Ludum Dare 21: Ships, Spikes, Batpunching

By Adam Smith on August 23rd, 2011 at 4:45 pm.

Ludum Dare, ho!
Ludum Dare, for those who don’t know it, is a competition that challenges people to code games on a specific theme, ‘Escape’ this time around, within 48 hours. I could probably spend 48 years trying to make a game, but it would end well. As a boy, I once programmed a Commodore 64 to draw some flags but I copied the code from a magazine. That’s what we did instead of modding in the Eighties. It was radical. Here in 2011 I have spent slightly less time than these games took to make playing through a bunch and bringing you my pick of the crop, below.

First up is Stratus by RichMakeGame. It doesn’t take very long to play from start to finish. About ten minutes. Unless, like me, you become confused by the very first goal you’re set and continually quit out of the game to recheck the controls, thinking something is becoming confused between intent and action.

It begins as you awake on a ship, face down in a pool of blood…

Blood not pictured, face not down

…and then you run up and down the ship, taking in the details and trying to interact with everything in sight. Except the one thing you’re supposed to interact with. I thought I had the controls wrong so I pressed escape to find a menu. My desktop was revealed, glaring at me, unimpressed. I had accidentally quit.

Back in I went, remembering this time to read the instructions on the opening screen. Left mouse button to use. I awoke on a ship, face down in a pool of blood…

…and I’d like to say I did it right that time, but I didn’t. I ran up and down the ship, clicking the left mouse button on everything interesting, and then assumed the game was bugged and pressed escape to seek help on the designer’s forum.

Turns out you can only use things when they are the correct thing to use. It’s as if you awoke this morning, hopefully not in a pool of blood, and tried to put on your trousers before your underwear. You simply wouldn’t be able to utilise the trousers.

The game does guide you but without the use of text. Once I passed that first minor hurdle I did speed through the rest of it though.

It’s certainly attractive, both in its design and technically. There are no real surprises but I enjoyed some of the imagery. The ending is abrupt and I’m not sure if I gave it a greater meaning than was intended. I’d be interested to know what the last item people ‘used’ was. I don’t think it’ll change what you see at the end but it might well change what you perceive.

Next up is a celebrity entry: Prelude of the Chambered. Y’see, it was made by Notch who also made, or rather is making, a little thing called Minecraft. With an ongoing project of that size, it’s amazing that he found the time for Ludum Dare and it’s even more amazing that his entry is one of the most complete experiences here. There are shades of Wolfenstein, particularly the opening cell, and the sound when you collect a trinket is an echo from that game, but the actual setting is more Dungeon Master than Colditz.

Through the eyes of a chambered man

You start in a prison and must escape. This involves punching through walls and punching through bats. Despite such ultraviolence it’s a puzzle game with an adventure surface, I reckon, particularly once you start sliding around on ice. At that point I was reminded of a first person Chip’s Challenge, which is no bad thing. Definitely worth a look, particularly if you’re at all fond of being Chambered. Two warnings before you go off and try it. First of all, even though the game’s only about half an hour long, there is quite a lot of backtracking. That fits with the Metroidvania style of collecting new items, which are really powers. The other warning is about death. Yes, it comes to us all, but it also sends you right back to the beginning of this game so look after yourselves, gosh darn it.

Then there’s Hotel Escape by pgil, which contains spikes. I’m going to assume spikes are now a genre. Also, that if I ever have to escape from somewhere, spikes are almost certainly going to be between me and the exit. It seems to be their thing.

Has anyone actually ever seen spikes on a ceiling?

In this game, the player character is a bellboy with a red cap, which is instantly pleasing. He runs and jumps and dies. Mostly he dies. This time round it’s not me being rubbish, it’s the game being cruel. I won’t spoil anything because I like where the game goes, but stick with it and remember the theme of the competition. All will make sense. When you finally understand my declaration that the sound design is the most impressive part of the design, you’re on the right path.

Finally, three honourable mentions, the first of which goes to AWOL simply because it oozes style. The tank is a little too floaty for my liking but, damn, that is some pretty rain. Plus, you can load it in your browser provided you’re packing Unity, so not only is it free, you don’t even have to download it.

Another fun if momentary diversion is Flee Buster. It’s three games in one and they’re all one game. Whichever you think sounds better. Though be warned, that’s the kind of distinction that has caused schisms in major religions. I doubt Flee Buster will cause any such bother, it’s too endearing and slight. Give it a go.

Last but not least, Poltergeist. It’s an attractive design and it involves fleeing from ghosts, which is in the finest and most ancient videogaming traditions. I’m genuinely impressed by the skill involved in avoiding the bad guys here. Something about the looseness of control over the player when sprinting mixed with the monster’s turning circles makes close scrapes happen an unnerving amount. And the sound effects, though not subtle, are suitably distressing.

If you’ve seen anything exciting, do share. There’s plenty more to discover, I’m sure.

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34 Comments »

  1. Tomm says:

    I couldn’t get past the boss ghost in Notch’s game despite saving all my potions for that portion, which is a shame as I sensed I was right near the end. Looking forward to trying out some of the others.

    • JohnnyMaverik says:

      Same here :(

      Tried three times then gave up.

    • Xander0311 says:

      It took a few tries of just running though dry, but I could not help but panic when getting chased by that ghost, and finally cleared it with three hp left!

      FUCK everything about that ghost room. Notch once again shows he knows how to make High Octain Nightmare Fuel without the use of gore or shock. :(

  2. ckpk says:

    http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-21/?action=preview&uid=1405

    an amusing and smoothly made point and clicky thing, very much a complete (if small) experience.

