My Ludum Dare 47 Experience

A list of words and spells placed atop a prototype board game

I had a wonderful weekend doing Ludum Dare 47, a 48 hour global game jam. I have been planning for this event for months, ever since I had an inspiring idea to create a combat spell casting game which involved Espers vs. Mages.

It was back in July when I came up with this game concept. At that time, I put together a quick doodle of what the game would look like.

Originally, I thought of creating a spell casting video game, in which players would control an avatar with their mouse and keyboard, and conjure spells using their PC microphone. I dreamt of creating a game which combined the split-second strategy of Chivalry: Medieval Warfare or League of Legends with the crazy combos and goofy antics of Magicka.

I did a bit of toying around with Playcanvas in the past few months, but I figured that there’s still too much that I don’t know if I was to create a video game with it in just 48 hours. I didn’t want more endless hours of staring at a PC getting stressed out over code that wasn’t working as I intended it to.

I thought of Ludum Dare as an opportunity to escape my life of being behind a computer for a weekend. For that reason, I decided on a low-tech or no-tech game, one that can be played without a computer with paper cards and a board!

I have taken part in several Ludum Dare jams in the past. One thing that I’ve learned from doing them is that it is incredibly easy to get carried away. It’s a competition after all, with thousands of other developers doing their best. I feel the need to keep up, and what I lack in skill, I make up for in brute force persistence!

I have a bad habit of working too much. In the past, I have worked almost non-stop for the duration of the event. I have done this at the expense of my mental and physical health.

It was not uncommon for me to end a Ludum Dare event incredibly exhausted and depressed. I would be sad with how my game didn’t meet my expectations. I would be angry that I spent moments away from my game. “If only I had worked a little harder…” I would think.

I think it’s a character flaw, and it’s something that I’ve spent this year getting a lot better at. It’s not just one thing that has helped me achieve discipline, it’s a combination of a lot of things.

Taking care of myself, loving myself and forgiving myself, going to therapy, having daily exercise, eating well, building my spirituality, doing yoga, setting a schedule… My lifestyle has changed tremendously since my last Ludum Dare event, and I don’t think I would be able to call LD47 a success if I hadn’t worked on building a stronger personal foundation.

One of my habits is to use a daily checklist. Here’s a quick look at that.

My daily ckecklist

My checklist has helped me work towards my goals, by giving me a visual indication of where I’m at. I could write a whole blog post about checklists, but I’ll save that for another time.

For Ludum Dare, I created a special edition checklist.

Ludum Dare Self-Care Checklist

You can see from the title of this checklist that it isn’t, “work checklist” or “expectation checklist” or “do this to win” checklist.

Working a lot is easy and comes naturally for me. This checklist is about doing the things that are hard.

My completed Ludum Dare self-care checklist

(I changed chores to Pick & Pack because of my day job)

I’m hesitant to post this checklist at the end of Ludum Dare, because it’s not completely filled in. Ahh I’m so embarrassed, my imperfection is showing!! 😜

Another key to the puzzle of my newfound discipline is Pomodoro Technique. I use the Android app Good Time and I can’t say enough good things about it!

I kept an incredible pace for LD47, and a big part of that I owe it to my Pomodoro timer. Again, working comes easy for me, and my urge is to skip the breaks. In recent months I’ve become really good at not skipping because I think the breaks are the key to maintaining focus over a long period of time.

This reminds me of the concept of the 4 hour work day, the holy grail of work life. The idea isn’t that I can work for four hours, then slack off the rest of the day. No, the idea is that I work on myself for a majority of the time, to the point where when I actually get to the business work, the focus and the productivity is incredibly potent.

4 hour workdays is not Ludum Dare, LOL! 😆

I didn’t really track how long I spent working on my game vs. working on myself. If I had to guess, I’d say I spent 24 hours working, and 24 hours taking care of myself.

It really felt like I spent 3 full workdays inside the span of two days. The amazing thing to me is how good I felt throughout the whole experience.

I ate very well, and I slept whenever I was tired. Just because I had a 6 or 15 minute break timer didn’t mean that I could only relax for that long.

I rode my bike on Friday morning to the grocery store and back so I could stock up on food and snacks. That takes me about 45 minutes round-trip, and is an incredible exercise that gets me sweating.

I think bike riding was Exercise 2 on Friday, which I forgot to check off. Exercise 1 was when I jogged in place for 45 minutes while watching Ironmouse VODs on Twitch.

I rested on Saturday, skipping my exercise regimen. I really needed a break as I felt mentally drained from LD, and my legs were sore from the uncommon, 45 minute Friday morning jog.

I slept a lot during this event, but not like most people sleep. I think I took somewhere around six naps a day. I’ve been on a polyphasic sleep experiment and I think that type of sleep schedule is incredibly well suited for game jams like Ludum Dare.

I had no sleep schedule other than sleeping when I felt tired. I would have times when I would sleep for 20 minutes, get up, work for 25 minutes, then go right back to sleep. It’s a strange feeling to work like this, but it felt right.

On Sunday I had another bike ride to the grocery store to replenish my snack supply. Another experiment I’m running is using cronometer to track my nutrition. I only started that experiment last week, but it’s been eye opening to see just how many or how few calories or nutrients I would intake on a regular basis.

