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Game Ideas: Don’t Force Them #2

January 28, 2008

Last week, I wrote a post about my design process. In a nutshell, I put all the constraints into my head along with a genre and wait for some ideas to surface. It’s a case of trusting your own instincts as a designer as well as the creative process. In this case, I’m working on my design for the upcoming GDC Game Design Challenge.

It’s a process that only works when you have the luxury of some time on your side. Sometimes, if you’re working on a concept doc or a pitch, you might have only hours before a call comes from a publisher-side producer.

Since that post, ideas have been surfacing. Over the last few days, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night and in the morning with the game on my mind. It reminded me of a part of Raph Koster’s book, Theory of Fun for Game Design, in which he talks about how we master patterns in games. When we’re very near to grokking it, we start to dream about it. I think it works the same for design. I’m used to waking up at odd hours during the design process, and always keep a notepad to write down whatever wakes me up.

For this design, there were some issues that I had yet to solve:

  • I couldn’t reconcile two key things and get them to work in conjunction like I wanted them to
  • I wasn’t sure how it would end

I understand that this is vague bordering on useless, but it’s the Game Design Challenge, so I’m reluctant to talk about what I’m planning to do.

Anyway, this morning at 4:53 am, the idea showed up fully reconciled complete with end-game goal. I got up and wrote it all down. My next step is to make it understandable by more than just me, and bounce it off a couple other game designers that I like to work with.

Now that the idea is, in theory, at least deconstructable and critique-able, it’s a huge weight off my shoulders.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2008 8:15 am

    I find that, when confronted with a hard-to solve design issue, it also helps to start thinking about completely unrelated subjects or to change my activity altogether, in order to change my thought process.

    For example, most of my “breakthroughs” have happened while doing physical exercise.

    I think that’s one of the beauties of designing games, in that you just cant completely control the thought process behind it.

  2. January 28, 2008 8:48 am

    Regarding the notebook – I do the same. I highly, highly recommend the Moleskine brand of notebooks, and carry one at all times.
    Truthfully, I wish they’d make a waterproof designer’s notebook. My version of the wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night design process is the think-of-it-in-the-shower process. I guess that puts me in the same school of design as Alan Kay…

    Good luck with the Challenge!

  3. January 28, 2008 2:14 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one losing sleep over the design process. Sometimes I wish I had a switch in the back of my head to turn my brain off. It will be 3am, and I’ll be completely exhausted, but my brain… just… won’t… stop… thinking.

    Looking forward to seeing what you guys come up with. I’ll be at GDC with the CA program, my first time this year. Looking forward to it!

  4. danwilkins permalink
    January 28, 2008 10:22 pm

    I’ve found if I suddenly get a stand-out idea, which unfortunately is often at 3am as Trenton mentioned, I start walking myself through it out loud or to someone who is still awake.

    This helps me remember it more vividly if I can’t write it down and narrows the scope and important parts right away, rather than just let my brain to continue bouncing it around unacknowledged.

    Also, best of luck on the challenge!

  5. January 29, 2008 6:55 am

    As a follow up to the follow up, last night I didn’t wake up thinking about the game at all. It wasn’t there this morning either. It’s currently sitting in this jumbled (but understandable) set of notes on my laptop.

    That I’m no longer thinking about it suggests to me that my brain believes it’s solved challenge in question, and that it’s done for now, at least until I get to the review state.

  6. August 4, 2008 5:34 pm

    I find the more active challenge of fighting against the inrush of mediocre ideas more interesting than waiting for the good ones to arrive. One process that helps me a lot is as follows:
    If I am confronted with problem A, and Solution S jumps to my mind but proves to be a mediocre solution, I will just ask myself, “What if I wanted to solve the opposite of problem A…and how would the opposite of Solution S contribute to that…” As you will find, there are many opposites to any given problem statement, and each opens a doorway to exploring more and more interesting ideas. Hey, it works for me, and I ‘m not one of the bright guys!


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