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Game Ideas: Don’t Force Them

January 24, 2008

As I posted a week or so ago, I’ve been asked to participate in the Game Design Challenge at GDC. Not so surprisingly (but terrifying nonetheless), this involves the creation of a game, an interspecies game to be exact. Since I’m working on my design now, I thought I’d post a bit of my typical design process that holds true game to game.

First, be aware that I’m always playing games and reading interesting stuff about games, game design and stuff that has nothing to do with games at all (because you might someday make a game about  it). These things are raw ingredients that let design happen.

My design process:

  1. Figure out all the constraints.
  2. Determine audience expectation (what will the player want and expect to do?)
  3. Settle on a genre.
  4. Wait.

If nothing shows up, go back to 3 and repeat.

I throw the stuff to the back of my head and wait for an idea to show up. Oddly enough, it always does. Sometimes, it takes an hour. Sometimes, a few days. But eventually, the game starts to arrive, and once I have enough of it, I’m able to put a bunch of pieces together. It’s usually then that I like to start bouncing the ideas off of another designer. In recent years, it’s been the same two guys that I’ve worked with for quite a while.

A huge part of game design is trusting yourself to come up with an idea. Sometimes, we force it, we push the design out, and it’s usually much worse for the wear. You can tell a design that’s not yet matured in this sense. The puzzle piece might fit, but it’s the wrong color.

The creative brain often works best when it’s left alone to do its thing. That’s not to say that it’s not good under pressure. It is. However, some of the best games come about when a designer is hit with a sudden moment of “ah ha” while driving, showering, thinking or talking about something completely unrelated. It doesn’t work as well when we sit at a desk, stare at a monitor and wait for “vision.”

And what if you don’t have that time? Time is a luxury, of course. Over time, by practicing your design skills again and again and again and again, you get better at it and with that, you get faster. For me, RPGs and their respective systems tend to show up pretty quick. For the game I’m working on now, it took a little longer.

A bit more on point #2 up there. Note that it ends in “do” vs. “see.” What will the player want and expect to do? In so many cases, we get carried away with the visual, that we forget people don’t play games to look at stuff, except for the first 15 minutes. They play games to do things. Especially in this day of graphics arms races, it’s important for designers to remind themselves of this.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2008 8:03 am

    I do agree with you! We have to think on the gameplay, on the player immersion. I’ve recently read two articles about do and don’t of HUDs on console games, and those texts showed how harmful to immersion a HUD can be if the game designer don’t give thought to it properly.

    By the way, have you seen the trailer for the new Alone in the Dark game? Although I couldn’t get a glimpse of the actual gameplay and plot (I’ll have to wait for its release) I was very impressed by the designer’s choice on how to display the inventory. It’s screen is simply the best I’ve ever seen on a game, it’s the view of the character’s coat and belt, as seen from the character himself. Wonderful. No distractions from the gameplay, immersion-smooth and yet very useful.

    If you got curious, here goes the link:


  1. Great advice from an expert designer « CGInspiration

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