Jump to content

  • Log In with Google      Sign In   
  • Create Account

We're offering banner ads on our site from just $5!

1. Details HERE. 2. GDNet+ Subscriptions HERE. 3. Ad upload HERE.


How can I train myself to come up with simpler ideas?


Old topic!
Guest, the last post of this topic is over 60 days old and at this point you may not reply in this topic. If you wish to continue this conversation start a new topic.

  • You cannot reply to this topic
13 replies to this topic

#1 Tonren   Members   -  Reputation: 108

Like
0Likes
Like

Posted 03 September 2012 - 02:26 PM

My game ideas are too ambitious and complicated. Whether I'm thinking about designing a video game or a board game, I always start with a 50,000-foot-high view of a complex experience that would take many interrelated mechanics working in unison to create.

This makes it difficult to give myself opportunities to grow step-by-step as a game designer. I'm a great software developer, so if I came up with simpler ideas like "Tetris but with X", I could implement them without too much trouble and learn from that experience. But instead, my ideas all sound like "Civilization but in space with procedurally generated storylines and custom tech trees and, and, and, and..."

I know that one thing I can do is pare down those complex ideas until I have an "MVP". But I feel like I'm missing out on a whole universe of possibilities. I see simple, elegant games like Carcassone, Limbo, Braid, or Thomas Was Alone, and they're clearly novel ideas that don't come from thought processes like my derivative one described in the above paragraph.

Has anyone else struggled with this? How can I give myself a zen-strike-on-the-nose to shake off some of the derivative patterns of thinking I've grown into over the years?

Sponsor:

#2 Acharis   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3966

Like
1Likes
Like

Posted 03 September 2012 - 02:39 PM

You are not alone on this, this is much more common disease than you think :) I think there could be several cures, the one that worked out for me was a deadline. When I set up a deadline (very short one) and actually completed a game the first time (exceeding the deadline several times, but that's a minor detail :D ), I felt so great that I was willing to simply ignore my bloated ego in further games :)

But I feel like I'm missing out on a whole universe of possibilities.

It's not a feeling, it's a fact. Making games is about sacrifacing 99.99999% of the possibilities. It's unavoidable, do yourself a favour and get used to it.

Europe1300.eu - Historical Realistic Medieval Sim (RELEASED!)

PocketSpaceEmpire - turn based 4X with no micromanagement FB


#3 m.m.fox   Members   -  Reputation: 169

Like
1Likes
Like

Posted 03 September 2012 - 03:30 PM

well you know the saying: something is perfect as soon as you can't take anything away from it, not when you can not add an additional thing. just try to be.. really "honest" and ask yourself "would it be still the same idea/game/mechanic if i took x away?" repeat over and over ^^

all the best!

#4 Al_capwn'd   Members   -  Reputation: 125

Like
0Likes
Like

Posted 03 September 2012 - 03:59 PM

Start with a very simple goal. Very simple. Something like "Tertris with X" Then look at the base features. Rotating Shapes. Making shapes fall. Making shapes break when in a line. Then when that's done, add X. Then win and loss conditions. Then expand on your game. Some features are easier to implement than others.

#5 Mratthew   Members   -  Reputation: 1580

Like
0Likes
Like

Posted 03 September 2012 - 04:10 PM

Explore the EPICurean way of game design, I would start with scaling down level design. Consider what the game Alquerque means to the game Chess. There are historical aspects that seperate them but short of this, there is a simpler lvl design and unit control with much more linear gameplay. By starting with level design the limited space shrinks the game mechanics quickly (if exploration is one of your priority game mechanics skip this step;).

Then look at your character and the player's control of the character(limited by the peripherals which also helps scale down the design), the interaction between the player and the character (or main units of interaction) needs to be solid or the rest of the player experience won't matter and it will all feel like filler. After the player feels connected to the character(s) and the level design feels right (dynamic, worth exploring, and re-exploring, employs many good visual cues and focal points to lead the player as well as a good number of ways to interact with the world) its time to focus on primary mechanics. These will be limited by control of the character which is good, this limit is important to keep the design focused.

