Santa Claus Down - or how to make a game in 48 hours

This weekend I participated in a competition called Ludum Dare where the idea is to make a game in 48 hours or 72 hours. The former is called "Compo" and is more hardcore because you have to create everything on your own down to the smallest texture and sound. The 72 hours version, which is called "Jam," is more relaxed: you can work in a team and you can use old assets. But I'm hardcore, so I created the game Santa Claus Down in 48 hours.

The theme this competition was either "Growing" or "Two button controls" - or both. It's usually just one theme, but this competition the voting between the themes was tied. I chose growing as my theme and the plan was to make a growing truck that's growing with more trailers as you progress in the game, like the classic game Snake.

The basic idea behind the game is that Santa Claus has crashed and you have to deliver the gifts. I originally planed to create a random town where you have to drive around to deliver all gifts, but I ran out of time. Instead I ended up making an endless road system, where the roads varies between highway, house where you can deliver a gift, and a normal road.

This was my sixth Ludum Dare competition. I failed once, but I submitted games to the other five competitions. The good thing is that users who are voting also give you constructive criticism. The main criticism I got from the last competitions was that my games were creative but were not fun to play. So this competition I decided to make a more simple game and spend about 50 percent of the time making the game fun to play. This failed because of the failed idea to make a random city, so I spent maybe 30 percent of the time making the game more fun.

To learn how to make a game more fun I read the book The Art of Game Design. From that book I learned that (some) players like explosions, and most player want to play a game where the challenge is increasing. So I added explosions when you hit a car. It's not realistic but people who played the game said that it was fun to crash into cars:
...I felt like I was fighting the controls a bit, but it did make tail swiping cars more satisfying. As it was, tail swiping cars was really the high point of the game. I think this game could really work as a high paced drive around tailswiping cars and delivering presents to a destination kind of game.
To make the game increasingly challenging I tweaked:
  • When new cars arrive on the roads
  • When you get a new trailer
  • When the Grinch is arriving. I added the Grinch, who is driving a green car and wants to crash into your truck. The Grinch is only appearing after you have delivered a few gifts
  • When ramps appear on the road. I added ramps that you have to either drive over or drive around
  • When a heart appears that will give back some of your health 

This competition I also added sounds to the game. As I participated in the Compo I had to make all sounds myself. I didn't have time to go out and and record truck sounds, so I used a tool called Bfxr, which generates random sounds. Finding a good truck sound wasn't easy, so I ended up with a sound similar to the sound of a small boat. One of the players said it all:
...putt putt putt putt putt putt putt putt putt putt putt putt.. Don't mind me, just doin' donuts in ma truck!

Looks interesting? You can play it here.