How my LD44 Compo entry was born


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Ludum Dare 44 was my first Ludum Dare. It has been a nice and also strenuous experience.
Here is a brief history of how my submission - Life for Likes - was born.

You can play this entry here:

Theme announcement
Having seen the theme voting I was a little worried. Among the various themes in the final list some were good (i.e. easier), others rather difficult. While I was waiting for 3:00 AM (my local time) to see the announcement I was a little reassured and I thought: it is impossible that the most difficult topics are chosen, "your life is currency" is an impossible subject, I am confident this won't be the one, better think about something to do with other themes. Then the theme is announced:... "Your life is currency". Very well, once again I've seen it right, sigh.

The Beginning
Okay, the theme totally blew me away. Better start thinking about something, while I start putting a few pixels on each other. I start with the player's sprite. Although I still don't know which game mechanics I will use, I will definitely make a platform style game so I obviously will have a player. While the pixels accumulate one on the other I think about the gameplay. I think I can manage the player's life through a pawnshop. By killing enemies you get items that you bring to the pawnshop and exchange for player's life. I find it somewhat trivial, but it is the best that comes to me. Besides the player I begin to draw the various objects that enemies drop when killed, and a pawn shop with a mustachioed guy.

The First Break
At 4:30AM I finished drawing player's animations, and some objects of various kinds. I'm not satisfied at all with my approach to the theme, and I'm also pretty tired. I set the alarm clock at 6:30AM and go to rest, hoping sleep will bring me advise.

The first morning
At 6:30 I wake up and shoot myself 2 cups of coffee. I realize that I don't really know where and when my game is set. The sprites of the player are very generic, which is fine, they work in any environment. The objects I drew are in a fantasy style, there are swords, diamonds, some musical instruments. Ok, I'll go for a fantasy scenario, and I draw some little house in style. But I still don't get satisfied. The player will move to a fantasy village, killing enemies (with which weapon I still don't know), collecting items and exchanging them at the pawn shop. But I'm not convinced... why are there enemies of some kind in a fantasy village? Maybe the action doesn't have to take place in the village but in a cave nearby? In this case the player will have to go back and forth from the cave to the pawn shop in the village, it would be really boring. Maybe I should put the pawn shop in the cave? And for what strange reason a pawn shop should be in a haunted cave? It just doesn't work.

The second break
It's about 8:30AM, I have some nice fantasy-styled houses and a tileset for grass and terrain. But I'm stll not convinced. It's time for a coffee break. Coffee and reasoning about the theme took me about an hour...

The idea
At about 9:30AM a different approach to the theme finally comes to mind. What if the "life" of the theme was not the physical life, meant as being alive, but rather the experience of life, our daily life? We don't all do it, we exchange our experiences on social media for a handful of like? This works, and I like it. I need a contemporary, urban setting in which the player will be able to move and take selfies in bursts. It's time to turn everything I've done so far upside-down. What I keep of the beautiful fantasy houses is only the roof, under which I draw an anonymous wall with a few windows. I would also like to put doors, from which I could perhaps go inside the houses, but I leave this idea aside, maybe I can implement in the end if I'll have some spare time (lol). I draw 3 urban backgrounds with houses, skyscrapers and a street. Now it's time for platforms and terrain tileset. If the urban backgrounds work well enough, the tileset is sad, but I move on. At the moment I have an idea that I like, and a handful of sprites. But the project on the Stencyl engine is completely empty, it's time to import the sprites and make them move.

The project comes to life
I import sprites, backgrounds and tilesets. I create an urban scene that I fill with what I have. The tileset is really sad, but I have to go on. I quickly do the part of the selfies saving a rectangular image around the player. It's very rough but it works. The problem is that I have an empty city with nothing to photograph. Taking selfies has never been so boring. It is necessary to create things with which to take selfies. So I draw hydrants, bushes, flowers. But I need "enemies". Dogs and cats are a natural choice, perhaps the only one in a normal urban environment. With so little time I won't be able to create any particular AI for the enemies, so I decide to go on with very simple things. One type of dog will only go back and forth, while another will run behind the player when it sees him. The cat sleeps always, and will get angry when the player gets close. But they are not enough, I need a flying enemy, and at least another enemy "on the ground" with a different type of movement: and here come bees and chickens, as well as a strange human/rabbit hidden in the bushes. I implement a system with lives for the player and a timer, the idea is to make as many selfies as possible in a given time. I still don't know what to do with selfies. It's midnight, alarm clock is set at 5:30AM so I go to sleep.

Second morning
For some reason the alarm clock refuses to go off so early on Sunday mornings, and I wake up at 7:30 AM. Nice start.
I feel quite pumped up, but I deflate as soon as I see my sad tileset. I can't leave it like this, no way, so I'll do it again from scratch. This time I like the result, and I feel ready to move on. I decide to make the selfies immediately visible and attach them on the top of the screen. I realize that I can't leave the possibility of taking selfies everywhere; the risk is a selfie-storm that fills the screen with photos that show nothing interesting. We need a system that makes selfies only if the player stands next to something that is "selfie worth", and a system that gives likes. I would like to implement a dynamic system of likes attribution, but time is running out, so number of likes will be fixed for each object. Then I limit the system so that you can only take one selfie for each item. At the moment the action always takes place in the same scene, which is very limited, so I add a couple of scenes. There are still too few things with which to take selfies, so I add spiders. But I need some more items. So I take up the sprites of the objects I made in the first hours, add a pedestal and place them in the scenes. Testing everything, I realize that timer is useless for the purpose of the game and I remove it. It's Midday, sandwich time  :P

The final run
The game seems nice enough, but it's completely mute. The moment I most feared has arrived. If doing some sound effects with Bfxr and Audacity is not too complicated, making music is terribly hard (for me, of course). I've never made music for my games and with good reason, I'm really bad in this. However, I am able to shoot down something, a repetitive and obsessive piece of music, not very good but better than having a silent game (in my opinion). Imported sounds and music into the project it's time to have a main menu. I draw the homepage of a hypothetical social media, with selfies of various people. Working a little, I get a nice thing. Now the final scene, which I fill with selfies taken during the gameplay and a simple writing that announces the value of your life in likes... simple simple. I notice during the final tests that every play is the same as the another one. Objects are always the same in the same place. I don't like it so I make them dynamic, now every game session has objects in different places. In the last few minutes I decided to add a question mark that goes up when a selfie goes blank and little flying hearts when we receive likes. At about Midnight it's all over, my LD44 entry is ready and sent.
Phew how exhausting!

Well if you've come this far, all you have to do is play  Life for Likes and have fun.



  • Posts: 1606
Thank you for this journal. I likes the  life game.
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Proud member of the League of Idiotic Stencylers! Doing things in Stencyl that probably shouldn't be done.