Now its a matter of challenging the player with goals, puzzles (math, spacial, language, tactile, ect), story arcs, covert, tactical, operational, strategic, diplomatic opponents or sensory problems to solve, etc. Picking only the ones you absolutely need to keep the player engaged for the amount of time you expect the player to be actively facing these challenges. This depends of course on the games target, be it casual, competitive, serious gamer or somewhere in between all that mess. The mechanics you choose will also create pacing since well known mechanics will speed up the pace for the average gamer while new ones will slow it down (this is important too). Give it brag worthy ending(s). The more players that can brag about finishing your game or parts of your game the better "word of mouth" you're game will get (the most meaningful advertising since this happens internally for a player as well creating replay value).

If this worked you should not only have scaled your idea down but also created a better game, since these were the priority choices you took from the obese mess of a game you started with. IMO its best to start with a big hunk of a game though, then you can cut chunks off instead of trying to glue pieces to a game that didn't have enough to start with. Glue wears off too quick.

#6 VildNinja   Members   -  Reputation: 462

Like
2Likes
Like

Posted 03 September 2012 - 04:15 PM

When we teach at game development workshops for high school classes we always teach them not to make a game. One of our most used (and useful) guidelines is to make a toy not a game. In other words think of a single game mechanic you like, test it, and if it is fun make a game out of it. That way you ensure to always start with something fun, and then you can add story line and other elements afterwards. Preferably as an iterative process.


You are not alone on this, this is much more common disease than you think Posted Image I think there could be several cures, the one that worked out for me was a deadline. When I set up a deadline (very short one) and actually completed a game the first time

Yes! And the best place to do that imho is at a game jam! Seriously DO IT you don't have to go to a physical one, there are plenty online.

Edit: This technique is probably not well suited for larger game projects, but it is a great training exercise if you want to make simple games.
Edit2: Examples: Gravity gun, Portals, Bullet time, etc.

Edited by VildNinja, 03 September 2012 - 04:22 PM.


#7 jbadams   Senior Staff   -  Reputation: 19324

Like
6Likes
Like

Posted 03 September 2012 - 07:10 PM

You can impose limitations. You might limit yourself to a short development time, only use specific tools, not edit code you've already written, or any other limitation that might force you to be more creative. You could also limit the game to exclude certain themes or genres, stick to certain mechanics, only use a limited number of inputs, etc. By imposing limitations you force yourself to be more creative and think of ideas or solutions you might not normally try, and if you're limited to a certain amount of time or certain number of features you will naturally avoid the problem of "feature creep".

A few specific suggestions you could try include:
  • Participate in a game jam or other time-limited competition. You might find these held near your local area, or could participate in them online. A couple of popular examples include The Global Game Jam and Ludum Dare. You can also do this alone rather than waiting for a jam; just set yourself a strict time limit of one weekend, one week, or whatever you feel is suitable.
  • Try to create a game using the restrictions of Ernest Adams' Dogma 2001: A Challenge to Game Designers. You'll probably want to ditch the "no credit" requirement, but the technical and thematic limitations (or a similar set of your own selection) will probably force some interesting designs.
  • Try Daniel Cook's Game Prototyping Challenges, where a set of graphics and the basics of a design are provided by an experienced designer.
  • Try to come up with your own limited ideas, and don't limit yourself to video games -- board games, card games, etc. are great practice too, and come with their own limitations and challenges! Give yourself a couple of tokens and a single dice, and see what sort of game you could create. Try to make a game using only items on your desk. Pick a board game you don't like and try to make it more exciting. Pick a multi-player board game and try to make a single-player version that is still fun and exciting. Make a card game using only one suit from a normal playing deck.
Limitations will help to control the scope of your work, and will also force or encourage you to be more creative rather than relying on the same themes or mechanics over and over.



