I’ve entered … hold on … let me check … 23 Ludum Dares and completed 23 compo entries. I feel good about that, so when this year’s 7-day Roguelike compo began, I went for it. I had worked on something for the 2015 7DRL, but due to a death in the family, I was unable to finish. To spare you the read, I did not finish this year. If, however, you’re interested in my thoughts about a 7-day game jam, then read on! Is anyone still here? Oh! I see you raising your hand in the back there … thanks for staying. Anyway, let me start by saying that I approach every game jam and project with the intention of learning something new whether it’s a new way to code, new language, new tools, new art techniques, or whatever. With that in mind, even if I don’t ultimately finish a project and manage to submit it, I can still feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’m taking away several of those things from my 2017 7DRL project which I entitled “Vengeful”. I think, though that you might be more interested in what I feel ultimately led to me not completing the 7DRL this year. The thoughts below could apply for any time-limited game jam you may find yourself in.
7 Days is Too Much Time
Coming from Ludum Dare, 7 days seems like a huge amount of time. You should be able to do so much more with that 5 more days, and you can, but not as much as you’d think. Scheduling and prioritizing tasks is pretty crucial in these types of exercises, but there is something different about the craaazy quick pace of development when doing a 48-hour Ludum Dare vs a 168 hour 7DRL project. With only two full days, many ideas for features and additions go into my brain on one side and pass right out the other. The mental filter for features/ideas I can fit into 48 hours keeps all but the most simple things out. Feature creep can debilitate your project and be the difference between a successful submission and a failure. For some reason, the 5 extra days seemed to loosen that mental filter for me and allow tangents that would sometimes sink several hours. Normally, I write down a list of minimum features and requirements that must be finished for the project to be considered completed. I do this with Google Keep, and it really does help with the focus aspect. Plus it is fun to be able to cross off items on the list when you finish, so you can see progress. Lesson: Plan your time, use TODO lists and finish the absolute minimum FIRST.
Art? It’s more about the story and RPG mechanics
I though that it would be fun to draw my own art for the game, and it was. This was one of those decisions that I learned from and got some good pixel art practice, but that contributed to my eventual failure to produce an entry. According to the rules I could find, you can use existing artwork and I saw several people using existing tilesets from opengameart.org which was a good idea. Roguelikes are somewhat of a different beast than your normal match 3 or platformer games in that there needs be story-driven elements along with an interesting RPG system. The writing element is a much more important part of the process, so much so that, if you have a good story and good game mechanics, the graphics can largely be ignored. That is a key feature of all of the best old-shcool roguelikes (my two favorites are Brogue and ADOM) wchi have ASCII graphics, but interesting storylines and RPG mechanics, procedural generation, random items, etc. Lots of content. Much more than most other games. These elements should not be ignored and certainly not sacrificed for some non-ASCII graphics. Lesson: work on story, RPG mechanics, and content (items, monsters, etc) then if time allows (which it won’t) do your own art
Preparation is Key (when is it not?)
Although I’ve been dabbling in Lua and the Love2D framework, I decided to use Unity3d since I’m quite familiar with it. This was a good decision, but I should have considered the complexities of a roguelike combat system ahead of time. Making a combat, creature, and item system that is simple, flexible, and enjoyable to play within is not something that I can do in 7 days. Not at least with all the other work that needed to get done.The RPG system code is a crucial piece and not something you see in other genres. I did have some code I had created for cellular dungeon generation a while ago that I dusted off, but even that required a bunch of fixes/additions. Aside from my basic generic C# Unity3d game framework, I had to create all the code from scratch, and while fun, was not the best use of my time. The 7DRL rules does allow for use of external libraries and pre-existing code which I did do, but there were still too many other code pieces I ended up having to create during the 7 days. Lesson: Assemble/create your code base several weeks beforehand so you have time to make it good and solid. That way you won’t sink too much time into improvements/fixes during the competition.
Well that’s all I have for now. I’m not sure what I plan on doing with Vengeful. I still have several ideas about mechanics and things that I’d like to add. If I do anything interesting with it I’ll be sure to let you know, but for now I need to get back to work … making games …