The Small Worlds of the Ludum Dare 38 – Part One


The Ludum Dare celebrated its fifteenth birthday with the thirty-eigthth edition! Over 2.900 games were created from April 21st to 24th in the year 2017, all under the same theme: “A Small World”. While we already recommended a bunch of submissions in the last few weeks, Sebastian Standke wrote a report about the event with a focus on the different approaches to the theme. The first part of our close-up series starts with small planets and the limitation of the player’s view.

Small planets

Small Planets

Very often the participants thought of small worlds in a sense of small planets, so that many games with a setting located in the outer space were created. Some of those entries were heavily relying on physics-based mechanics, for example “Techium Eclipse” and “In Good Hands”. In both games, you have to protect your planet from falling meteorites and you do that by rotating the whole planet itself.

The ‘anti-shooter’ “SLINGSHOOT” also is a representative of this kind of games, but it works in quite another way: By moving your planet close to the bullets or celestial bodies, that your enemies throw at you, you can manipulate their movement, so that they destroy themselves eventually. Another good example for the “Protect the planet” target is the defense shooter “Tiny Defense Planet”, where you have to fight against space dolphin aliens with your laser beams.

Close-Up, Part 1, Image 1

But violence, action and protection are not the only core motifs in those jam submissions that used planets as their playing field. Actually, there is a whole bunch of planet games which are simply relaxing. Take “Blomst 🌻” for example: Here you have to terraform heavenly bodies by planting different flowers on them. The atmospheric “Floraison” even lets you vitalize deserted wasteland planets just with the help of your character’s movements.

Another wonderful category of planet games were based on rhythm and music. For instance, in “Planetone” and “Orchardstra” you plant different kinds of seeds on your world and by doing so you ‘compose’ your own melodies. I find that kind of interaction exciting, because you have to learn about the functionalities, dependencies and structures of your environment to create something beautiful. But if you are rather up for some silly fun, I highly recommend you a round of “Interplanetary Billiards”. There your billiard balls are tiny planets, which have to get sucked in by a black hole, while your own figure must not vanish.

Big world, limited view

Big world, limited view

But as we all know, planets are traditionally displayed as huge worlds, offering us many places to explore. With that thought in mind, some teams actually used big planets, but transformed them into small worlds by limiting the player’s view on them. A great example for that strategy are the puzzle exploration games “Bunosphere” and “Pip Sweep”. In both submissions, the players can just see a tiny part of the whole environment, so that they have to remember specific locations and the way back to them to solve the several puzzles.

The linear shooter “Monolith” implements this idea in a whole other way. Here, each encounter with a hostile fighter unit is so well-wrought, that the view of the player simply has to be focused on foes – literally, as you cannot shoot them down without looking in their direction for some moments.

Close-Up, Part 1, Image 2

Limiting the player’s view can also be done by offering them interaction possibilities with the game environment only via an interface. For example, in “The Deep” you have to complete different tasks like mining minerals and chasing away dangerous leviathans in a submarine. The vehicle itself is a poky place, where each room has an explicit function: There is a navigation room, in another room you control the hatches et cetera. By following such a design, the player’s possibilities to interact with the game world are split, allowing the game to create an illusion of a small world, while it is actually a huge one.

Another well-done interface can be found in “Pod2000”. Here, the players control a rover robot with the help of a console. By executing different commands, the robot will be told to go to different locations of the unknown planet. Whenever the apparatus arrives in a new place, it can explore it for a while. Afterwards it sends pictures and audio files that represent the environment in an atmospheric manner. Just by hearing and seeing what it recorded and photographed, we can build a connection to the planet and the machine.

Close-Up, Part 1, Image 3

Some participants chose to hide the world and reveal its whole grace only bit by bit. Most games with dungeon settings like the roguelike role-playing game “Paisley Princess” did exactly that. Each new and truly tiny room of the dungeon can be only explored by getting deeper into it. Thereby, each floor means a whole new environment with different kinds of monsters and rooms to explore. The game itself may be just some pixels wide and high, but the game world itself is surprisingly big.

The ambient puzzle platformer “The Shifting Catacombs of Mu’ralagh” shows off its ability of hiding the world in an even more spectacular way. Here, the character never moves from one screen into another. Instead, by solving switch puzzles and succeeding in reaction challenges the player can explore new rooms of the catacombs.