  3. Shark says:

    [insert rant about Notch not working on Minecraft everyday of his life]

    • Premium User Badge

      Rinox says:

      Haha, yea. Frankly, I find it a disgrace that he does things like spend time with his family and have fun in his spare time. Who does he think he is?!

      Every time he takes a break, he spits in our collective faces.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aninhumer says:

      Every time he blinks and thus spends a fraction of a second not working on Minecraft, he is worse than Hitler.

    • JohnnyMaverik says:

      I think having those two names in the same sentence is a little harsh on Hitler.

      Notch is just the absolute worst… until he releases 1.8 that is, then he’ll be better than god for 10 minutes.

      After that 10 minutes we’ll have all worked out that none of 1.8 works in multiplayer and the update has broken The Yogscast’s “Shadow of Israphel” series, again, just like nearly every other update has done. Then he’ll be back to being worse than Hitler.

  4. Tei says:

    Maybe is newsworthy to point out that while Notch was writting the code, he streamed himself, and that 12000 persons watched that. We live in the future. I use to laught at anime series like Battle Programmers.

    Obviusly after DOTA2, programming will become the next E-sport. With super-programmers in stadiums, sponsored by Razer and NVidia. :D

    Kids, star learning “101 lessons of java” in your free time!. Is going to make you popular and sexy to chicks.

  5. Premium User Badge

    thristhart says:

    obligatory plug of my own game:

    http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-21/?action=preview&uid=3164

    I’ll get back to you with more recommendations once I’ve actually played the rest.

    • diamondmx says:

      Curious little game. :)

    • vecordae says:

      START SARCASM

      YAWN.

      This game didn’t live up to the vague, ill-defined ideal I have in my head of what it should have been (exactly like Monopoly, but in space and also an FPS). Rather than offer any sort of fact-based break-down of where, precisely, it let me down, I’ll instead adopt a position of thoughtless, self-entitled condescension. Wake me up when you magically produce a game that exactly meets the aforementioned expectations that I have not bothered to communicate to anyone.

      END SARCASM

      In all honesty I enjoyed this game and think you did a bang-up job in the allotted 48 hours.

      The last game I managed to put together in 48 hours was called “Frustration Age.” The game play consisted solely of whacking your own skull with a hammer while the acoustic cover of “Mad World” looped in the back ground.

      I never even started on the coding.

      EDIT: You had 72 hours? Awesome. I have never accomplished anything worth mentioning within a 72-hours time frame.

  6. Inigo says:

    I tried to enter the code from a book for a stick figure bouncing a ball on a BBC Model B, but when I was some 700 lines in some cunt thought it would be hilarious to hit the enter key while I was typing.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Devenger says:

    Would be nice of you to mention the colossal showing we had this competition (599 entries in total, across the main competition and the rules-relaxed 72-hour jam), and just how easy it is to get involved in future competitions. Nonetheless, thanks for this post, you’re well above the sites that only covered Notch’s game without managing to mention Ludum Dare at all, leaving the rest of us developers to despair for the state of gaming media as a whole.

    Ludum Dare needs you! (Well, it’d be nice to have you, at least. You’re certainly very welcome to join in next round!) It’s a great opportunity to make a game with the guarantee that at least a few people will play it and give you meaningful, constructive criticism. Also, you get to take part in the judging process after the development weekend, which is lots of fun (it’s good motivation to try out every game and thus find every hidden gem amongst the lot).

  8. matthias_zarzecki says:

    Yup, it’s a bit sad to see that from 600 games (SIX HUNDRED. That is A LOT.) one, as good as it is, gets all the traffic.

    Anyway, nice to see some coverage of some random games. And now for the plug!

    Go play Metal Sphere Solid! It’s really good, I (and some internet-people) say.

    http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-21/?action=preview&uid=3880

    -Matthew

  9. ExciteMike says:

    Woo! Thanks for covering the event!

    Here’s my entry! Feedback appreciated!

    • Starky says:

      Nicely done, best thing about it was the music. It’s going to be stuck in my head for hours now.

  10. Quick Fingers says:

    Thanks very much for the honourable mention! Glad you liked my pretty rain :)

    • Jhoosier says:

      Nice game, despite getting turned over and gunned down from all sides. Kids, don’t fly your tanks upside down!

  11. Casimir's Blake says:

    Notch, if – by some chance – you read this, please make more of Prelude of the Chambered. Or allow us to mod it, or release the source. Or something!

    Prelude of the Chambered is probably the best indie game I’ve played this year, and there’s not nearly enough of it. :( (I am not exaggerating, it’s not like first-person dungeon crawlers are released on a regular basis, though Deadly Dungeons is pretty damn good.)

  12. Stuart Walton says:

    Pressing Escape to exit the game is some sort of meta-win, surely.

  13. Gib says:

    Thanks for the mention !

  14. bburbank says:

    Thanks for an LD write up! Although if this thing gets any bigger we will need 3 full months between contests for voting!

    Anyway, here’s my entry: http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/2011/08/23/and-just-like-that-a-post-mortem/

    It has been called “a game” by at least three prominent indie devs (another called it “a poem”).

  15. Premium User Badge

    Carra says:

    I remember playing more fun entries from Notch. Bunny Press is a fun little puzzle game. And break the tower got me busy for an hour.

  16. Dark_Oppressor says:

    Oo oo we are doing plugs? I want in!

    Here’s my entry: http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-21/?action=preview&uid=4910

    You fly a spaceship about and avoid chunks of debris and suicidal enemy ships. No shooting, all the emphasis on piloting skill.

  17. DecsterB says:

    Here’s my entry if you’re interested. It’s a sort of keyboard and mouse sidescroller:
    http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-21/?action=preview&uid=4425