The Ludum Dare 48-hour game development competition came to a close last weekend. Yes, you read correctly: 48 hours. That’s two days. Two days in which entrants had to conceptualise and develop an entire playable videogame. Themed “Advancing Wall of Doom” (how kickass does that sound?), the competition received a staggering 121 complete entries by the time its countdown had reached zero. Some of them were pretty darn good, too.
This wasn’t the first Ludum Dare competition to ever be held. In fact, Ludum Dare’s core idea isn’t even all that unique nowadays. A few months back, for example, developers were treated to the Global Game Jam (there’s a local Game.Dev entry over here), another competition where people the world over were required to craft a game in – you guessed it – 48 hours. Heck, these sort of competitions are breeding like rats on Viagra.
But why all the fuss?
Rapid prototyping is one of the most effective ways to test ideas, improve one’s design skills, and focus on what’s important in a game’s design. Instead of labouring for days, weeks, or even months on an idea that’s essentially broken (and poring over the minutae of your work like a jeweller who’s forgotten to wear contacts), a lot of developers find it easier and far more sensible to craft something in a day or two with humble graphics and simple gameplay.
“Why, oh why?” I hear you cry. “My product is going to look cheap and stupid and everyone will hate me FOREVER!” Well hey, the great thing about prototyping is that it’s okay to hate the results! Even amongst top developers, not every single game idea is an instant smash hit: if you were ever to get a peek at their workstations, you’d probably find an entire folder full of random projects and half-baked notions that never really got off the ground.
Take Dylan Fitterer, for example. He’s one of those “game-a-week geeks”: in other words, he resolved to make a working videogame every seven days without fail, no matter how crude or crappy the result would be. Where is he now, you may ask? Well, if the name alone didn’t have alarm bells ringing, then you may know him better as that demigod of game development who created Audiosurf.
Know about Crayon Physics Deluxe? Or how about World of Goo? Both of them started off as prototypes in the Experimental Gameplay Project, an initiative which required people to submit prototypes of games built in seven days or less. Now they’re huge indie titles that are raking in fame and cash.
The point is that you shouldn’t be afraid of quickly generating something horrendously crappy on a regular basis. A lot of your ideas will be discarded immediately, yes. But remember that discarded prototypes are never a waste: they’re simply the videogaming compost in which you’ll one day plant the seeds of that next killer idea.
Keep this in mind, prototype regularly, and never be afraid of mistakes.