Ludum Dare 23 postmortem

Is it supposed to be ironic and funny that they call these things post-mortems? What died?

My mind rebelled when they announced the theme Tiny World. There was another theme that I’d hoped would win, because I’d recently had an idea to do a game like that one. But it didn’t.

Friday night I was hanging out with some of the Cleveland Game Developers at Launch House, awaiting the theme to be announced and to get underway. Once they announced Tiny World, I tried to come up with ideas for what seemed like a few hours.

Here’s a secret: Most videogame worlds are tiny. They don’t seem that way, but they are. We’ve had about 30 years of tiny worlds, trying to convince us that they’re bigger than they really are. So to make a Tiny Videogame World, I needed to think even smaller.

A lot of my favorite games were done in the early 80’s, and many of them took place on a single screen that didn’t scroll, and typically had a resolution of 320×240 or something ridiculous like that. There’s so much variety even in single-screen no-scrollers that it didn’t really help me narrow down to a concept.

Plus, Ludum Dare is a 48-hr event. It’s not like I’m going to have time to anything more than a tiny game in any case, right? Tell me how this theme was supposed to inspire me and focus my creativity?

So I took to Google Image Search and tried to find inspiration there. It seems that there are a lot of images that look like they ought to owe royalties to Antoine de Saint Exupéry, and I’d had that idea, but when I tried to gameify it, I only came up with some variation on Eufloria involving comets. If I could have figured out a good way to do orbital mechanics, it might have been interesting to have a game based on hitching a ride on a passing comet, but the three-body problem in physics is kindof hard. Faking it is always an option, but I didn’t know if I could come up with a good way to fake it in 48 hours, and in any case I probably would want/need more than 3 bodies, and the N-body problem is only harder.

I thought about other things. I didn’t want to do an adventure where you’re shrunk down and everything that’s normally small is giant. That’s kindof the opposite of the theme, anyway.

I started thinking about what exists on tiny scales, and for inspiration I went to The Scale of the Universe 2, which I’d seen a few months ago, and been blown away by. I tweeted it to help others, and got the most RT love I’ve ever gotten from the Twitterverse after a boost from @ludumdare. My phone kept beeping at me all night and throughout the weekend.

The first idea that I really liked was to make a puzzle/escape game where you start out at Planck scale and are rapidly growing but have to figure out how to overcome some problem or obstacle in order to sustain growth, or maybe you become crushed by the boundary limit as you grow too large if you can’t unlock the boundary. What kind of puzzles? Um, I dunno. Puzzles. Something like that.

Problem with that was, for me, that sounds like about 30-some odd levels of growth to go from Planck lengths to macroscopic, and again, time constraints. Coming up with a decent puzzle mechanic that successfully illustrated different physical properties of matter at those different scales would have been amazing, but to come up with that and do it in a weekend was not going to happen.

About three hours in, after looking at Scale of the Universe a while, I found the scale of matter that I felt was most appealing: the scale at which bacteria and other single-celled organisms exist. I was pretty sure I could make a game about bacteria in 48 hours and have it turn out playable.

I’ll see about writing Part 2 tomorrow… [Update: Read it now! –CS]

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