Angie McKeown

              I'm only me, but I'm very good at it

Game Design

Ludum Dare!

Visual Novel games are an amazing cross-over of my interests in genre fiction writing and game making, so when I was foolish enough to shoutout on Twitter that Ludum Dare was in a few days and I was dying to take RenPy for a spin, of course people said, “Do Itttt…”

Ludum Dare is an online game jam which takes place over about 72 hours or so, and at game jams you’re mostly meant to use the opportunity to jam with other people so you can pool your skills, bash something fun together and gain some new experience and teamwork skills. But I was specifically looking for RenPy experience and a writing portfolio piece, and was pretty unsure about committing to leaving the house – Belfast is an hour away each way so it adds a lot of effort (not to mention having to put clothes and makeup on, ugh), you get left out of team things if you aren’t there as long as everyone else, and I’d just had a nasty ‘remote teamwork’ experience. So I was going it alone for this one.

There are a bunch of constraints immediately, though, when you go alone. I had no ability to produce any art, so I’d have to buy it, which heavily constrained my choice of backgrounds and characters and how much they could even animate mouths and simple expressions (trust me, I have no artistic ability for this). Sound is also a problem, though Free Sound to the rescue! Also, I’m lucky enough to be good with accents – or at least passably funny – so I recorded all the voiceovers myself!

Using 3rd party sounds and artwork also constrained my licensing models… ordinarily I try to release everything I work on. I mean, literally everything.

If you know that your student app is going on a marketplace, damn sure you do a better job polishing it and finishing those little extra menus and things. Is it a clone of 50 others? Of course, but so are half the commerical ones. Get it out there and onto a market and onto your portfolio! However the only art pack I could find with enough characters for my story was pretty tightly licensed for only compiled software (to prevent easy theft of the art assets, I assume), so that sadly meant I couldn’t do a web release of the game.

Working out how to loop through the phonecalls and add conditionals or inventory items depending on player actions, and have character arcs bend this way or that depending on how you treat them was very enjoyable. And I found RenPy very easy to work with for this. Much more so than I had previously found Twine, though that may be only because I’m more familiar with Python than JavaScript.

So, I didn’t quite finish Ludum Dare in the time, as it was an epic project to undertake alone in the end. Butttt, I learned a tonne of RenPy specific things during the whole process, and I’m impressed by its ability to deploy to mobile platforms. I enjoyed writing and coding the branching plot and character interactions a whole lot. I really liked trying to come up with a cosy mystery plot that didn’t involve any death but still retained some puzzles and tension. I’m not quite sure I got there, but I’m looking forward to feedback on that.

Sure, I’m a bit embarrassed of the voice work and the art could be better put together (though I do love making logos), but I’m already looking forward greatly to working on something where those parts are handled by professionals so I can focus fully on making my parts shine.

Oh, you want a LINK? Hah… you have to wait, I’m still tweaking things! I’m a coder, I have feature creep! But keep an eye on my Twitter because it will be VERY SOON. I’ll put it here when it’s live <3

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