How to prepare for the Ludum Dare Game Jam

Three times a year, there’s Ludum Dare happening, the event where you task yourself to create a game in 48 hours. That’s a pretty tough limitation! However, here are my personal suggestions and recommendations how to make it.

Get some sleep

If you’re reading this now and it’s only 12 or less hours to the jam, go get some sleep right now. Yes, RIGHT NOW. I’ll wait.

Back? Good. Because not only depending on how bad you’ll need to crunch, you might have to cut down on the hours you sleep during the jam. This might seem like a viable solution, but I try to avoid it as best as I can and rather spend my 10 Gil at the inn than grind away. In my experience with lack of sleep and crunching from dusk till dawn is that you think you might get a lot done, but the next day you got to fix what you broke with the best intentions. So try to schedule at least 6 hours of sleep. Doing this will give you a Well Rested bonus that increases your Skill and Perception by 3 points.

Practice

The last jam was quite a while ago and you had so much to do that you never really fiddled around in Unity, moved some sprites in Construct or remember your room setup in Game Maker you once came up with.  In short: You might be a bit rusty. Warmup-weekend is a great reason to re-familiarize yourself with your tool/s of choice so that when the big day arrives, you can push the pedal to the metal right away.

Set up and test your workflows

Having a solid pipeline is key. After all, you don’t want to navigate frantically your computer’s folders every time to pick that sprite you just saved — just where did you put it? Life’s too short for drilling down the same folder structure over and over again. You want to have a handy shortcut to a single LD project folder where you find all your assets, for example. Update (or don’t) your favorite apps to the latest version and clean up your desktop. Because it will clutter up towards the end, believe me.

Know where your strengths lie

If you are a good coder, don’t waste too much time on painting sprites or sound design. If your concept is strong, you don’t need sound that much. Likewise, if you are a talented artist, go for your individual weird style you’re most comfortable with and treat us with some great art design. If you’re a good writer who can’t draw a stick figure, why not dabble in interactive fiction with easy to use tools such as  TADS or Twine? You get the idea.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should completely neglect other aspects of your game. The medium demands at least some kind of interesting interaction. Spend your most productive hours in the field you feel most at home and give yourself 15 to 30 minute slots for the other stuff. So don’t spent too long where there be dragons, eager to feast on the little time you have.

 

Avoid bottlenecks

When assessing your brainstormed ideas for the jam’s theme, always go through them in your head step by step and check for bottlenecks. If that idea for a wacky rhythm game is great but you’re aware that you can’t produce a piece of music in the given time, then that’s bad for the jam. Not in general, don’t throw away your idea!

The jam is not the best testing ground for something you never did before. In the heat of the battle, testing out that hot stuff you heard so much about (software, workflows, templates, etc.) most definitely will lead you astray and something that should have taken “just an hour or two” eats away the time you need to finish your game in time.

Templates and Snippets

According to the rules, you are allowed to re-use some of your own pieces of code, templates, etc. This can be a huge time-saver because you don’t want to re-invent the wheel over and over. You can have basic movement of a character already set up in your code; or a save-system. Or some nice brushes in Photoshop. Or that smooth synthesizer you always wanted in a background track. So start thinking in little independent modules you can click together like Lego-pieces.

Eat and drink


When you’re in the zone, it’s easy to give in to the flow and neglect everything that’s not (yet) on the screen. Still, we are mortal beings, chained to the flesh our intellect needs to thrive and survive, so give it what it wants. A little sugar in your blood can help you overcome a little fatigue, a sour apple can be refreshing, some walnuts are good for your brain and gnawing on a carrot always helps me ponder abstract problems. Don’t just binge on energy drinks.

Don’t forget: Water. Even when just sitting there, your body needs lots of water to keep up the brainpower. Even when you’re a bit clumsy and don’t have a good feeling with a jug of water on the desk, next to all those precious electronics. Try bottled water. If you empty one large bottle a day, you’re in the safe zone and you won’t get tired so easily

Of course, there’s always junk food and caffeine but you might be surprised how much fruit, veggies and water can do for your productivity!

So I hope that’s somewhat useful to any of you and see you at the jam – looking forward to play your game!

Article by Phil Strahl

Phil got released around the same time as the Famicom and has since been constantly updated and bugfixed. Yet still, he considers himself to be in Early Access. Splines have been reticulated.

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