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Fifteen minutes before the deadline, I hit “submit.” Only forty-eight hours earlier, my game wasn’t even a concept. The entire process was rushed, with compromises at every step to meet the impending deadline. I wasn’t satisfied with the end result. The graphics were rushed, with many textures made in the last hour. While the map had roadways and buildings, there were vast empty spaces, and it lacked charm and polish. For two days, I watched my feature list shrink and my bug list grow, as time constraints forced me to cut planned mechanics to fix broken ones. Had I been working under any other circumstances I would be content hiding my game from view. Instead, submitting that game was one of my proudest moments this summer.I didn’t procrastinate, despite only starting two days prior. Ludum Dare describes itself as an “accelerated online game development event,” also known as a “game jam.” Three times each year, over two thousand developers, novice and professional alike, create their own games from scratch in 48 hours, incorporating a theme chosen by the community. Designing a quality video game typically takes a team of professional developers far longer. For a student like me, developing a game that’s even playable in a weekend demands late nights, long hours, and sharp focus. While I managed to maintain nearly eight hours of sleep, three meals, and one shower every day, all remaining time was spent focusing on the game, from the moment the theme was announced to the final submission.Competition rules state, “Your prize is your product.” As I look at my “trophy,” I know that I’ve broken this rule. To me, the game isn’t the prize, it’s a byproduct. My real prize is the development. When I work on a long-term project, I know I can create a functional program at the end. Occasionally, however, I box myself into using techniques I know. One might expect that when under pressure, I would tend to stick tightly to familiar solutions. On the contrary, the urgency makes me search for the most robust, yet simple solution. With limited time, I need to know that I won’t spend all day adding something small—or all night trying to fix it! If a solution works, it’s another tool available to me. If it fails, I can observe why and apply that knowledge to other problems. A closer look at that pattern reveals the true prize of Ludum Dare. Instead of testing an individual feature, each competition provides an opportunity to test themes, styles, and gameplay mechanics. My first attempt had an absurd combination of visual styles. Over the next two competitions, I refined my style into a cleaner, unified one, partially triggered by the theme of “minimalism” given for my second competition. After two failed games in which the player controlled a human character, I shifted paradigms, finally tasting success with a puzzle-based game. Using simple animations, I eliminated the jarring transitions between frames that I observed in my first two entries. These progressive improvements made my third entry one of the strongest games I’ve made, in 48 hours or otherwise.Failure is only truly failure if the story ends. My secret to Ludum Dare is that it’s never just a 48-hour competition. Each game is different, but undeniably influenced by the experiences from past entries. This game didn’t meet my expectations. After the success of my last game, and armed with a new engine, I had higher hopes. But even as the thought of touching a keyboard again could make me shudder after a weekend of furious typing, my mind couldn’t stop thinking about the next competition. Submitting something with full knowledge of how to make it better feels awful, but creation is a process. Realizing flaws and their solutions isn’t something to be ashamed of. Instead, it is imperative to improvement.
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