Ludum Dare & How It Taught Me It’s Okay to SUCK

game jams

I’m a perfectionist and I’ve always been pretty competitive. I like to prove myself at things, and I love a challenge. However, I always feel that I have to be good at everything to have any real merit, which makes me unnecessarily upset with myself at times. When introducing myself at GDC as a game designer who was primarily an artist rather than a programmer, I always felt insecure and rushed to follow up my introduction with, ‘but I program too! Kinda!’. This is how I still felt when I went headfirst into Ludum Dare 29, and now that’s changed.

I’d been looking forward to LD29 for some time, inviting some friends over who were also going to join the compo because, hey, it’s nice to work apart-but-together. It’s also nice to have people to eat horrible pommes-doner with at awful hours of the night while you’re desperately hoping the grease will seep into your brain and give you some kind of fatty second wind. Since I live in Germany, the theme was announced at 3AM our time, so my boyfriend (who was also doing compo) opted for sleep rather than zombification the next day, which was definitely the right choice. We did, however, play through DOOM 1 to hype up for the jam (Lu-DOOM Dare) and it was a pretty great way to raise morale the night before.

There is no game I love more than DOOM, even if I’m terrible at it.

At 8AM, I woke up, hurriedly checked for the theme on my tablet and immediately had a bunch of ideas. I’m not a stranger to game jams by any means, but I’ve always competed before in teams – usually duo’ing with a programmer – so this was the first time I was attempting to go from start to finish on my own. Like I said before, I’m primarily a 2D artist/designer, so this was going to be huge task for me. In my naivety, I wasn’t worried at all.

I picked an idea really early on – perhaps an hour or two after I read the theme – while cleaning the apartment and waiting for our friends to arrive. I even started on the game, working on a prototype in Construct 2. By 12pm, I had things moving on the screen and thought that the worst was over. Birds were singing, the sun was shining, we went out for food and I laughed at ever thinking that Ludum Dare was going to be difficult for me.

Ludum Dare

Then, I came back and everything broke. Everything went downhill super fast – I couldn’t find the parts of the code where the bugs were coming from, everything was shit and it looked like what I had thought was a simple concept wouldn’t be able to be implemented by the end of the jam. It was 15 hours in and I was still coding as I forced myself to do that first – as an artist, I wanted everything to be pretty so I knew if I started on assets, I’d never stop. What I was making looked like dog shit and I suddenly felt incredibly upset at myself – why couldn’t I do it? Was I even a game developer if I couldn’t execute something so simple with a deadline?

I teared up. I felt like an imposter. I felt like I was a worthless indie because I couldn’t make things work the way I wanted to the way people with more programming logic could, even though I could see the finished product in my mind. I almost gave up and had a breakdown, nicely documented on Twitter. Thanks, Twitter!

Ludum Dare

To be honest, if it hadn’t been for the unfailing support from my friends, boyfriend and all the bros on Twitter, I probably would’ve given up. I was weak and defeated. But I continued, because if anything, I just wanted to submit something at least half-finished in the end. Even if it sucked. Even if it played like a donkey’s butthole.

My boyfriend suggested I draw for a while instead, because it was something I was good at and it could distract me from the rage of everything breaking. I started to sketch out animations for the player, did the background environment, started implementing them into the game. Suddenly, it didn’t look like dog shit. I felt a little better and gained the strength to carry on.

Sneak Easy

I finished my game at 2AM on Monday morning while Mike slept a meter away from me, bags under my eyes and my inventory of fucks to give dangerously low. Collisions were broken, but I didn’t care. There was no pacing, but I couldn’t give a shit. All I wanted was that fucking game to be uploaded, submitted and DONE. By 2AM, I had gotten what I wanted. I had finished something, and at that point, it was all that mattered. Crawling into bed, I accidentally woke Mike up, so I whispered to him: ‘I finished it.’

He replied: ‘I’m so proud. Good job.’

I felt fucking awesome.

Looking back on the weekend, Ludum Dare 29 taught me, finally, the most important lesson of all. I don’t have to be good at everything, I don’t have to make something revolutionary every time I make a game and I certainly don’t have to be a good programmer to feel validated in my field. Yeah, I can program pretty well in a couple of basic languages, but I don’t need to have my finger in every fucking pie.

1.) It’s okay to fail.

2.) It’s okay to not be great at something if you’re an indie, whether it’s marketing, audio, programming, art – fuck it. You can’t be eight dudes at once.

3.) It’s okay for your game to not meet your expectations, as long as you gave it your best effort.

JUST DON’T GIVE UP.

Sneak Easy

If you’re interested in the game I made, the Ludum Dare compo entry is hereSneak Easy is a time management game where you play a devious bartender in the 1920′s prohibition era. You’ve got a reputable resturant, but you’re secretly sneaking boozehounds some tiddly in the backroom. Cops come in and eat at your restaurant & you’ve gotta keep the food coming, otherwise they’re gonna get angry and start pokin’ around in your business. 

It’s buggy. I warned you.

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Organizing Asylum Jam – a retrospective analysis

game jams

asylumjam

If there’s something that my game development friends and colleagues know about me, it’s that I’m mad about game jams. I honestly cannot get enough of them, and I can’t preach fervently enough to anyone who listens about what a great tool they are for professional development, networking, removing creative blockers in your brain and… well, I could obviously go on. You learn time management, you learn to cut that one feature that, shit, would be really awesome in-game but you don’t have the twenty coders and artists you need to make it happen, you learn to work with new people with new skill-sets, and you learn to think outside the box. Thinking outside the box is probably the thing I love the most about game jams– an opportunity for us game developers, usually fatigued and overworked from slaving away on the same project for months on end, to explore the limits of games outside of our day jobs.

