Core Design Loop Step 1: Inspiration

While many people would love to make their own games, most don’t even know where to begin.  If you are someone who has always wanted to make games but doesn’t know where to start, this is the article for you.  Moreover, even if you have made games before but want a process for coming up with more ideas, then you’ve come to the right place. 1

The Art of the Steal

All creation is theft. Creativity is about taking concepts you have encountered before and combining them in new and innovative ways.  Don’t be afraid (especially when just starting out) to borrow liberally from other creative works you admire.  The key to creative design is to unite two concepts and present them in a way that is novel and creates a new experience.  So how do you best go about this?

1. Review the games that you love– Hopefully, if you are interested in designing games, you’ve played a lot of them. Find what got you passionate about gaming in the first place and bring it to your first creations.  Take a piece of paper and create as long a list as possible of your favorite games and gaming genres.  Spend at least 20 minutes on this and try to make your list as complete as possible. Include games you played as a child and categories of play you wouldn’t generally think of (video games, board games, role-playing games, drinking games, etc.)

2. Review the games you hate– Any game that has some popularity has something to teach you and has some core elements that may be valuable in design. Think about popular games you’ve played or games your friend’s play that didn’t hit the mark for you.  Take a few minutes and add these next to the list of games you love.

2. Find the gems– Spend time thinking more granularly than a player does.  What features of your favorite games really bring them to life for you?  What mechanics, components, themes, and external factors lead to the experiences and feelings that you most enjoyed? Create a new list of as many of these elements as possible, and highlight the ones that most intrigue you.  Pay close attention to your intense feelings during play – try and identify what about the game triggered those emotions.

3. Find the crap– Now think about the elements you don’t like.  Look not just at games you don’t like overall, but look for ways that the games you love fail.  Think about ways that these games could be better.  There is a tendency for new designers to want to add components to their favorite games, but think also about what could be subtracted.  The best designers are focussed not on adding new things, but removing that which gets in the way of the true core of the design.  Add this list of crap next to your list of gems.

4. Look for patterns– If you’ve followed the above steps, you should have two pieces of paper in front of you, one with a column of games you love and one with a column of games you don’t love as much.  The second paper should list specific mechanics that you love or don’t love.  Glance over these lists and see what jumps out at you.  Is there anything that you can combine that hasn’t been combined before?  Is there anything you can remove to make a game or formula more successful?  Spend 20 minutes jotting down 1-2 sentence ideas for a game concept.  Don’t censor yourself, just keep writing during this period so you can get as many ideas on paper as possible.  If you stop moving your pen for more than 30 seconds, you are doing it wrong.

5. Pick your favorite concept and start working on it!- The next steps of the Core Design Loop are where you begin to refine your concept and bring it to life.  Choose 1 of the ideas above and begin fleshing it out. This is the soul of design- get yourself into a state where you can prototype and test as quickly as possible so you can start learning and improving. I’ll talk more about how to do this in the next articles of this series.

The key to finding good inspiration is to have a lot of raw material to draw from.  The more games you play, the more gristle for the mill of creativity you will have.  As you can see above, the goal is more than just to play your favorite games, but also to play games in categories you don’t necessarily like.

Inspiration can come from anywhere– not just games!  Explore your passions in unrelated industries and use them to find inspiration in making games.  Do you love sewing?  How would the mechanics of sewing turn into a game?  Perhaps an exotic destination you travel to can provide the setting for your next game.  Even experiences you hate can provide inspiration.  Next time you are stuck in traffic, think about making a “racing” game where you race to work at rush hour.  Is there a rage meter you have to manage to survive the trip?

Inspiration is all around us, and as a designer you need to train your eye to pull out the little elements that make games (and other aspects of life) tick.  Keep a journal and take down notes whenever you think of them to add to your lists and review them periodically.  With the above tips, coming up with ideas for games should never be a road-block to you.

The idea, however, is only a small part of the overall picture.  Driving your game through the core design loop takes courage, determination, and a willingness to sacrifice the parts of your design that you love, but that don’t serve the overall game.  Now that we have our inspiration, we need to start setting some limitations to direct our efforts.

Check Out Part 2: Setting Parameters

(This blog has been updated and posted on steemit!  Check it out here.)

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