Here is the first article in a series of 5 devoted to the creation of DEN.
Witten by Nicolas Liauthaud from La mécanique du plastique right after the end of the Ludum Dare #38 Game Jam.
This article is dedicated to the origins of the project and how the original design respects the theme.
DEN POSTMORTEM #1
As the theme was revealed at 3 A.M. here in Paris and as we wanted to be sure to have a good time, we choose some time ago to do the jam quietly, by installing everything on friday, beginning saturday morning and having long nights of sleep every day after. So once everything powered up and sweets and cakes purchased, we took a few hours on friday evening to discuss about technical and aesthetics envies.
That’s when we started to take every one of the 17 themes in competition, in order, and brainstormed on them. Some themes were less inspiring than others, some were subject to debates, but we also defined some gameplays or narrative ideas we were already happy with. But as energy was running out, and confronted to a theme which we didn’t liked at all, we decided to stop and go to bed, leaving this last one only blank.
“There’s only 1/17 chances of this one being chosen anyway !”
Plot twist : on next morning, theme number 17 is all over the news.
Really not inspired, refusing to do something too literal (that would have been a great path though, we just weren’t inspired), we took a tremendous amount of time to find a concept we wanted to explore. We felt all along the way that we were having difficulties to find and construct gameplays. After a while, our best proposal was to focus on the relationship between a solitary human and a giant finger. The player controlling the finger. Mise en abîme, contrast of dimensions and meaningful love-fear relation between the two in order to escape the world boundaries of one or the other. We did explore, slowly, the gameplay possibilities and the LD, but we had a harsh time resolving that, and started to accumulate conceptual issues on inputs, characters movements…
The knockout was to discover that a game featuring a giant finger interacting in a small world was totally the pitch of Antbassador in LD30. It was already saturday on the afternoon and we still weren’t sure to be able to overcome some interrogations so we decided, with difficulty, to simplify by getting rid of some of the atypical aspects of the idea.
The finger became a bit more classical character, the non-verbal relationship became secondary (we even didn’t succeeded to go there in the end), we focused on the playable character being too big for its environment, the question about crushing or not the tiny humans… and we throw ourselves into production.
That’s what went wrong and resulted in a game opening without so much gameplay. We could have produced a meaningful experience with more time or an experienced workflow, but we didn’t have either. We learned a lot instead.
A part of the crew had the experience of making animated films in some weeks. That was crazy. But a game in some days, that was wonderfully insane.