A Feature by Jeremy Bursey
So, it’s Sunday morning, about 3 AM, and you just woke up in a cold sweat. After spending days laboring over bad gaming ideas, wishing you weren’t so unoriginal, trying to find solace in midnight coffee or movies about dwarves who run train stations in the middle of nowhere, it finally hits you: You spend too much time worrying over things you should do instead of just doing them.
Three days earlier, Surlaw announced his first ever contest. The premise was simple: Make what you want, but make it purple. If you wanted to make a fishing game, fine. But make the lake purple. You wanted to tell your story entirely in flashback? Go for it. But do it in purple.
The week before that, Uncommon announced the “8,760-Hour Contest,” where contestants had only 8,760 hours to put a game together.
Then there was Fenrir-Lunaris’s “Art Imitates Art” Contest which encouraged contestants to make games based on characters from Vikings of Midgard, but to do it with original graphics.
And who could forget Moogle’s “Side-Scroller Redux” contest where you converted your favorite RPGs into side-scrollers, or vice versa?
With too many contests announced in a single block of time, one has to wonder where to devote his loyalties. And there you are, dripping in night sweat, because you want to enter all of them, but know in your heart that there isn’t enough time. With too many ideas floating around, you panic, drop the remote, and convulse until the last contest comes to an end. Then you develop a nervous tick because you still hadn’t accomplished anything.
Simplifying Your Decision:
If you find yourself in this position, then perhaps we should take inventory of your work habits.
First off, you have three games in production as we speak. That in itself is a recipe for slowdown. Secondly, the change in direction of the wind is enough to inspire you with another new idea. Thirdly, everything that crosses your mind has a habit of building a nest there. Fourthly, you’re lazy and can’t finish your plate of breakfast, much less your fungus collection of games.
So far, the odds favor you to skip all the contests.
But alas, you’re determined to try, even if it’s for no other reason than to support your favorite host.
So how do you choose which one to enter?
Dates are probably the most important part of the decision-making process.
If the contest occurs during a vacation period, or is short enough to force you to work now (like the 48-Hour contest), you’re more likely to get something done than if you joined something like, say, the Epic Marathon, which goes on and on and on.... Of course, if you’re the focused type who prefers longer deadlines that will allow you to actually cram all your ideas into your game before time passes and you end up releasing a bug-ridden mess, then a short weekend contest will probably cause you to wake up in another cold sweat when you realize how little you were able to accomplish.
But let’s assume the dates are reasonable. What then?
Then comes theme.
Ever since the early part of this decade, OHR contests have been insistent upon introducing some type of theme. Secretly, it’s to prevent cheaters from starting early. But I suppose there’s some semblance of cohesion among game entries that drives the topic to continue. And this makes sense. While it can be more fun for the player to discover a wide range of topics within a single contest, it can be more fun for the host to see his theme come alive within several entries. And both are validated, since the player and the host should both feel like the contest is worth something. And because theme has become such an integral part of contest creation, it’s important to decide which theme matches your vision for a lingering game idea.
By now you should see an equation forming. Date + theme = practicality. And with practicality comes the perfect container for one of your lingering game ideas.
For years you wanted to make a game about fishing on another planet. But with your epic Final Fantasy clone taking up all your free time and creative energy, you just never made the time to do anything about it. And even if you did have the time, you didn’t know why your fishing game would be any different than every other fishing game ever made. But then Surlaw announced his “Do More with Purple” contest and you realized, Hey, I can set my fishing game on a purple planet. That’s unique. And finally, that long awaited dream could be born. And lucky for you, Surlaw, a busy man by nature, understood that you might need at least a month to make it and so granted you a sufficient timeline to complete it.
And so, because the contest is practical, you decide the time is right to build this thing.
Picking a Winner:
Now that you’ve chosen your contest, how do you succeed at becoming a memorable entrant?
Okay, well, there is no formula for success either in contests or in game design in general; people are strange, and find the weirdest things to fall in love with. But if you want to make the top-fifty percentile, you should at least try to be original.
RPGs in the OHR community are a dime a dozen. Since the engine was built for RPGs, the majority of users will make RPGs. Therefore, one of two things have to happen. You either make an outstanding RPG that kicks the nature of storytelling on its ear. Or you do something that bends the engine beyond the norm, something that causes the player’s jaw to drop.
