10 Tips to Survive Ludum Dare

IT’S TIME TO LEARN!

With Ludum Dare #39 fast approaching we thought we would offer some useful tips to help your LD experience go as smoothly as possible. We aren’t experts or anything but this will be our eighth attempt and we’ve learned a few things along the way.

#1 – Get Plenty of Rest

This sounds obvious but when you’re in the zone you end up losing track of time, suddenly it’s 3am, you go to sleep for 4 hours, wake up then do it all again. This often leads to an unproductive second day as you’re already burnt out.

This happened to me on the first day for our LD#36 game. I stayed up till stupid o’ clock creating the art leaving the second day with me staring at a blank notepad for hours. Instead of writing amazing dialogue for our game I was sleeping with my eyes open. Your brain won’t work if it doesn’t get enough sleep.

Also, depending where you live, don’t bother staying up for the theme announcement. For me, in the UK, it’s in the early hours of the morning so contradicts our #1 tip of getting plenty of rest. I have woken up and checked the results with the hope of going back to sleep in the past, but instantly my brain went into overdrive and couldn’t sleep. I suggest going to bed at a normal time, get a good 8 hours, wake up, check the theme and then…

#2 – Don’t Panic! You’re gonna come up with an idea.

Rarely are we filled with great ideas the moment we see the theme. Usually, there is an hour of nothingness or simply bad ideas, really bad out of scope ideas, the MMORPG that only uses 2 buttons.

I find during this time it’s a good idea to just go for a walk. A bit of fresh air and exercise allows you to think more clearly. I tend to go for a long walk when I’m thinking of ways to pay my rent. Here’s a bullet point list of things to think about during the walk –

* Asking your landlord for more time.
* Looking for a third job.
* Converting landline to premium rate adult chat.

Wait, wrong list…

* Your first idea is probably everybody else’s first idea too. Have another think about it.
* Be realistic. The 2 button MMO was a good idea but you’re not going to make it in 2-3 days.
* Don’t be too literal with the theme. It can be interpreted a thousand ways.
* Once you get an idea go with it and get cracking. You’ve wasted enough time going on a walk.

#3 Manage your time and tasks

So, you’ve come up with an amazing idea that will most likely win the competition. It’s gonna be really great. The problem is the amount of work seems insurmountable while the ideas are merely floating in your head. Get a fancy productivity app like Trello or the classic pen and paper combo to make a to-do list. Keeping task focused makes you far more efficient and ticking items off the list makes it feel like you’re completing a big quest!

If you have to go to work/school on the Monday you need to allow for that lack of time. If you are doing the 3 day jam I’d recommend phoning in sick on the Monday. That extra day’s polish really helps. I suggest starting with the fake cough on Friday.

#4 Create something new and reusable

We like to use Ludum Dare as an excuse to create a new system for our adventure game engine. We don’t usually work as hard as we do on LD weekends so it’s nice to put that hard work to good use outside of the jam. Creating something new is also a great learning experience that gives you skills to improve your main project. Of course, there is the possibility of turning your entry into a fully fledged game as countless devs have gone on to do.

#5 Don’t have an argument with your girlfriend the day you have to write funny dialogue.

Okay, so this one is a little specific but it really affected me. It’s hard to write funny dialogue at the best of time, even harder when you’re mad after an argument. She stayed at her cousin’s house that night while I had to think of funny sexual innuendos for our cardboard box dating simulator. Don’t worry, we made up the next day and didn’t split up until the following Ludum Dare…

An actual tip would be to clear it with your family first, you will be committed to your computer for a couple days.

#6 Drink lots of tea but not too much.

I personally need a lot of tea during Ludum Dare, it keeps me focused and warm inside. What I noticed last time though was after 18 cups I constantly needed a wee, wasting time I could have spent devving. This time I will supplement the tea with madeira cake to absorb some of the liquid. The issue of trying to sleep when my eyeballs are throbbing I haven’t yet solved.

#7 Be brutal but encouraging to your team mates

Everyone keeps coming up with ideas and if you implement all of them you just won’t finish. Sometimes, you just need to say ‘Shut up, Brad! Enough with the amazing ideas already.’ At the same time offer Brad encouragement when he finishes the awesome UI he was asked to do. You can even let him back into the group chat at this point. Seriously though, keeping your scope in check is vital to finishing your game, you cannot do everything.

#8 Fight for your ideas

Brad here. Forget about that last tip. If you are convinced that your idea will improve the game then you have to push for it. Rodo, I mean, your team, will fight you but you can win this with a well thought out argument or compromise. Can you scale back the amazing idea so it can be implemented in 30 minutes instead of 9 hours?

#9 Remember to have fun!

I find Ludum Dare is sometimes like riding a rollercoaster. I’m mostly scared the entire time, wondering if I’m going to die. In the end I’ve only died a few times and in retrospect it’s actually been a lot of fun.

#10 Don’t post a list of tips highlighting how little you’ve really learned.

Admittedly, this list of tips is lacking any real sage advice. The most important things, in my experience are sleep, scope and fun. Make sure you are keeping an eye on those 3 and you should be fine.

#11 Bonus Tip – Don’t make your game too good…

…cause we want to win this time! You’re holding us back with your awesome games.

 

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