Game Design: Part One – Inspiration

I have always found the creative process for games and movies very fascinating. I really enjoy the inspiring insight into the minds of the brilliant creatives behind movies such as The Lord of the Rings, or Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. (I’m a huge Jim Henson fan)

Since I am currently in the middle of quite a few game design projects I thought that now would be an opportune time to attempt to document my particular process. In the past I have found it so very difficult to keep track of my process because it seems to vary based on so many unforeseeable factors like, the client, the job, the workplace or what have you. This time around though I am working for myself, so the vast majority of these things are very consistent.

I have been designing mobile and board game concepts now for a couple of years with a few decent successes. Of course there are the inevitable failures and I will also ducoment those and how I handled them. This will be a multi-part article that hopefully you will find insightful and perhaps even useful in your creative endeavors!

References

I always begin my creative process by finding a quiet place where I can soak up some nature and sketch without interruption. This will vary depending on the person. I need visual stimuli with minimal noise. I may pull out some headphones and play something soft while I attempt to conceptualize my latest ideas. Headphones are usually used only if the music or noise around me is bothersome.

I start by cramming my head full of references. I look for things that I am interested in, nature, animals, people and things. I am constantly searching for new ideas and learning more about the world around me online through Wiki articles or YouTube videos. I absolutely love nature documentaries. It may sound completely unrelated to games, but this is the source of concepting great ideas. I fill my head will everything I can, then when it comes time to output a new idea to paper I have references to draw from. I don’t just want to spit out replicas of the games I have been playing, I want to put a new twist on these old ideas.

The part of the process is ongoing and happens every day. I usually need to set aside some time to do this otherwise I get busy with everything else.

Put it on Paper

The ideas begin on paper, lately I have moved this to my iPad since it is so portable and I can easily create a .pdf to immediately send to a client, but the concept is the same. If I can’t see it, it isn’t a good idea. The sketches are always rough and if anyone else were to look at them it probably wouldn’t make much sense. I may scribble a sentence or two to help remind me what I was thinking at the time so that when I come back to these idea at a later date I can pick it right back up. I don’t purposefully keep things cryptic in my sketchbook, it’s more of a shorthand that I use to maintain speed.

At this point the game design is just a concept. What that means is the mechanics have not been figured out in any detail at all. I may start a concept with the sketch of the hero, or a sketch of the setting, or a sketch of some rough story elements. It is very important at this stage to not get bogged down with the details, those come later. What I am trying to visualize is a fun game. I may sketch half a dozen extremely rough concepts until one grabs my attention or until I continue to come back to the same idea time and time again.

Next Steps

Once I have a rough concept on paper but before I can officially move on to the second step of fleshing it out I need to do some more visualizing. So, the next thing I do is try to picture in my head the screen that the player will be staring at the majority of the time they are playing this game. This will include some minimal game mechanics. At this stage I need to visualize some of the actions the player will perform. I have found this to be a good test because if this screen doesn’t look like a fun experience then I may need to rethink my concept, or continue playing with the idea until it does look like something I would spend a considerable amount of time playing. My ultimate test is, if I won’t play the game then it’s not worth pursuing.

Don’t Live Here

If I could offer a word of advice during this stage it would be, don’t get stuck in this phase of development. This part of the process should be quick. It is the gateway into creating an awesome game. If you can’t walk through the gate then it’s probably best to play it safe and stay in your yard. There are risks involved in creating games, the least of which is the unknown factor of how well your idea will be received by the public. You can create polls and surveys to get an idea of what people are looking for right now, but the truth is your game is going to take time to develop.

You can’t live in this stage of development. There are risks, be brave and take them. You will fail some of the time, but your successes will make up for those failures.

Next Up

This part of my creative process usually goes pretty quick. I don’t typically have trouble drawing out a variety of concepts. The most difficult part is best saved for next week, creating the core loop. Before I get there though I want to be sure that my sketch communicates clearly the basic idea and I want to be sure that the basic idea that is communicated is fun. If I can’t do those two things during this stage then it’s time to scrap everything and start all over.

~ Jeff Dehut

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