Ludum Dare: What to Do When the Theme Isn’t Working

It’s inevitable. When the theme is announced, more than a handful of people don’t know what to do with it. The theme might be too esoteric or vague. The theme might be too restrictive. It could suggest a particular kind of game, and that’s not the kind of game they want to make. Maybe they just simply don’t like the theme. We’re a diverse community, and so the theme doesn’t work right away with every one of us. This was me when “An Unconventional Weapon” was announced for LD 32. If this is you, this post is here to help you work through the theme so you can get to working on your game. Don’t give up at the start because you don’t like the theme! Remember, Ludum Dare is about making a game. The theme is there to help. This post is meant to be encouraging and helpful. Continue reading

Some Potential Design Project Ideas

I just thought I would make a quick post and describe some design ideas I am considering working on, particularly for MFA projects that may come up. These are not all of my ideas, but I tend to have new ideas and remember other ideas quite randomly. This is just a list and short description of each. They are in no particular order (except the order given by headings). If you are interested in one project or another, or would like to see a different project, just leave a comment!

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Triumphant Cheating and Deep Subversive Play

I, like many, many other game players recently, have begun playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DX:HR).  I am not really any good at aiming on a console.  I’m very much a mouse and keyboard kind of person.  And even then, I stick to games that have a low reaction time requirement.  So why did I decide to play DX:HR?  Part of it was because I saw everyone else playing it, and part of it was that my roommate played it and it looked like some fun.  But what really got me to playing the game was that it was a game that supposedly let you play however you wanted.  I was interested in seeing how they did it.  I was also interested, keenly so, in breaking it.

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Caillois- Man, Play and Games

This semester, I have a book-a-week class on games in culture.  I’ve tentatively decided to try giving a go at posting a blog on each after both reading and discussing the book in class.  This is a bit ambitious, considering all I have to do, so I might get backlogged.  Please bear with me 🙂

The first book we read for class is Roger Caillois’s Man, Play and Games, a rather foundational book for games studies.  Caillois discusses the social nature of play and tries his best to categorize play into four distinct categories (with two distinct styles).  I, personally, latch on to theoretical frame works (and subvert them, usually), and this is mostly what I got out of the book.  To a sociologist, the chapters on sociocultural play practices might be infinitely more interesting than a theoretical framework.  Here is my take-away.

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The Last Six Months — In Brief

So I promised that I would give an update of what happened while I was not here.  And a number of things did happen.

In November, I applied to my first grad school.  This I announced in my last post before I came back.  I did not apply for another one until December.  The problem?  Money.  With it being the holiday season, and I having only been at my job for a few months, I had not the savings that I needed to be able to pay for a) application fees and b) transcript processing.  The drive to work was killing my gas tank and I wasn’t able to save much money for anything I did.  So the second place I applied was the school I graduated from, Arizona State University.  The defeated feeling I felt from having to do this was strong and likely kept me from being social for a while.  I probably hedged out friendships and pushed people away, some of whom aren’t going to come back.  At the time I couldn’t help it, but it didn’t make anything better.  So, December was a slow spiral for me.  December was also when I abandoned my attempt at making a very good writing sample for my applications, and instead revamped an old paper into a much better paper [You can read it here!].  This was still a lot of work, mind you, but it means that I still have not written my paper on player styles.  It will probably become one of my seminar papers.

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Hiatus and Lacuna

Hiatus and Lacuna are two characters in the Xanth series by Piers Anthony.  They were the grandchildren of Merlin (the first King of Xanth).  Hiatus’s power was to grow eyes on whatever he wanted, and Lacuna could make words appear wherever she wanted them to, or alter text that exists.  Hiatus was never a major character, but Lacuna had her own book, Question Quest.  This book was, perhaps, the most arduous and boring of the books that Piers Anthony had ever produced and so Question Quest ate up a large amount of my time, which seemed even longer as a result.  I think this may have been intentional, as Piers Anthony was playing upon the concept of text in the novel.

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School, Research and Projects, On Journaling

So, I made my first step this past weekend and applied to my very first grad school: University of Wisconsin–Madison.  I’ve gotten a lot of strange looks from my friends about this.  People seem to think that I will freeze.  I probably will, but I am bolstered by the fact that, for four years, I lived in Michigan, and I survived that.  I have no doubt that it will be cold, but if following my passion means that I’ll be a little cold (or a lot cold) so be it.