I think my baseline is less than 2000 calories, which is not recommended for my height and weight. I’ve been doing better since using cronometer and I was making sure to get my target calorie intake every day during the event.

Just like sleep, my eating habits are different. I was eating small meals every few hours, with the intention of not getting too full to where the food in my stomach would cause me to have difficulty sleeping.

The past 6 years has been a diet experiment for me, and that experiment will probably never end. Lately I’ve eliminated gluten which cut out a lot of painful bloating. That’s another topic that I could go off on a tangent about!

Back to the game.

I feel so accomplished. I finished my board game with an hour to spare.

I set an incredible pace for myself, one that was very productive yet entirely sustainable for the 48 hours.

48 hours– that’s my new Ludum Dare golden standard. A 72 hour stretch as is the allotted time for the relaxed rules and team-allowed Jam is way too long in my opinion.

I have nothing against relaxed rules and teams. I have everything against working around the clock for three days straight! 48 hours was just right.

The Game

The name I came up with for my game is Gaia vs. GRID. This is just a project name more than a name that is permanent and set in stone. Admittedly, I spent very little time on Lore and names, and most of my time spent on crafting game mechanics and implementation.

I don’t mean to say that I did something wrong by putting little effort into lore. Making a game in 48 hours requires a very narrow focus. I placed that focus on exactly the things that would result in a finished, yet imperfect game!

My game might be shit. It’s a real possibility! I almost completely alone for the duration of the competition. I did no game testing running simulations in my head. Spell power balancing, probability of drawing necessary cards and ease of casting spells are all unknown at this point. It could work, but is it fun and worth playing?

Moot points. I made a game and I’m incredibly happy about it!

I said incredibly a lot in this post. Incredible!

Anyway, here are the game components. I wrote a complete Rulebook, which you can read on my ld47 repo if you really want to!

Game Board Overview

a look at the GRID vs. Gaia prototype game board.
The GRID vs. Gaia prototype Game Board

The game board consists of an Incantation Zone, Character Level Zone, Grimoire, and Words/Spells/Chance card reference sheets.

Incantation Zone

A 2x8 grid of numbered card slots in the center of the prototype board
Incantation Zone

The Incantation Zone is where players put their Word Cards in an effort to combine words together to form a Spell. The Incantation loops around infinitely. In other words, 1 comes after 8.

Damn, I think I explained that a little nicer than I did in the rulebook. I will have to update the rulebook with that explanation!

The looping of the Incantation Zone is probably the only thing that really fits the theme of Ludum Dare 47. The theme being, “Stuck in a loop.” I enjoy the LD themes, but I don’t often stick to them! In this case, I had a pressing game idea that superseded the theme prompt.

Grimoire

Three stacks of cards each in a labelled slot
GRID vs. Gaia Grimoire

The Grimoire is where the Words, Spells, and Chance cards are stacked. Players draw from these stacks, and discard into the labelled slots.

Character Level Zone

A 1x5 grid featuring numbered card slots to indicate character level
Character Level Zone

The Character Level Zone is a a 1×5 grid of numbered card slots which indicates character level. Meeting the requirements to place a casted Spell Card in this slot is how the character levels up.

Word, Spell, and Chance Lists

These lists show the player the complete list of words, spells, and chance cards that exist in the game. These lists can be used to help the player determine what spell they would like to cast (or pretend to cast), and anticipate what their opponent is trying to cast.

Game Flow

Players draw 5 word cards into their hand and roll a die to determine if they get to draw a Spell card.

They can place down one word card as part of casting a spell, after which they end their turn.

The opposite player takes the same steps, attempting to cast spells which inflict damage on the opponent.

Players take turns drawing word cards, finding spell cards if they are lucky, and casting those spells once they have the correct set of words in their hand.

All spells have effects, varying from damage spells to mending spells to utility spells to wild spells. Utility spells give the player an extra spell card, while wild spells give players chance cards.

Chance cards contain a variety of effects, from conditional damage to extra word cards and more.

Fundamentalism in GRID vs. Gaia Lore

The two warring factions, Order of the GRID and Gaia Timeworn are vehemently unwavering in their convictions. GRID strictly worships science, Gaia strictly worships magic.

To this end, characters in GRID vs. Gaia cannot level up unless they cast spells which belong to their sect. These are called Pure Spells in the game, with Contaminated Spells being a casted spell which had Words or Spells belonging the opposite team.

There are 32 different words in GRID vs. Gaia, each with a numeric ID. It is completely allowed for a GRID character to cast a Gaia spell using a combination of GRID words and Gaia words, so long as each word’s ID matches the spell recipe. It is because of this mechanic that lets players cast more spells more often, at the cost of not leveling up their character.

Leveling Up

Leveling up gives the character a damage bonus when casting spells. The character deals +1 damage per level. Each character starts at level 0.

Conclusion

I had a lot of fun and Ludum Dare was a great challenge for me this time around. Now I get to have even more fun and find friends and family to play test!

My game might not be any good, and that’s okay because I learned a lot and I enjoyed the experience. If it happens to be a good time, I can always take it to the next level by creating a higher quality prototype, complete with printed graphics and a vinyl backed board. This video in particular has been a real inspiration for future crafts.

GLHF!

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