I Failed My First Ludum Dare

I tried out Ludum Dare for the first time ever this past December. It was something I have been promising myself I would do for months but could never seem to find the time. This time was different. I had booked off the weekend and committed to this 100 percent. It was exciting to go think up an idea that would take no more than a day or two to complete. Something small and fun yet challenging and on theme. I literally have hundreds of ideas for games. Strategy game, shooters, platform and every mashup in between. All of them seem, at least in my head, to be a killer game. However, when I took a look at the theme: “Entire Game On One Screen”, none of them seem to work. At least not really, but that was the challenge of LD and I wasn’t about to quit at the starting line.

Early Saturday morning I had decided to do a mashup shooter with Tetris blocks as the enemies. Yes I know it sounds familiar to a game I made only a few years earlier called “The Blocks Cometh”. Dispute the elevator pitch similarities, the core mechanic was different and I knew it would work. I started up Unity and instantly came to a realization. A realization I had made at another JAM Nitrome Jam a few months before. Unity suffered horribly at recreating pixel perfect retro games. Its not that I can’t be done in Unity. The engine is certainly powerful enough and capable of pushing some pixels around. The problem is that it was not designed for retro games. It started out as a 3D engine and it shows.

For about an hour I contemplated using Gamemaker, Flixel or Construct 2 but in the end I decided to stick with Unity. I love developing in Unity. It is fast, user friendly and runs on everything. I ended up writing down all the problems I could remember from the last time I tried creating a pixel perfect game. Then when I was through, I wrote a quick hacked up patch for each one.

About an hour later I realized that short of one or two of the problems I wrote down. I had come up with a descent tool that for the most part worked. It had grid snapping, the resolution scaled to match a reference resolution (Gameboy Classic) and I could now paint my prefabs like I did in Gamemaker. It was ugly, buggy and slow but worked.

I never did finish my game. In fact my wife went into labour a few hours later and gave birth to my beautiful little baby girl. However, even though I failed to complete LD I did complete something. This little hacked together tool was a far better reward than any game I would have completed in the 10 hours or so I put into LD.

After a month and a half of changing diapers and late nights taking care of, and getting to know my cute little daughter. I sat down for a few hours this past weekend to polish up the Unity Asset. Now, it is a solid little suit of tool that compliment an already powerful engine. If there is anyone struggling to get their retro game off the ground, it is my hope that my hours of tweaking and research can be of some help to you.

About Melvin Samuel

My name is Melvin Samuel. I am a full time dad, application developer and a part-time indie game developer.