Oh yes, Ludum Dared

We did it! Over the weekend, SeeThrough Studios produced not one, not two, but three games for Ludum Dare! (edit: actually, we made four – I didn’t know when I posted this that Thomas had been beavering away on one at home. I’ve added a link a little further down.)

We’re not alone in this. This, the 23rd (and 10th anniversary) Dare, has attracted a whopping 1,401 entries, continuing its exponential growth curve. Making games is the in thing, it seems, and I have to say that it was lots of fun taking part.

So what did we make? Well, Paul and Angus followed through on their plan to make a musical. The graphics and gameplay are fairly basic, but they bloody well wrote and recorded three songs, and the lyrics change according to how well you’re doing. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure no-one else has ever even attempted that, let alone in three days. Paul will probably do a proper post-mortem at some stage, but for now, you should go see this miraculous thing.

David made a neat little puzzle game called Eidolic New World, which is solid but a bit short on levels. Thomas made a spiffy 3D puzzle-adventure game called Phi that I haven’t had a chance to play as yet. And me? I made a freaking weird thing called Purgatorio.

This was my first time in the solo competition, which was somewhat daunting because I’m by no means a skilled programmer, and I’ve certainly never made a game by myself before.  I decided to use Adventure Game Studio, a a middleware toolset that I’ve had a tiny bit of experience with before (which is to say I started making something two years ago, and gave up because it was too hard).

I came into the first day with basically only one though in my head – I wanted to draw a pixel-art version of a kiwi, and I wanted it to be rectangular. Why? I have no idea. But from that humble beginning (which I spent the entire first afternoon on), I built something unique, functional, and (I hope) interesting.

All the way through, I let my own limitations and mistakes be my guide. For example, I didn’t have time to draw any more characters, so the fact that all the characters looked the same became part of the story. Likewise, no time to do backgrounds, so I made one from a photograph, and then re-coloured for the different scenes. Those variously-coloured skies then became central to puzzle that provides the game’s challenge. And the look of the place made me think of purgatory, which made me think of the mental health issues I’ve experienced – the idea of being stuck in a loop of unhelpful thoughts. And so on.

What I ended up with is quite unlike any other game I’ve played. It’s a rather personal exploration of mental health issues, framed in concepts from Christian mythology. The gameplay is based in adventure-game dialogue trees, but the only puzzle is in how to escape, like an “escape the room” game.

The main difficulty I faced was the piecemeal AGS documentation, which is scattered across several websites and a forum, making certain problems very challenging to solve. I easily spent 50% of my time solving just a few key problems. The fact that one of these was simplifying the over-complex default mouse controls was a little frustrating. But I did it! And that was satisfying beyond words.

I loved working in this organic way so much that I’m already planning to do it again. I’ll definitely be making more AGS games, while I hone my programming skills to the point where I can break free of the limitations that that particular engine enforces. But for the moment I feel inspired to push that engine to its limits, and try and do some genuinely new things with it. I feel like I’m getting a handle on the basic scripting system, which has the potential to be fairly powerful, if rather long-winded.

I’ll stop gushing now. I’m truly interested in what people think of the game (positive and negative), so do go and play it. And if you’re interested in seeing more of more of the crazy things we do, jump on our mailing list. And hey, get involved in the next Ludum Dare. It’s awesome!

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