• Tom Stephenson

My First Ludum Dare (Post Jam Analysis)

I recently took part in the Ludum Dare 46 Game Jam. This post is an overview of my experience developing my entry The Dark Cave.


If you would like some context, check it out on Browser and Windows Desktop here.


Analysis

When I started this game jam I was already 10 hours late, so my expectations for what I’d achieve weren’t that high. I mainly used it as excuse to take a break from my other personal projects and experiment with procedural animation. Being my first Ludum Dare and my first solo game jam I was very surprised with what I had achieved within the time given.


The game felt somewhat ‘finished’, with a functional title menu, ending, and even an Icon for the playable build. Apart from a few minor issues that I’ll explore in more depth below, the game felt functional and is my best GameJam to date. I’ll certainly be taking part in the next Ludum Dare.


2D Game Development in Unity The Unity game engine has advanced a lot over the last few years. There are some fantastic new tools and workflows available for which I am very grateful - without these new tools I would never have been able to make this game. Although the final game is very short, I had managed to develop a workflow for creating environments that was efficient and looked somewhat polished. This workflow influenced the art direction of the game and relied heavily on the new 2D Rigging, IK and Lighting systems available.


Procedural Animation I’ve attempted procedural animation a few times in the past but this by far the best progress I’ve made on it to date. The procedural legs snap to the floor and can walk on pretty much any type of terrain. Although the code is quite messy, it won’t be too difficult to replicate and produce a foundation for future attempts at procedural animation.


There are still a few minor issues which will need correcting, such as a slight amount of leg stutter and the creature occasionally climbing to places it’s not supposed to. The later issue resulted in the creature standing over a re-spawn point and creating an infinite death loop for some players… Not ideal.


The new 2D Rigging and IK tools available served as the foundation for the procedural animation system. Previous attempts at coding my own IK system proved time consuming and difficult, so this out-of-the-box system made my life a lot easier. I wrote an article on how I created my procedural animation using the these tools here.


2D Lighting and Visual Style With the recent release of the Universal Render Pipeline (URP) in Unity it is now possible to light up your 2D scenes. I’m fairly new to the URP and this was my first time using the new 2D lighting systems.


I didn’t really have a plan for the visual style of the game as I mainly wanted to focus on game mechanics and procedural animation. The initial environment was built out of a single grey square sprite that was duplicated and resized a bunch of times. Whilst taking a break from coding I experimented with different tones and layers for the environment, starting with a dark black for the foreground. This gave a nice element of depth, with the harsh angles and layers somewhat resembling a cave - this became the setting for the game.


My knowledge of colour theory is fairly limited so I knew I wouldn’t have time to experiment with different colour palettes. I certainly didn’t have enough time to create my own sprites either (apart from the leg sprite I made for the creature), so I settled for the black and grey aesthetic created out of duplicated squares.


I soon realised that my scene felt too bright and that it was time to learn how to use the new lighting systems. I converted the project to the URP and initially panicked when I realised my entire scene was pitch black. Using a series of 2D point-lights the game had a completely different feel to the previous unlit scene. There was a stronger sense of depth and confinement which gave the game a gloomy atmosphere.


Considering I never set out to make a game with good visuals I am more than happy with the end result. The use of square sprites allowed for rapid prototyping and it didn’t take much work to add the additional layers. Each layer was grouped in a parent object and the ground / ceiling layers were given 2DCompositeColliders which made the game more efficient.


I had accidentally created an evocative and atmospheric art style out of squares and some lighting, which became one of the most liked aspects of the game and a leading factor in further design decisions.


Gameplay The cave setting worked well with the sound mechanic I had created for the game. Every time the player lands on the ground it creates a sound, shown to the player as a growing ring that overlays the screen. This mechanic is further explored by the player throwing collectable stones which make a sound upon landing on the ground, and by popping eggs that appear later in the game.


The other creatures found within the game are blind and are attracted to sound, using it as a way to navigate the environment and hunt prey.


To help teach the use of this mechanic I created a glowing light creature that follows the player at the start of the game. The player needs to encourage the creature to follow them through the first section, using it to see obstacles ahead of them. There was no definitive exit transition for the creature so many players got confused when it stopped following them, even though it was no longer required. This segment of the game also contained no actual hazards which made the experience feel somewhat flat and is something that will need addressing.



Results

To my surprise, the game received over 300 ratings making it the 10th most rated game this jam! That’s incredible, especially as this was the largest Ludum Dare to date with a total of 4959 submissions! I can’t thank you all enough.


For my first Ludum Dare, I am very happy to have made the top 30% for most categories, and be within the top 3% for mood. It’s a nice feeling!


Overall: 889th (3.629 average from 309 ratings)

Fun: 1145th (3.357 average from 307 ratings)

Innovation: 1194th (3.303 average from 306 ratings)

Theme: 2267th (2.951 average from 309 ratings)

Graphics: 864th (3.871 average from 311 ratings)

Mood: 83rd (4.257 average from 309 ratings)


Below are the results broken down into percentages.


Overall: 24.93% Fun: 32% Innovation: 33.4% Theme: 63.4% Graphics: 24.2% Mood: 2.3%



Post Jam Development

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been hard at work reviewing and redesigning my Ludum Dare entry, The Dark Cave.


The game has proven to be a great proof of concept and as a result of the overwhelmingly positive feedback received I have made the decision to continue developing the game for the foreseeable future, putting aside my other personal projects for the time being. Your feedback has been an invaluable part of this process and is deeply appreciated, thank you.


During the development I will be exploring the sound mechanic in much more depth by creating a series of puzzles and varied enemy types that interact with sound differently.


If you haven’t seen the game and would like some context, here’s a link to the Desktop and Browser versions of my Ludum Dare game entry here.


I can’t wait to share what comes next, thank you.



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 © 2020 by Tom Stephenson

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