Tips for Ludum Dare Participation

Based on my previous experience and the experience of others, here is my list of tips for getting through the 48 hour competition successfully.

  1. Be prepared. Don’t sabotage your efforts too early on! Make sure your tools work, your documentation is available, and your calendar is clear! While it is possible to complete a game while getting a regular amount of sleep and attending to your normal obligations, you should want to try to take advantage of the competition time you have available. Also, make sure you’ve stocked up on food. Taking time to eat is very important, and you don’t want to spend time leaving your home unnecessarily when you can spend it improving your game. Make sure you have liquids nearby. Some people swear by caffeine, but so long as you keep hydrated, you’ll be fine.
  2. Meet the competition. Most of the participants are going to be on IRC. While it is a distraction from your game development efforts, it’s fun to talk with everyone else about your designs, hopes, and math problems. You may find that someone else is already working on a game similar to yours and decide to change your design right away. Even better would be to find local Ludum Dare participants and hole up in the same living room for the next 48 hours. This competition is as much a social event as anything else.
  3. Whatever you think will be easy, do something simpler. It’s easy to bite off more than you can chew. You only have 48 hours. Try to get the essence of your game up and running as soon as you can. You can spend most of the weekend improving a working game rather than trying to get your game working.
  4. “You can only code fast by coding well.” That quote is roughly what Robert Martin says, and the idea is that sloppy coding up front isn’t going to save you time later. It will, in fact, slow you down, no matter how short a period of time you’ll be coding. You’ll be maintaining this project up until the end of the competition. You want to have good variable names and self-documenting code as much as possible. If something isn’t clear and you can’t make it clearer, go ahead and make a quick comment about what you are trying to do. In three hours, when you find a bug in that code, you can feel better about knowing what change is fine to make. Don’t think you can skip good programming practices just because it’s only two days worth of code you don’t intend to use again.
  5. Have fun. This is a competition about making a game by yourself in 48 hours. There are also separate subcompetitions, include the motivational poster, food pics, and time lapse competitions. Give trophies out to the other competitors. Take pictures to remember the weekend! Feel free to propose ideas for the next LD. If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Just a note on some handy tools:

SFXR is a handy sound effect generator. You can get the Win32 version, or you can get the SDL port which runs on Gnu/Linux!

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