If you feel your current ideas are too derivative you might try expanding the pool from which you draw inspiration, and when you're crafting your own concepts be mindful of the difference between inspiration vs. imitation. It's natural and just about unavoidable that your ideas will be based upon existing material, but you should be careful that you're borrowing, refining and expanding upon one or two key points rather than copying entire collections of game systems. If you only have a limited pool of knowledge to draw from, your ideas will naturally be limited to simple imitations of those existing ideas, so I feel it's important to expose yourself to a wide variety of different concepts, mechanics and ideas, thereby increasing your chance of being able to expand upon some interesting core or base concept in a new and interesting way.

Some specific suggestions for increasing your base and gaining new inspirations include:
  • Research topics you don't know much or anything about. You might investigate a certain period in history, a specific style of architecture, or read the starting text-books from a profession you aren't familiar with. If you don't know where to start, you might use a site such as Damn Interesting (or their book, Alien Hand Syndrome) or try some of the stories from Cracked.com.
  • Read books or watch movies from genres you might not normally be interested in. Watch a movie from IMDb's Bottom 100 list, read a piece of classic literature, find a copy of the religious text of a different religion. There are literally millions of books and movies you haven't seen, and some of them might help to spark new ideas for you. If you happen on a movie or book that's just too terrible to actually finish, take the chance to make up your own ending as a creative exercise.
  • Try different games. Try horribly ugly flash games on the internet. Try indie games. Try some of the classics. Try to imagine how you might make a modern AAA title work on an older console. Think about how you might update an early 90's game with modern hardware.
  • Listen to different types of music, or find covers of popular music done in an unusual style. Try some country music and some death metal. Find out what the lyrics are, and see if you can find out what the original inspirations for the songs were. Make up your own story explaining a fictitious inspiration.


You should also read and listen to what other designers have to say, and the techniques they employ. Examine existing games in detail and see how they work. By seeing how existing games were made -- what worked well, and what needs improvement -- and investigating the techniques employed by successful designers, you provide yourself with more tools to approach your own designs. Read The Designer's Notebook, and Lost Garden, and seek out the blogs and published articles of other successful designers. Read about ideas like "skill atoms" and "loops and arcs" that can help you to examine your games in different ways, and check that your designs aren't falling for the common mistakes listed in "The No Twinkie Database -- and then be a bit naughty and see what sort of ideas you can come up with if you commit some of those mistakes on purpose. Read The Pac-Man Dossier and marval at how the simple decisions combine into an interesting game-play experience.


Set limitations. Find new sources of inspiration. Educate yourself on different techniques for design.

Hope that helps! Posted Image Posted Image

#8 Tonren   Members   -  Reputation: 108

Like
0Likes
Like

Posted 03 September 2012 - 09:05 PM

Wow, my favorite thing so far is the Pac-Man Dossier.

It reads the way most functional specifications should read!

#9 jbadams   Senior Staff   -  Reputation: 19324

Like
1Likes
Like

Posted 03 September 2012 - 10:00 PM

You might also enjoy Super Mario Bros 3 Level Design Lessons. It's a bit less technical, but takes a look at some of the ways the levels have been designed to encourage or force certain behaviours from the player.

#10 Desi   Members   -  Reputation: 116

Like
3Likes
Like

Posted 04 September 2012 - 01:56 AM

Hi, registered just to answer this! I have three pieces of advice which saw me through Ludum Dare 24:
  • Write down the first six game ideas in your head, then discard them. They're too broad.
  • Write down another three game ideas, and discard those. Everyone is doing those already.
  • It should now be pretty tough to come up with game ideas. You've really got to dig deep for them, which means that they're more likely to be original. As you write more ideas, consider the things you're good at doing. I am good with arrays and poor at animation and art, so my LD game was a puzzle game.


#11 SimonForsman   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6293

Like
2Likes
Like

Posted 04 September 2012 - 09:04 AM

My game ideas are too ambitious and complicated. Whether I'm thinking about designing a video game or a board game, I always start with a 50,000-foot-high view of a complex experience that would take many interrelated mechanics working in unison to create.