I organize game jams regularly in the area of Germany that I live in, North-Rhine Westphalia. When I came to Germany in January, my German was terrible (still is, really) and I didn’t know a soul here, but it was apparent there was no ‘organized’ indie community in the area I lived in. Europe has an extremely vibrant indie scene comparatively to where I had come from (New Zealand), as well as Berlin and Munich having very active communities– so I did what I figured was natural and made our game jam group. Now at over 70 developers in the area, we’ve participated in Molyjam as an official location, had an amazing 12-hour jam (phew), gotten the devs interested in #1GAM and some members are currently organizing an Oculus Rift jam. My mission was definitely accomplished, and I have met so many amazing people through the group’s expansion so far. So, organizing game jams themselves wasn’t that new to me, but I never thought I would end up organizing something as huge and international as Asylum Jam became.

Why did I organize Asylum Jam in particular? I’ve been asked this question a lot, though I haven’t really given a straight answer as to why the jam was so personally important to me, either because I didn’t want an immediate window into my personal life (indicative of how afraid I am of the stigma myself) or because being put so starkly into the spotlight made me feel far too naked and exposed. I’ve been around various types of mental illness most of my life, both personally experienced and that which I’ve seen friends or family go through. A difficult divorce and family situation in my childhood sent me into depression for the longest time, where I often contemplated whether or not the world would benefit from my non-existence (and that depression, while mostly conquered, still comes back to haunt me from time to time in my adult years). I also suffered from extremely acute agoraphobia while I completed my university studies, rendering me incapable of sitting exams in the same room as my peers, or even tolerating lectures that lasted longer than about an hour and a half without suffocating myself with panic. I couldn’t even sleep over at a friend’s or boyfriend’s place in the same room, which drove me to tears more than once. I just wanted it to go away.

I never wanted to answer my university classmates as to why I wasn’t in the examination rooms with them– how could I explain it in a way that didn’t make me sound irrational? It’s just because the fear was so irrational, and I knew it, that I just sort of covered it over. I didn’t want my classmates to think any less of me or to think that I was abnormal. I didn’t want to think that wasn’t ‘normal’, listed on the disability register at university. Really, I just wanted to enjoy learning and do the best that I could at university, like anyone that was serious about their studies would. However, I couldn’t explain this fear, why it affected me or what caused it, and it ruled me for three years until I overcame it through sheer force of will and some sessions with a clinical psychologist. I’m proud that I defeated it and that it no longer controls my life, but I look back at that time and how afraid I was that anyone would find out, which brings me to the question– why did I feel afraid?

Stigmatization is a real issue, whether or not we want to admit it out loud. When it’s okay for society to throw around words like ‘retarded’, it’s obvious stigmatization is an issue. When it’s okay to snigger behind the back of someone that has a mental disability at their struggles, it’s obvious stigmatization is an issue. When I feel afraid to reveal that I suffered from a mental illness to even the closest of my peers, it’s obvious stigmatization is an issue.

Asylum Jam wasn’t born out of a desire to head a social crusade on the internet. It was born from an article that spoke particularly close to me about several issues (which you can read here), and that made me want to create positive action and awareness on the issue in the best way I knew how, in the format that I love the most. Complaining about a perceived issue is likely to bring you a negative reaction– negativity breeds negativity. That’s why I knew a game jam was a great format for me– and other people and peers like me, in the same industry– to express what we would like to change, and make games that had an absence of the stigmatization that is so commonplace, but yet has the power to make us feel so uncomfortable about ourselves. Stigmatization isn’t by any means limited to the gaming industry in particular– god, no– but games are what I live and breathe, they’re a beautifully interactive and flexible media, and they have so much freedom to express that I wanted to organize Asylum Jam to give us a chance to explore a different direction.

When I began to organize Asylum Jam, I didn’t think it would grow to the lengths that it did by the end of the event. I started planning it in July, wrote most of the press releases in September and in October, it was just a whirlwind of emails and organizational madness. At the conclusion of the event, we had 57 games submitted with over 319 registered users. We also had two physical locations, one in Rome and one in Colorado, which I never imagined would happen when I was absorbed in the planning stage. When I saw the submission count growing, the updates that the developers were posting and the general enjoyment that people had garnered from the jam, I was so incredibly happy. With the support of many people, including Brett Chalupa (programming genius behind the BMO game jam engine), the reporters who talked to me and wrote fantastic articles about the jam and its aims, the friends and colleagues that surround me and a handful of other special people, Asylum Jam became a resounding success.

The games themselves submitted to Asylum Jam are obviously very diverse and interpret the jam’s theme differently– some of which deal with extremely sensitive topics– but they’re there for freedom of expression and personal interpretation. I received mails from people who suffered from a mental illness and wanted to use the game they were making to show to those who didn’t understand just how it was to live with their illness. I also saw a tweet from a developer who wanted to dedicate the jam to their colleague, who had committed suicide the year before. These stories are so important and it’s so crucial that they’re heard– and to fight stigmatization and tell them, gaming is a perfect medium for that.

To everyone who participated in Asylum Jam, thank you so much for making this event a reality. Thank you for giving your time and creativity to journey through this topic with us, your support to the cause and your enthusiasm to exploring the horror genre. I do believe we made a difference and started (or joined?) a really important discussion, not just limited to our passion of game development.