ludum Dare. You can’t browse the entries without one. So why wouldn’t we aim for the platform that we can count on everybody having?
Edit: Oh, and I should definitely mention that when I started posting my message on non-browser games, I didn’t realize it was influencing my Coolness rating. I didn’t start doing this to get more eyes on my own entry, and I haven’t been continuing because of it either. The fact that my comment is saved as a rating helps me see new games rather than the same ones over and over, so I’m admittedly taking advantage of that aspect of it, but I feel guilty that my Coolness may be inflated (depending on what the designers of the system would see as exploitative). Still, I’ve certainly played and rated (and given sincere feedback on) many more entries than most, so I’m definitely not spamming to game the system.
Edit 2: I was ambiguous in my last edit in saying “I haven’t been continuing because of [my Coolness rating]“. I meant to say that my Coolness rating is not the reason I’ve continued to post the message (though I have not since I’ve posted this blog, and I’m not sure if I’ll start again or not).
Edit 3: If your argument against this is to say “be quiet and don’t play some of the games”, you really need to consider what you’re saying. Why shouldn’t I want to play all entries?
Edit 4: I think the point’s been made. I’m not going to post the message on any more non-browser entries. I’m also simply not terribly motivated to browse through any more games. Posting that message became a handy “mark as read”-like function. Regardless, enough people seem really irritated that I’m not interested in causing any more unhappiness.
I’m also sure my ratings have already been skewed downwards because of this, and I don’t want to compound that. I say this not in interest of winning the competition (which I never expected to do), but because I’d rather have accurate responses to my game rather than reactions to what I still think was a pretty innocuous campaign.