What is the Ludum Dare Competition?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I spent my weekend watching streams of developers working on their Ludum Dare #22 entries. What is Ludum Dare, you ask? To put it simply, it’s a competition to develop a game in 48 hours that follows a given theme. Sunday night marked the end of the competition, which brought in over 720 entries from developers around the world. While the submission period for this Ludum Dare has ended, however, we will now wait for three weeks while the games are played by participants and rated in a variety of categories, so it’s not quite over yet — and you can still check out the games yourself by heading over to the website.

The competition results in no cash prize, and no sort of sponsorship. Everyone who participates is rewarded with their own product. Ludum Dare is quite simply one of the best things to happen to the indie industry, in my opinion. It inspires developers to make something amazing in a short period of time, and showcases just some of the things that are possible in that sort of time frame. In addition, it also inspires non-developers to want to learn how to develop so that they, too, can participate. I myself have yet to participate in the actual development of a Ludum Dare entry, but I do enjoy seeing all of the creative ideas people from around the world come up with. Next time around, I hope I’ll be prepared to enter my own creation for the world to see.

Now, while I haven’t participated in a Ludum Dare competition myself, I can still offer some general tips for competing. When it comes to time-limited projects, managing your development schedule is huge. For games in particular, you should be wary of a few things:

  • Don’t spend too much time on graphics or sound — While it’s nice for your game to look and sound pretty, the eye and ear candy won’t mean a thing if your game has no concept behind it. Sketch out graphics in the beginning and insert placeholder sounds, develop your game, and clean things up if you have got the time to do so. In addition, don’t waste time creating sounds using a “professional” tool. Try out sfxr, a really neat sound generator that was originally created for the Ludum Dare.
  • Level design can be extremely time consuming — You can easily get lost perfecting levels for your game. When participating in a 48-hour competition like the Ludum Dare, this is simply not a good use of your time. Consider keeping the levels simplified. If you’re feeling adventurous, give a shot at randomly generating game levels using various procedural generation techniques. Perlin noise maps are a great example of this.
  • Have the basics ready before you start — The Ludum Dare competition allows you to base your game off of existing libraries and code, just as long as that code is made open prior to the competition. You shouldn’t be wasting time getting a simple window up with input and all the fixings, so make sure you have that down pat prior to the start of the competition so you can focus on the important content: the game itself.

In the beginning of this article, I mentioned I was watching live streams of developers working on their games. If you want to develop a game but are simply not sure about how to proceed, watching a Ludum Dare entry being created is a great experience. You can see for yourself just how a developer prepares and delegates their time. You will be able to see where they choose to make sacrifices and where they spend extra time perfecting their design. Watching how a game develops is great preparation for when the time comes to make a game of your own, especially if you are able to watch multiple games develop, and therefore be able to form your own strategy on how to best delegate your time. Of course, even if you do not have any plans to develop a game, it’s still pretty cool to see a game written from scratch in under 48 hours.

Did I mention that in addition to submitting the games themselves, competition participants must also submit the source code to their game? If you want to see the inner-workings of a game, then the Ludum Dare competition entries are definitely worth perusing.

Also, if you’re wondering whose stream I paid particular interest to, it was none other than Markus Persson’s (aka Notch aka Creator of the indie hit Minecraft). I watched as he went from an empty window to what he now calls “Minicraft,” a quite addicting miniature Minecraft-inspired game. I was literally glued to the stream almost the entire time he worked on it. If you’d like to play Minicraft, it’s available in applet form here.

Back to the main topic, aside from the Ludum Dare 48-hour “Compo,” there also exists the Ludum Dare “Jam,” a similar competition run in parallel to the Compo. The major difference is that games submitted to the Jam can be worked on by a team of developers rather than just a lone developer. In addition, developers have 72 hours to submit a game to the Jam, versus the 48-hour limit on the Compo. This extended time limit allows for more “complete” games and designs that are thought through much more thoroughly than the Compo counterparts — something many developers might appreciate.

If you’re interested in this type of thing, there are other events similar to Ludum Dare, such as the Experimental Gameplay Project and the Game Prototype Challenge. I have actually found quite a few fun ideas from the former project; perhaps you might, as well.

Over all, the Ludum Dare is extremely exciting. The community gets to experience tons of fresh, independent games, you get a chance to get your name out there if you’re a developer, and, in general, it’s fun for everyone who gets involved. Anyone reading this who enjoys games should really participate in any way they can. If you have a passion for games, this is definitely one route you don’t want to miss out on. Keep checking the Ludum Dare website for more information on when the next competition will be held. Until then, prepare yourself, friends!