It feels like I just finished my “Design Musings” post on Ludum Dare 38, but the results are out for Ludum Dare 39 and I wanted to once again take a look at the Top 10 “Compo” finishers and give my brief thoughts on their designs. For those that aren’t familiar with it, Ludum Dare is a game making “jam” where participants have just 48 hours to make all elements of a game from scratch, all by themselves. I am specifically looking at the “Compo” category, though there is also a “Jam” category where the restrictions are relaxed a bit to allow teams and an additional day of development time. All the games listed here are the impressive work of a single human in just two days, so take a minute to appreciate their creative work and maybe try some of the games out yourself!
10. Voodoo Lockdown
Voodoo Lockdown by Antti Haavikko is very loosely tied to the theme of “Running Out of Power,” but capitalizes on a neat puzzle mechanic where a physical letter can be spawned in an outlined box, and the shapes of different letters can provide solutions to move through each level. The whole presentation and polish of the game has a nice feel to it, and I loved how changing to a letter that overlapped the character exploded him into persistent pieces. An unnecessary but nice touch, especially for a game made in 48 hours. I can’t help but feel that the integration of the theme was an afterthought, but I appreciate the execution of a mechanic that I haven’t run across before.
9. Yet Another Exhausted Day
Yet Another Exhausted Day by Gao Ming not only placed 9th overall, but also 1st in the “Humor” category. It is immediately evident why, as the controls have you moving your character like some sort of human inchworm around a bedroom. Gao Ming has shown himself to be capable of some impressive 3D entries to Ludum Dare (see Room 007 from Ludum Dare 37), and so this is exactly the kind of polished entry I would expect from him. The gameplay is hilarious as you drag your body around and try to avoid pillows, because the comfort of a pillow is all it takes for you to completely fall asleep. The way the body moves its head to the pillow whenever it comes in contact with it is really smooth, and overall the idea is a really original take on the “Running Out of Power” theme. I wouldn’t describe the gameplay as overly “fun” or “addictive,” but it is a really solid entry that nails the concept that the creator was shooting for.
Charge! by Malcolm Brown is a PICO-8 roguelike in which you are trying to explore space stations to scavenge them for power and food, while avoiding alien enemies. At any point, you can leave on your spaceship and choose a new station to visit, but at the cost of power. The goal is to make it to the stargate that is a number of stations away, all before you die of starvation or getting damaged, or run out of power to be able to travel. I am always impressed with the PICO-8 Ludum Dare entries I have played, as they seem to always have a high level of polish. Charge! uses the theme to represent your spaceship’s limited power to reach your destination, which I think is a cool, literal interpretation. The gameplay doesn’t seem to have a lot of depth beyond wandering around and picking up all the food, power, and health upgrades you can find, but it all plays really smoothly and the procedurally generated stations give it some additional replay value. Overall, an impressive entry!
7. You Discharge, You Lose
You Discharge, You Lose by boddiul is an endless runner where you are a robot trying to escape a factory, but the other robots are attacking you to prevent your progress, and a giant spike wall is chasing you from behind. All the while, you are slowly losing your battery power, and must plug into sockets along the way, as well as pick up batteries, to prevent you from running out of power. The game ranked first place in the “fun” category, and I can attest that I probably had the most fun with this entry so far. It is your standard fare procedurally-generated endless platformer, but it has a really nice difficulty as you try to make all of the appropriate jumps, stay plugged into sockets as long as possible, and dodge the other enemy robots’ attacks and kill them to collect batteries. I think the theme was a naturally good fit for this style of game, and boddiul did a good job of not only implementing the game in the allotted 48 hours, but also striking a nice balance with the difficulty.
6. Toast Up!
Toast Up! by Ashley Gwinnell of Force Of Habit is a very mobile-esque screen climber where you are a toaster that shoots toast to send yourself flying in the opposite direction. You use the toast to take out enemies in each wave, and then shoot a balloon that boosts you upwards to the next wave. In between waves, you can buy different upgrades to improve your chances in future runs. The whole thing has a great lighthearted polish, and the simple mechanics of aiming and shooting the enemies works well. I wasn’t a huge fan of how the unlockable abilities were required to progress past a certain point (for example, if you didn’t have the right upgrade, there was a threshold height you could get to, and then you would automatically die); I would rather it used a natural difficulty increase that was technically still possible, but the upgrades just made it more doable. As is, you know that you are just grinding for currency in early plays because there is no way to really get a high score past that predetermined limit. That said, the upgrades were a nice touch and gave me a reason to keep playing, and I enjoyed the overall feel of the game.
