So, you've decided to take part in your very first ever Ludum Dare... congratulations! I'm assuming you don't know what you've got yourself in for, so just remember: your primary objective is to finish something that (even vaguely) resembles a game. It doesn't have to be good, it just has to be. Here are a few tips on maximizing your chance of success:
- Submit your game!
- Be prepared.
- Dream big, implement small.
Tip 1: Submit your game!
You've toiled for 48 sleepless, malnourished hours - and you've made it! You have a game! But you're not done - there's still two very important things left to do: upload it somewhere where people can play it, and submit the link to the game (and source code) on the Ludum Dare site.
Step 0: Before the comp you need to register on Ludum Dare and add a post to the blog saying "I'm in!" (or something to that effect). Now you're sure you've got the correct access to the site.
Step 1: Make a game. We're not allowed to do that yet, and the theme hasn't been decided, so just imagine.
Step 2: Once the comp is over you'll be exhausted, and also have 60 minutes to upload your game somewhere (I use GitHub for source control, and make HTML5 games - so usually just use GitHub pages for hosting. itch.io is another good choice for web-based entries). Make sure you've practiced uploading your game to a public server beforehand. Things will go wrong, and you won't have slept, and you'll be in tears.
Once that's done, head over to the "submit" page on the LD site and submit your entry. You need to add a link to the game (and a link to the source code). You also have to upload at least one image for your game, and some instructions. Here's an example of my entry from LD 27.
Well done, you've successfully made a game for Ludum Dare!
... cut to several days earlier...
Tip 2: Be prepared
Ludum Dare rules require you make everything yourself during the 48 hours of the competition. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G! Code, graphics, sound effects, music: you can't just grab a music track from SoundCloud and add it to your game. You have to make create image, every song, every bleep and bloop yourself!
However... there's a caveat: you can use a library or framework as long as it has been made public before the competition starts. If you're using something like Unity (or another game-maker type framework) then you've got nothing to do. But if you're more of a D-I-Y kind person, you should put together a small library of functions that you'll know you'll need: game loops (necessary), basic image drawing (necessary), some "screen management" (optional) and so-forth.
Put the library online somewhere, and add another post to the LD blog linking to your work. Now do a quick practice of downloading your library, starting a new project, and drawing something on the screen: you want to waste as little time setting up and deploying your project as possible.
For music and sfx - it's a bit more difficult. You're not allowed to prepare things in advance, but there are heaps of tools to help you out on the day.
Tip 3: Dream big, implement small
48 hours is not very many hours, especially if you are a human being and require many of those hours to sleep. Keep the core mechanics of the game simple: aim for a simple game with as much "juice" and polish as you can muster. Ideally, have a quick prototype running on day one, and spend most of day two polishing.
...though it never works out like this, and you'll most likely still be culling half-working features with 15 minutes left to go. Better is to start with a simple core mechanic and prototype it quickly, so even if all of your awesome ideas blow up your face, you end up with a stinky mess: but it'll be a stinky mess of a game - and that's your only goal.
Don't be afraid of adding bells-and-whistles very early on: as soon as you have the most basic prototype working. Anything you say you'll "add at the end" won't get done, because you only have 48 hours; the start is the end!
No matter how strapped for time you are, please add some sound effects. They are not optional. SFXR (and it's ilk) are really easy ways to add 8-bit sounds to your game and any sounds will really help lift the perceived quality of your masterpiece. Whatever you add after that is a bonus: screen shakes, smooth animations, anything you can possibly add from this video...
And that's it
The only thing to remember is there's no such think as a "hack" in Ludum Dare. There's no judging category for "beautiful code" - so do whatever you have to do to get something out the door. The more bells and whistles the better - but if it's just a square colliding with another square, it's still a game, and you've still succeeded.