I’ve been sifting through Ludum Dare 23′s haystack of games. Indulging at random, I haven’t made much of a dent in the 1,400-plus catalog, but I’ve been having some fun thinking about theme and how it works itself into game design. Ludum Dare games are an interesting species: so many half-baked ideas, feverishly realized, trudging onward through sleep deprivation and frustration to a relative state of completion. It’s even fun digging into the broken entries and trying to decipher what the developer must have been getting at. It really is a window into this chaotic, collective game design soul. It’s like getting to listen to an album before it’s properly mixed and mastered, or maybe even before most of the songs are finished. There’s not much polish, but the idea is still there. The wide range of quality in these games must hinge on a number of different factors: coding ability, artwork availability, motivation, outside constraints, etc. But regardless of quality, all of these games are united by a single theme, which must be both frustrating and limiting from a design perspective. I love reading the postmortems, as well. Here’s one from a guy who works with robots at his day job.
In games, a theme can be literal, metaphorical, or even just referential. It could be applied in a setting, perspective or an interesting design constraint, or it could surface in all of these elements. The theme for this round was Tiny World, and it seems that many of the entries attack it from a player perspective angle. I guess that’s why I’ve seen a lot of 2D views from space with a guy running around on a tiny little planet. I’ve also seen multiple entries that incorporate a shrinking mechanic. Sometimes it’s a direct skill that the player can access, and sometimes it’s applied to the environment as the story progresses. Some folks took on a psychological bent, their games set within the confines of the human mind. And then, some implemented the theme as a characteristic of the protagonist: a scientist who specializes in microbiology or a mischievous elf.
Now that the boring, wordy stuff is out of the way, here are my favorites out of the entries I’ve played so far, in no particular order:
In-Delusion: There’s something not quite right here.
Soul Searchin: You can shrink, but it’s all in your head.
Astro Break: One of those cases of guy-running-around-tiny-planet.
Lililput: When’s the last time you played a typing game that told you to spell badly? FIGHT THE MACHINE.
Mayor vs Aliens: Really takes off, once you abandon your deteriorating plot of land and start bouncing between aliens.