The Small Worlds of the Ludum Dare 38 – Part Five

Microcosms: It’s not a feature, it’s a bug!

Microcosms: It’s not a feature, it’s a bug!

Game jam entries tend to get an inspiration from our normal life to find an appropriate setting for a specific theme. So it’s absolutely understandable that many participants of the 38th Ludum Dare thought of small worlds in our everyday world, and voilà, the first ones that may come to mind are the habitats of insects. Some of these game follow a comedic approach like the hilarious  “Ant Detective”, where you have to solve a murder mystery, while you also find out about a conspiration. It’s just like your stereotypical detective game, but with ants as characters as well as sometimes subtle and sometimes over-the-top jokes (many of them related to ants, d’oh). The metroidvania “Bugyard” is also a bit more unrealistic thanks to the abilities the developers built in (like the Larva Shooter), but it’s cute and funny at the same time. In both games the microcosms of insects are just an appropriate, but kind of ‘replaceable’ reference for their game worlds. The games would work easily with another context and their worlds don’t feel really small at all.

That’s something that’s different about the platformer “Lovebug”: Here the cute insect tries to paddle over an enormous lake to get to its partner, but sometimes the dragonflies come by to bully him. The little lad can’t do much besides paddling and spraying out some beetle toxic, with which he can banish them for a short time. The figure here isn’t some mighty, strong or witty character, but just a tiny part of its own microcosm – and that feels much more reliable to the jams theme. Same can be said about “Holy Shit! A Spider !!!”, where you have to control a hungry spider to protect it from being slayed by a newspaper, a humans finger tip as well as bug spray.

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Some game makers imagined their own macrocosms: In “Flovala” the players have to control an unknown species, which has to eat small enemies while trying to hide from the bigger counterparts. Just the plants in the background imply that these creatures are pretty tiny. Meanwhile you can find a fantasy setting in “Fast & Faeries”, where you control one of four little (cricket-like?) faeries in a ‘racing’ contest in their own magical forest.

Woodlands seem to be a fascination for those games in general, like the puzzle platformer “Last day of the woods” proves. One of its most beautiful game mechanics are the ‘shooting’ and running fungi. Whenever they get hit by one of their specimen, they run away in the shooting direction, which led to some very interesting and challenging level design decisions. Chain reactions of mushrooms were also the core mechanic in “Song of Fungus”, where players have to turn all of them into their own color in a very limited number of turns.

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Some entries digged even deeper for their world concepts, right into the spheres of the nearly invisible. The players take the role of a tiny ship in the immune system of a sick person in “Inside Inc.”, which has to shoot dangerous viruses away. Meanwhile the wonderfully weird puzzle platformer “Quantum Frustum” showed off its splendor by taking advantage of the quantum theory – in a bizarre, Escheresque world some platforms just appear when you don’t look at them, and they change as well. That may feel too random for some of you, but I think you should absolutely give it a try.

Inside technological worlds

Inside technological worlds

But Mother Nature wasn’t the only model for small worlds in the 38th Ludum Dare – many developers chose technological worlds of different kinds as their paragon. But in which sense are technological worlds small ones, you might ask? One answer to that is by taking a specific point of view of the stuff that’s going on inside of an apparatus. For example,

in “Signal?” you are trapped inside a dangerous VCR, but whenever you get killed there, you can just rewind to a better instant of time.

Other entries addressed game development itself. Both, “Brainstorm 38” and “Arcade Planet”, were about the creative processes of developing a game for a limited space. While the first one is about the level design of a platformer before it gets coded, the second entry shows the core elements of five popular arcade games and how they can work with the same environment.

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The last games in this article series went absolutely crazy on the meta level. While you could assume at the first glance that “The Treachery of Game Dev” is just some “Snake” clone or maybe a little puzzle platformer, it actually gives you as the player the possibility to code a bit inside of it. You have to delve into the structure of your beloved media to progress there with the help of a wonderful little code editor.

The amazing meta game “DONATA”, which offers several endings, also wants its players to take a closer look at it. It doesn’t just demand the players patience, their capability to read carefully anything what’s being said and their skill to decrypt visual hints, but it needs them to think outside the box or better inside the directories. You have to go to the file level of the game to understand everything. And if you do so, you will be rewarded with some thoughts you may have already known… That a video game itself can be a very small world, which was just created for you.