One of the most exciting parts of game development is right at the beginning: coming up with new ideas. The excitement of imagining new, innovative games, experimental game art or improved gameplay for your favourite classics can be both thrilling and motivating, pushing you to create something of value.
A game idea can start from almost anything. You can start by thinking about the characters, storyline, setting, the world, game mechanics, the technology, or even small features in the game that make it unique and interesting. Many game designers draw their inspiration from other games, movies, toys or sports. But in the end, the inspiration for a new game idea can be sparked from any everyday object, life situation or even from a discussion with a friend – ideas come from everywhere and can be sparked by anything!
Fig 1. Click trough your own cake design ideas. Protoyping your ideas can be challenging. Some of them fail to excite and some of the initial ideas will need a lot of feedback and iteration.
What is important for game development, however, is to soon move into thinking about what the player(s) actually do in the game and even more so, is to create prototypes of your idea so that you can see whether your imagination can be turned into an actual enjoyable experience outside your head.
When you start working on your prototype(s), the ideas are often changed and adapted. Sometimes ideas are changed even further in the production. The game development process is iterative and explorative, and you will typically face a lot of surprising design challenges on the way. Most of the ideas that you initially imagine will fail to even excite yourself once you play the prototype. As a creator, you still want to expose your prototypes already early on also for external players, so that you see whether others will find the same things that you do interesting. This is even more important if your target audience is far away from you as a player.
Since your project will undergo design changes, it is also typical that ideating does not only take place in the pre-production phase. Sometimes you have alternative ideas already from the get-go, but you will probably also have to come up with new ideas when you face dead ends with your current design. You might start with loads of ideas for mechanics, storylines or features, but when you proceed the different parts of your game might not work together, and you will need to “cut the fat” to make your game work as a system. Some experienced game developers describe the game development process as “a mass murder of ideas”. Prepare to kill your darlings, several times.
There are hundreds of games published every day, and your idea has probably already been done by someone else – see if you can find similar games that work as references. It is useful, acceptable and even good design practice to borrow and resort to existing design conventions; it makes your game easier to communicate to the players. When your team goes through similar works and games, you also find inspiration, common design vocabulary, and are able to cut the iteration loops shorter.
It’s very rare that anyone gets the chance to actually build their dream game. In order to build a game project, one needs to make sure that the game idea is something that is possible to build with the team at hand, tools, resources and skills that are available right then. In other words, all game development starts with a set of design constraints that will limit the space of potential directions for the ideas. For instance, the game genre might be decided beforehand, the technology or platform might be predefined, tools affect what kind of a game can be made, the development budget can be limited, and so on. You will also need to make sure that your team is excited about the shared vision. Otherwise your game will never be made, no matter how much you personally like the idea.
It is easy to make new game ideas. But sometimes you hit a fear of a blank paper, or you might be under time pressure. In this case, there are several methods that you can use to come up with new ideas. A great way to get new game ideas is to break down a couple of existing games into pieces, and then randomly force them together into new combinations. Another way to make new game ideas, is to just have a list of random words that each team member freely associates from, taking turns in creating one game idea together. An important rule of brainstorming is that you do not include criticism to these sessions but restrict your critical thoughts to the session after the brainstorming. This kind of brainstorming can also be really entertaining, and you end up having ideas that you would not have imagined otherwise.
Learn more from:
Kultima, A. (2018). Game Design Praxiology, Chapter 4: Game Design Process is a Plethora of Ideas, pages 103-134. https://trepo.tuni.fi/handle/10024/103315
Fullerton, T. (2008). Game Design Workshop, Coming up with Ideas. pages: 148-156. Kultima, A. (2010) The Organic Nature of Game Ideation: Game Ideas Arise from Solitude and Mature by Bouncing. FuturePlay 2010, Vancouver, Canada. ACM Digital Library.