Ludum Dare 28: Crash and Burn

LudumDareThis wasn’t a good weekend for me.

Here’s the thing, and maybe I didn’t entirely acknowledge this, either publicly or personally, before I started: I didn’t just want to participate in this Ludum Dare, I wanted to win. I wanted to make the best dang game possible, and prove I could hang with the big boys. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this per se: However, it really would require me to be at the top of my game (so to speak) and, boy, was I ever not at the top of my game this weekend.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. Let’s start with the theme selection.

You only get one”

As I mentioned before, I wasn’t too wild about this theme. It strongly suggests either only getting one of an important item, as with Portal’s Companion Cube, or only getting one life, as with roguelikes. Neither of those are bad as far as gameplay contrivances go, but neither do they get me particularly inspired, or spark my imagination, or really restrict my creativity in any particularly interesting way. So I started thinking about what that could mean from a story sense, and in order to help myself in this endeavor I found a random word selection tool and just kept pressing it until I came up with something interesting.

The word I stopped on, and started thinking about, was “Parents”. Though obviously appending that to the end of the provided theme is not correct grammatically, it is semantically, and opens up an interesting and evocative realm of thought. I think a lot of people ran with the them of “you only have one life”, but I think most people only think of that in terms of how precious that life is. Very seldom does the idea of how personal, unique, and powerful the history behind that life is: Each one is unique, a trail of events and relationships that together define the greater part of who a person is. And, from there, the idea for the game began to come together.

In this game, you played the disconnected spirit of a man who is having a recurring dream. The dream starts with you controlling a flickering point of light in his childhood bed room, where he as a child is asleep. You can look around his house at the different things, his childhood possessions, his sleeping parents, and by interacting with those objects learn about his history. As the game progresses, you move on to other rooms and buildings he has slept in – his college dorm, his desk at work, his home as a married man, his room living alone after a divorce, and eventually back in his childhood home which he inherits. You find that this is an old man, grown disconnected from the world, and everyone connected to him long dead, staying alive mostly out of habit.

There are a few decisions I made over the course of this project that are worth noting. Originally, I’d considered looking at a certain number of objects a certain number of times or exploring all of the rooms to be an appropriate way to progress the game, but I disliked that idea because there was no intuitive connection between the progress of the game and the actions of the player. A player could get stuck having not explored one area quite enough, which would totally kill the pacing and intent. On the other hand, since it was a dream, there was no more logical way to make things progress. Eventually, I hit upon the idea of a timed progression, flicking over to the next chapter of the game at set time intervals, probably a minute per section. This is an idea I still really like: It essentially means that the player is likely to feel frustrated at their inability to completely explore certain denser areas, such as the childhood home, while getting stuck longer than they’d prefer in more boring areas, such as the office or later apartment. This dovetails perfectly with the theme of mortality and personal history, where the moments we treasure never seem to last long enough while the time we wish we didn’t have to endure last an eternity.

The big other decision I made I’m not as big a fan of. As I started developing the project, more horror aspects started creeping in, taking a melancholic theme and turning it into something unworldly and disturbing. The alarm clock, which I had originally intended to be the one recurring prop, ended up being a grotesque emblem of mortality. While this is certainly an evocative image, it feels like the end result is more brutal and less honest than the original. more truthful and sad, image of mortality.

That was the concept behind the game. So why didn’t I finish it?

There are a few reasons.

First, and I think I want to give this special emphasis because it’s a mistake I seem to make frequently, it was depressing. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing when art is depressing, but I mean that literally it made me depressed to work on it. I was already prone to this due to the weather, holiday stress, poverty, etcetera. Feeling shitty simultaneously makes me more likely to come up with depressing ideas and makes it a really bad idea to pursue those ideas. While there are certainly elements of melancholy and sorrow to Everending, the fact that overall the story is one of rebirth and awakening has made it possible for me to work on the game for more than a year without getting excessively bummed out. Depressing games may have their time and place, but I need to be sure I’m up to it before I start working on them.

Second, um, fuck content-heavy games. It didn’t seem like much when I was concepting the game out, but the sheer amount of drawing it takes to create the floor plans of several houses and apartments was daunting and exhausting. Moreover, because I was drawing from a perspective I wasn’t used to and because I was limited to 15-20 minutes per picture, I hated the end results. They looked to me like something I would have drawn when I was 13 or 14… which, you know, may have actually been appropriate to the game. I tried to tell myself that, anyway, but I wasn’t convinced. I couldn’t stand the idea of putting them out there with my name on them.

Now, all of that being said, the project is all public and available if you are interested in checking it out. You can play as much as I got done, which is basically everything except for the text for interacting with anything outside of the first room. There’s also no sound or music – perhaps if I had written the music first I would have been more motivated to follow through on the rest of the project. Perhaps not. Maybe I’ll try that next Ludum Dare.

Well, I won’t pretend I liked how this Ludum Dare went for me. I’ve felt really discouraged over it. So it goes. The life of an artist has ups and downs, and all I can do is learn from it as best as I can.

I think I might just spend, you know, a little bit of time just lying down for a while, though. I think I might just need a bit of time to myself.

Regular updates resume tomorrow.

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