Although I had a hard time finding anything about it on the Ludum Dare site itself, I have come to understand that the primary Ludum Dare competition occurs more than once a year: the current version being LD48. Founded in 2002, Ludum is a competition that focuses on rapid game development, and it translates from latin as “The Game Giving”. Other translators state “Providing patronage to a public duel” is a potential translation, but I don’t see anything but Game Devs here, so we’re going with that first one.
On the Ludum Dare website, it is said that “for many people, it can be difficult to find or make the time to create a game or prototype for yourself. We’re here to be your excuse.” And that is awesome, considering it also says they are “keeping things extra indie.” Honestly, they had me at hello, but extra indie? Exemplary. So LD serves as the proverbial grease in the joints of a game developer’s mind, giving them a reason to just create what they can and throw it into the mix, just to see what they can come up with. This is noteworthy, and it serves to challenge people to make something quickly; this most recent run of the competition taking place August 22nd – 25th. With only 3 fucking days to create a coherent and playable game, that is one hell of a challenge. And no one but gamedevs would be crazy enough to select Challenge: Accepted.
So what happens when they get more than they expected? Pictured above you will see the games of LD21, during which Ludum Dare received 599 titles, pictured above. Now, think about that for a minute. Each of these games provide experiences that run from a couple minutes all the way up to some clever little 10 minute engagements, depending on how good you are at the game. Each title is played by the judges and the best ones are selected as the winners. So who are these judges? In an interview with the man behind the competition, Mike Kasprzak, he told me just how LD works.
We assign everyone a random subset of all games to judge. If you play a few dozen, a few dozen will play your game. The system is built to reward people that play games with attention by others that play games. As far as scores are concerned, once we have a couple dozen, it’s enough to estimate what the games average score will be. So we deal with the large quantity of games by not playing them all, but by playing some.
So the people judging the games are also people who submitted games, then the community votes up its favorites. This is a democratic process that would make the ancient Greeks and the Founding Fathers (US) wipe a tear of pride from their eyes. Of course, with every competition, there is a victor. Competitions reward winners in a variety of ways. So how does Ludum Dare reward its winners?
So wait wait wait.. You’re fucking telling me that the winners don’t get more than a hi-five and handshake?! Yep, that is what the man said. To give you an idea, some of these Indie Developers willingly commit hours to their games, eschewing sleep as long as possible just to get in the next couple lines of code. Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying this is unfair. Devs submitting to LD know what they are up against and the rewards, and they do it regardless. And Ludum Dare grants these people a way for their work to be seen and their voices to be heard, which makes it all the more awe-inspiring that, come LD season, Twitter is flooded with bittersweet tweets from dedicated game devs. What Ludum Dare encourages is nothing short of remarkable.
If I wanted to submit to Ludum Dare, when would I do it? And how many submissions does Ludum typically get? Initially, Mr. Kasprzak told me they were getting just more than 100 submissions per event. Now? Well…
Of course, I suggest that there are more reasons than just the number of events. Even if the same people were submitting for every event, if there were only 200 people in the first event, that would be 400 altogether. This year so far there have been about 2500 submissions per event. There is no expletive I can issues that adequately summarizes this. I would suggest that the increase of submissions is attributable to the fact that Indie Developers aren’t just on the rise, they are exploding exponentially. And I don’t mean spontaneously combusting, either, I mean their numbers are increasing at a rate comparable to an epidemic. Then again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, and Mr. Kasprzak suggested his thoughts.
So this is clear evidence that gaming is starting to migrate away from the major industry and into smaller dev shops where real magic can happen. Away from AAA gaming and publishers, you have independent companies, which can be only a few people or fifty talented artists, which are developing games on their terms incorporating elements that they want. With no one else looking over their shoulder, they have the freedom and the drive to make the best games they can. That might slow down individual games; but considering the situation altogether, with so many indiedevs there are games constantly coming out. And they aren’t just crappy little games, either. Many of them are just as exciting as major industry games, if not more so.
So what are some games from Ludum Dare? I have played a few of them myself, and I have to say, they vary from one developer to the next so widely that I cannot comprehend having to choose the best one. But here are a few of them.
by Robot Friend Games
Fuel Runner is a game with a loud color palette and no sound. You start off planetside as a spacesuit clad bike-rider that jumps from one platform to the next. Don’t fall too far, or you’ll explode. Luckily you start from your highest-cleared platform. It is pretty easy, too, at least until you get into space. Then shit goes nuts.
Once you get outside the atmosphere, the platforms you are on become barriers of instant death that you soar past, floating away into the abyss. I haven’t made it to the end yet, but I cannot imagine this having a happy ending. Lots of fun, though! Lovely art, too!
This game is more of an interpretive piece. My young brother likes this band called 65 Days of Static. I asked him where the weird-ass name comes from, and he responded thusly:
“In the 1960’s the Soviets did this study where they tested the effects of white noise on participants. Unanimously, people started losing their grip on reality and began hearing and seeing things in the static that wasn’t there. The conclusion is that, given totally chaos the human brain tries so hard to recognize a pattern, that it starts to create one where there is nothing.”
– Brother Jeremiah on 65 Days of Static
Now, The Static Speaks takes on a creepy aspect that makes me wonder where this is going. This game takes the form of a first-person adventure game. It is short and creepy with vaguely depressing titles in a twitchy font. You wake up from a weird dream, watch static on the TV, a door appears, you die (?) in a bathtub and the house flies apart. Then it cuts directly to you hovering in space surrounded by tv’s broadcasting static with a weird blob above you. Select a tv and it’s over. I ended this, said “WTF?” tried it again, and realized I had done it right.
Snout up has shown a love for the use of vector graphics, and has made some downloadable apps, as well. His Ludum Dare entry is a fun little arcade game featuring a spunky little character that jumps between planets collecting diamonds. Hit the up button once to jump, twice to jet-pack. Let and right moves you around a planet and spacebar lets you change the rotation of the planets. Avoiding obstacles, you have to collect all the diamonds you can! When you jump to another planet, the background changes to resemble your current planet! Get your best time, or just beat this challenging little play! It is a fun and addictive little game that reminds me of some fun times with gaming, down to the sounds it chose. Add in a jazzy, 16-bit hip hop theme and I would pay some money for this!
There are so many talented devs submitting games to this competition, it would be a crime for you not to go there yourself and see what they have to offer! The timer says there are 19 days left to try them out, so get on over there! Of course, Ludum Dare doesn’t exactly make a lot of money, and is sustained by the contributions of its supporters! Please get on over there and make a contribution if you can! Ludum Dare helps developers to explore creative concepts that they might otherwise never get the chance to explore, so whatever you can contribute would be greatly appreciated by the entire Indie Gaming community. If you can make a contribution, tell them the Crotchety Old Gamer sent you!