This has been a week focusing on game development, specifically Ludum Dare, an incredibly popular event that brings developers from all around the world together to create amazing games in a very short amount of time. Mike Kasprzak, one of the original organizers of this amazing worldwide event, graciously took some time out of his very busy schedule to talk to me about Ludum Dare. In part one of this series, we learned what exactly Ludum Dare is, where the name comes from, and Mike’s role in this incredible ongoing game development event. In part 2 of this interview, we learned what a Ludum Dare event looks like, how often they’re held, and the different challenges that have arisen out of the larger events.
In the final installment of this series, we’re going to look at the themes of Ludum Dare, what a “typical” event looks like (note: there’s really no such thing as “typical” when it comes to Ludum Dare!), and how you can get involved.
Who comes up with the themes for each event?
The community does. We accept theme suggestions for about a month leading up to the event. We then run that list through a pre-filtering stage (the Theme Slaughter). Finally, the week leading up to the event, we run several rounds of theme voting. 20-25 themes each round; the highest rated themes across all rounds are pitted against each other. The winning theme is announced at the start of the event.
The most current theme for Ludum Dare 27 is “10 Seconds”. What’s the story behind that?
Again, the themes are suggested by and voted on by the community. That said, there is a bit of a story to "10 Seconds".
Here’s a time-lapse video from this particular Ludum Dare:
After we do a Theme Slaughter, the many thousands of suggested themes are prioritized. We take the top 200 and begin pruning those. We remove duplicates, and if two themes are the same or extremely close (i.e. "Darkness" and "The Dark"); we take the more popular of the two. This time we about a dozen Time related themes. Time Travel, Time Warp, Time Loop, Out of Time, things like that.
Another member of the community was helping me categorize and come up with a more optimal theme list based on the top 200. I took their work, built the new list of about 95 themes, but that's an odd number. We usually run 4 rounds of voting before the 5th and final round, and I always want the rounds to have an even number of themes. So I went through the culled list for an interesting theme. "10 Seconds" was the theme I found. When I thought about it, I was all "Whoa, that's a really good very one-of-a-kind theme. How did I possibly miss this?” So I used it to round to 96 themes, and triple checked to make sure no other stand-out themes were lost to the prune. Nope, that was it. So funny enough, the theme that ended up winning almost didn't make it in due to a mistake.
What has been your personal favorite theme for the Ludum Dare events?
Way way back in 2006, Swarms. It's a theme I never got around to making a game for, but to me it's so interesting. Typically you play a game with 1 character, but what about a swarm of them?
What does a “typical” Ludum Dare event look like?
A typical event today begins a couple hours before the start time; I go check and see what theme is currently winning. The start time is a very intense time for our webserver, often becoming unresponsive for 15-20 minutes due to many thousands of people hammering it trying to get to the theme. So now I know better and check ahead of time, with the official announcement on Twitter and IRC. The website itself gets it as soon as I myself am able to reveal it (again, unresponsive so it can take a while for me to even be able to push the button).
After the theme announcement, things cool down enough that the website is usable again. The website acts like a blog for many participants, so for 3 days straight it's constantly being filled with commentary, screenshots, food and workspace photos, fun Ludum Dare themed meme images, and so on. It can be fun digging through all the stuff posted.
As the deadline approaches, participants come to the website and submit their games. The posts go from "work in progress" things to postmortems and retrospectives. i.e. How well did things go for them. What went right, what went wrong. The webserver again gets slow, but it's still usable. I like to watch the number of submissions go from a few hundred to well over a thousand in just a few hours (before and after). We do something called Submission Hour after the 48 and 72 hours pass. An extra hour to get your things uploaded and submitted to the website.
Once all the games are submitted, we begin the judging stage of the event. For the 3 weeks following a Ludum Dare, participants are encouraged to play and rate other people's games. The system is designed so that the more games you play and rate yourself, the more ratings you will get of your game.
Then finally, after 3 weeks of judging, the results are revealed. Everyone is able to check out how well their game did overall. And with many thousands of games being submitted, even placing in the top 500 is quite the accomplishment.
How many people attend?
We don't have an exact number of participants due to the nature of Teams, the Internet, and so on. That said, you do need an account on our website to vote in the Theme Voting rounds, so I use that to gauge things. Our recent August event had over 4500 votes in the final theme voting round.
What has been your most popular/largest event to date?
We are constantly growing, so our largest event is often our latest. That said, April 2013 saw nearly 2350 games created but August saw around 2210. August was definitely a more popular event, but more games were created in April. I like to attribute this to the theme itself. April's theme was "Minimalism", which I think is slightly easier to come up with ideas for than "10 Seconds".
How do people get involved in a Ludum Dare event?
To get involved you just show up. It's an online event, so all you need is a web browser on a computer. Just sign up at the website and you're good to go. No need to leave home.
Are there different levels for beginners and experts?
Not really, but development tools really have done a great job leveling the playing field. You do see a lot of the same people in the top tier, but at the same time you see so many newcomers too.
Are there prizes?
No prizes, or rather we like to say "Your prize is your product".
That said, we are popular enough now that the gaming and tech news press does like to talk about us. It's really helped us gain respect too as an event. In gamedev and some gaming circles you can say "I made a Jam game" or "I made a Ludum Dare game" and people know what you're talking about. So that's pretty cool. It's not a prize per se, but it's good.
What is the judging process?
If you submit a game, you can rate games. You score games in various categories (Fun, Theme, Innovation, Mood, Humor, Graphics, Sound, Overall), and can also leave feedback. Feedback is one of the best parts as a participant, as you get to hear from others that have played your game. Thoughts, advice, suggestions, and so on. The more games you rate, the more people that will rate your game. The system is designed to prioritize people that rate games, but it also makes sure everybody gets some feedback. Finally, 3 weeks later, the results are revealed and you get to see how well you did.
What about ownership and copyrights?
Your game and your rights are completely yours. We own nothing. We do ask for permission to talk about and promote your game, but we own nothing.
Anything else you’d like to add about Ludum Dare?
Sure. If any of this sounds cool, check us out! Our next event is coming up mid-December. http://www.ludumdare.com. Following us on Twitter is also a great way to stay informed: http://twitter.com/ludumdare.
Thanks Mike! If you’ve been involved in Ludum Dare in some way, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section below.