Regardless, I’ve applied.  I can’t take it back now.  The transcripts are on their way, the application fee is paid, I’m obligated now to see this to the cold, bitter end.  Sure I still have 10 more schools to apply for, but I’m not thinking about that now.  This one event is just enough kick to get me over the horizon.

This isn’t the reason I haven’t been blogging.  I haven’t been blogging because, well, I just never have.  Blogging is a form of journaling, and I have never been good at journaling.  Not in the traditional sense at least.  I didn’t keep logs of what I did during my day or what I was angry about or anything like that.  My parents tried to get me to do this, but I just never had anything to write down.  I do, however have about eight notebooks full of game and story ideas.  This was my journaling.  I would spend hours writing out an idea for a game, detailing all the different things that energized me.  I would spend my breaks at work writing in tiny composition notebooks details about a story or novel that I wanted to write.  I would go from page to page and, sadly, very few of the ideas ever went far beyond the page.

One problem is that I get new ideas too fast.  It’s hard for me to hold on to an old idea when there’s something new pervading my thoughts.  I write down the old ideas so that I don’t have to remember them, and then I don’t go back to them.  Granted, when I look back through my notebooks, I realize how naive I was to think that some things were even possible, or that they were interesting in the first place.  But had I been diligent about a single one of them for at least a little bit, then I would have done something with it.  Perhaps, then, I’d be in a very different place now, but that’s usually where discussions about the past go with me.

The reason I haven’t been blogging is because I’ve had too many projects on my hands to deal with and the least gets the ghost.  I’m going to try to put this into perspective for my few readers. So here goes:

1.  School.  Applying to 11 schools over the course of the next few weeks (technically 10 now).
2.  Research.  Finish writing a research paper about online play motivations inspired by Minecraft.
3.  Project.  Finish the preliminary work on my game design for an RPG-over-Twitter game that I had hoped would be finished by this past weekend.
4.  School.  Take the GRE.
5.  Project.  Begin work on “Now We Are Twenty-Three.”
6.  Research.  Finish (finally) close reading of Bogost’s Unit Operations-side note, I’ve read this once and I greatly appreciate this work.   A great approach to criticism to which I ascribe.
7.  Project.  Mystery adventure game inspired by The Airborne Toxic Event’s “Sometime Around Midnight.”
8.  Project.  A sidescrolling game called “The Ninth Rune,” which is practically already planned out.
9.  Project.  Develop a concept and plan out a psychological-semiotic text adventure about a person so steeped in symbolism he can’t escape it.
10. Project.  Invisible. A collection of fantasy short stories set in second person.
11.  Project.  Market “Bird’s Opening,” which won the Jules Anatloe award at ASU, but has just been sitting, gathering digital dust.
12.  Games.  Just the lump of games I need to play and finish.  There are many more than this: Fable III, Resonance of Fate, Dragon Quest XIX, Persona 3 Portable, White Night Chronicles.

This is only what I can think of right now, and I’ve edited out a lot of things that I don’t really think will get visited anytime soon.  I’m not even about to tackle my reading list here.  The point I’m trying to make is that I’m a project-oriented person, but that I give myself too many projects.  The problem I’m faced with is that I want to finish all of them.  Looking back at the past, this seems insurmountable.

I am reminded that I am capable of finishing a project.  Even though “Neighbors” was a small project (it had to be, see my process paper on the project), I finished it.  At least, I got it to a state I wanted to call finished.  But, therein lies another problem.  Neighbors isn’t finished.  In fact, there were a number of other things I wanted to do with Neighbors, but never got around to doing (another character, playable, with a different storyline to discover; spanning over three days instead of just one).  The way I finished the project closed off this possibility (the scripting isn’t flexible enough, I would have to script the whole thing again, in a completely different way).  And this is why I never submitted Neighbors to its rightful place on the Adventure Game Studio website.

But this is digressing.  I’m not sure, at this moment, why I am writing this blog.  Perhaps just to explain why I’ve been so quiet.  Perhaps just to do some “real” journaling.  Maybe I’m writing this blog because I need help with something I can’t quite grasp.  Or maybe it’s just to hear a friend say, “I know what you’re going through.”  Whatever it is, I think it feels nice to give this ghost another try.