Overcharged by Hayden McCraw is a creative take on the theme, as you play a robot that is “overcharged” and needs to disperse his energy, but he wants to do it without harming anyone. Meanwhile, everyone else is running around in a panic assuming you are a monster and as you inevitably (accidentally) kill people. Your robot is constantly firing shots and electrifying anyone who gets too close, and you also have to collect pickups that allow you to discharge a huge amount of energy, but kill everyone in a large radius as a result. It is an interesting paradigm shift from most games where you are trying to kill enemies, as in this one you are trying to shoot away from everyone and do as little damage as possible. I do wish the game would have had some scoring system at the end to get an idea of how well I did, but I enjoyed my short time with it and appreciated the original take on the theme.
HackOS by Steven Miller by is a really clever puzzle game that is unlike anything I’ve played before. Much like many of the other entries, if utilizes a mechanic where moving requires energy, and you need to make sure that you recharge before you run out. The game starts out with the basics: move your square with the arrows keys to reach nodes in order to deactivate them. But then Steven adds some very clever mechanics on top of that. First, you can wrap around the screen. So this allows different parts of the screen to be connected if you take the right approach. But more interestingly, you have the ability to drag your view window. These two elements together make for some fascinating puzzling as you try to position the window in such a way that tiles line up correctly on opposite sides of the view so you can move to other parts of the level while conserving as much energy as possible. It is a brilliant design, and he layers additional elements such as locked tiles that move with the window, and lock the window if it is the only tile supporting you. It really epitomizes what makes some of my favorite Ludum Dare entries, and that is ones that aren’t necessarily hard to pull off technically, but rather implement the theme in such a way that provides a really original and creative experience.
P3tr by Zach Tsiakalis-Brown is a stunning 2.5D platform puzzler where you control P3tr, a small robot who is trying to save the spaceship that lost its power. You navigate the inside of the ship using electricity to power on different elements in the ship, such as turning on lights or activating switches to open doors. The presentation here is really off the charts for a Ludum Dare game, and it is honestly impressive that Zach still had time to put into the gameplay at all. The game isn’t quite as high in the “fun” category as most of your time is spent simply exploring and powering certain elements to allow you to progress to the next area (I admit “fun” is subjective here), but it nails the mood and everything is really smooth and polished. You have to love the range of styles that come out of an event like Ludum Dare, and P3tr is a great example of the highly produced 3D side of the spectrum.
2. Armless Kairo
Armless Kairo by Thomas Olsson is a platformer with an excellent narrative as you play a character who had his limbs cut off as punishment and then was thrown in a pit to die. As you traverse the pit, you need to make sure you find water to keep yourself alive, and the game has a great story arc as you encounter new obstacles and allies, and ultimately fight for your escape. I am intentionally being vague, because one of the things I enjoyed about this game was the subtle details and surprises that are normally too superfluous to include in a small Ludum Dare game, and I don’t want to spoil that enjoyment for anyone who might play it. I’m not sure I’ve played a Ludum Dare entry that has this kind of depth in its storyline while still maintaining solid gameplay, and kudos to Thomas for pulling it off in a short amount of time. I am glad I played it to the end, as I found the final segments very well done.
VUEL by jezzamonn is, in his words, “a chess-like rogue-like.” In essence it is a turn based game where you and all the enemies alternate taking turns, with each character having its own “chess-like” movement rules. Because you know all of the enemy movements, you are able to plan and use tactics to kill enemies without them being able to attack you. As has been the theme in this Ludum Dare, your character uses up energy as you move, and you need to find batteries or kill enemies to recharge and keep going. As a nice touch, there are new characters you can buy that have their own unique movement patterns that give you more flexibility. It is a clever and well-executed concept which reminds me a lot of The Crypt of the Necrodancer, sans the rhythmic jams and time pressure. It is always cool to see a Ludum Dare winner that excels primarily because of its original concept, as opposed to a developer’s graphical or technical prowess, and I think VUEL fits that bill quite nicely.
This is the third time I have done one of these “Design Musings” posts for Ludum Dare, and it is something that I really enjoy. I know what it’s like to be in the shoes of these developers, trying to come up with a concept and execute on it within just 48 hours, and I really appreciate seeing the different designs that come out of the weekend. Ludum Dare can be a great way to run across some new talents in independent game development, so be sure to check these designers out (I linked their accounts where possible), and see what other cool things they are working on!