This makes it difficult to give myself opportunities to grow step-by-step as a game designer. I'm a great software developer, so if I came up with simpler ideas like "Tetris but with X", I could implement them without too much trouble and learn from that experience. But instead, my ideas all sound like "Civilization but in space with procedurally generated storylines and custom tech trees and, and, and, and..."

I know that one thing I can do is pare down those complex ideas until I have an "MVP". But I feel like I'm missing out on a whole universe of possibilities. I see simple, elegant games like Carcassone, Limbo, Braid, or Thomas Was Alone, and they're clearly novel ideas that don't come from thought processes like my derivative one described in the above paragraph.

Has anyone else struggled with this? How can I give myself a zen-strike-on-the-nose to shake off some of the derivative patterns of thinking I've grown into over the years?


I think most designers struggle with this at first, The hard part about game design is not to come up with ideas, it is to strip them down and make them feasible to implement with the skills and resources you have available without losing the fun.

I'd recommend starting not with an idea for game but with an idea for a single gameplay mechanic, If you got a fun solid core for your game it becomes alot easier to control the scale of things, (You can then add features incrementally rather than stripping things down)

Edited by SimonForsman, 04 September 2012 - 09:05 AM.

I don't suffer from insanity, I'm enjoying every minute of it.
The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!

#12 Shaquil   Members   -  Reputation: 815

Like
0Likes
Like

Posted 04 September 2012 - 01:48 PM

I think the largest challenge is boredom. It'snot that one can't come up with simpler, more realistic ideas; it's that the simpler, more realistic ideas are just so boring and uninspiring. Tetris but with X definitely sounds like a good project to learn from, but that one good thing about it is also the worst thing about it: Who wants to work on something that they know is just for practice? What's really exciting is working on something that you'll want to show your friends, or family when they ask you what the hell you're doing on the computer all day. That's the kind of stuff I try to work on, because I know that as soon as I find something boring (either because it's too easy or too hard) I'll procrastinate and never get to it or finish it, if I've already started.

That's what I'd like to add on top of what everyone said. Take big ideas, pare them down, impose restrictions, but make sure the project you're making is something you honestly, truly believe you'll want to show to friends, families, strangers, possible employers. I know that makes it even harder, but when you do find something worthwhile, you'll be absolutely stunned at how devoted you are to it.

One more thing: Get some friends who design. Maybe at your school, but most likely online at a place like gamedev.net. Find people you can compare ideas with. Sometimes the mere act of witnessing someone else do something can make you ten times better at it. This applies to anything from sports to programming, and of course game design.

#13 Drethon   Members   -  Reputation: 212

Like
0Likes
Like

Posted 06 September 2012 - 07:13 AM

When we teach at game development workshops for high school classes we always teach them not to make a game. One of our most used (and useful) guidelines is to make a toy not a game. In other words think of a single game mechanic you like, test it, and if it is fun make a game out of it. That way you ensure to always start with something fun, and then you can add story line and other elements afterwards. Preferably as an iterative process.


Yeah, I followed this for designing a simple game myself. Now I have a pretty good working game mechanic but have to figure out how to make the next step to turn this simple "toy" into a full fledged game. Piece at a time I guess, real game development quickly becomes a job :)
- My $0.02

#14 swiftcoder   Senior Moderators   -  Reputation: 10361

Like
0Likes
Like

Posted 06 September 2012 - 07:23 AM

You could also limit the game to exclude certain themes or genres, stick to certain mechanics, only use a limited number of inputs, etc.

I find this is a very effective way to reduce complexity. Imposing harsh restrictions such as 'game can only use one button', or 'gameplay occurs along a single axis', or even 'game can only use 2 colours', really makes you distill your ideas into their most basic form.

Tristam MacDonald - Software Engineer @Amazon - [swiftcoding]





Old topic!
Guest, the last post of this topic is over 60 days old and at this point you may not reply in this topic. If you wish to continue this conversation start a new topic.



PARTNERS