Chances are, if you really want to shine, then you’ll have to do both.
Integrating both takes time, though. So you’ll want to test your knowledge of plotscripting. Any basic game can do well if the story is good enough. But these days, it’s rare for a non-plotscripted game to gain any ground, in contests or in general popularity, so you’ll want to get a head start familiarizing yourself with some basic commands for general RPGs and advanced commands for everything else.
It’s also a good idea to have a reservoir of ideas waiting.
Sometimes you’ll plod along nicely, putting all the elements exactly where you want them, and then BAM!, you discover your superweapon is nothing more than a color change of your regular weapon. And you know this discovery will brand your game a lazy effort once the voters notice it for themselves. So you think fast, but realize there’s just no time to come up with something different. If only you had that list of “Last-Ditch Superweapons” complete with names, descriptions, and attributes handy, then you might’ve had time to change that “laser gun” (which looked exactly like your “phaser gun”) to a “chicken rain bomb,” and earn yourself that extra point of originality and respect.
Of course, if the bomb can only be used outside of battle, then you have to know how to script it. Plotscript templates can be handy in these situations.
Finally, once you’ve established what you want to do, you’ll want to take inventory of your skills and decide if you can successfully pull off the rabbit hat that you’d like to attempt, and to do it in the time allotted.
It’s one thing to say, “Hey, I’m gonna make a Gradius-style shooter with spaceships three-sprites deep, bosses with twelve working arms that take up the whole screen, and twenty different power-ups for this month-long ‘Make the Other Contestants Look Bad Contest.’” It’s another to actually do it. You’ll have to take a moment to figure out what is possible to draw, what’s possible to write, and what’s possible to code in such a short time. If, by nature, you spend a solid day’s worth of work drawing the boss’s first arm because you’re so detail-oriented, there’s a good chance you won’t finish your game. If you’re a rusty storyteller who takes upwards of an hour just to find a suitable alternative to the word “ungh” in dialogue (though, if you’re that bad, you’ll probably just stick with “ungh” as your pivotal moment in suspense), then there’s a good chance you won’t get your story in place in time. If you have to look up the plotscript dictionary or flood Castle Paradox’s HELP ME message board just to figure out how to move your third NPC to the (23,12) coordinate (without deus ex machina doing it for you), then you’re probably not ready to make that Gradius clone.
Most of us think we can handle the contest we choose to join, because we think we’re elite. But then reality hits and we quickly find ourselves drowning in deadlines.
There are remedies, however, that can be implemented to make the pain that a contest brings less excruciating.
First off, if you’re a contestant, don’t join if you have too much on your plate already. Things will never get finished if you keep starting new things.
Secondly, if you’re a host, don’t start a contest that’s unreasonable or entirely self-serving. Expecting successful results from a “Build Your Own Twelve-Level Armored Car Side-Scroller Contest” in twelve days is unreasonable and no one will finish. Don’t be afraid to push the deadline down the river a bit if it means allowing contestants to submit complete games. Also, starting a “Finish My Abandoned Game Contest” will appeal to no one and probably get you Jerkstored. If you’re a host, plan ahead, decide if the contest has the potential for success, and give the contestants a firm list of rules so you don’t look like you’re winging it.
Thirdly, if you’re a contestant, DON’T PROCRASTINATE!!! Hosts try to be fair with deadlines, but there’s a point when the contest needs to end. Chances are, if you miss the deadline it’s probably not a result of the host’s bad planning. Plan wisely, remain diligent, and maybe, just maybe you might finish your game in time. And finished games do much better in contests than the unfinished ones do. Just ask the creator of The Wizard, the Thief, and the Lich.
Finally, if you do enter the contest, and you do plan ahead, and you do work tirelessly, and you still run out of time, then make sure you allow yourself one or two days to at least tie off loose ends so that you can end it at a chapter rather than a dead spot. If a player can reach a nice “End of Demo” message, he’ll appreciate you more than he would if you wasted his time allowing him to search for things that don’t exist.
So remember these words the next time someone announces his “OHR Tactical Turn-Based First-Person Shooter Contest,” and you might just live long enough to show your grandchildren a finished product. And if you’re lucky, you might also win $50.