The Game Concept
As I mentioned last time, the only four elements of game design you really have to be concerned with when beginning to create your design are Story, Gameplay, Concept Art, and Programming. Since I sadly know almost nothing about programming, I will be mostly skipping that part. (Unless someone wants to guest write a few paragraphs? *waves a cookie temptingly*) Concept art can also wait a bit, because we should get our ideas organized before we try to embody them. So that leaves story and gameplay. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?
If you are not a writer, the choice is obvious - do the gameplay first, or you better get a writer for a partner darn quick. If you are a writer I would still recommend doing the gameplay first, unless you already have a solid inspiration for a story. Me, I know I want to do something with romance, which means of course that my game will have to belong to one of the story game genres, but theoretically that could be anything from a sidescroller to a MMOFPSAG, so my story idea doesn't really limit me in terms of gameplay design. If you're absolutely certain your story has to be about, say, Jane Adventurer's personal journey from pacifist to vigilante ninja, then you'd better outline your story first and then worry about what genre of gameplay would best support the story. But otherwise, let's work on the gameplay first so you can at least tell a prospective partner what kind of game you'd like to make.
A Note On Genre In Games
The word genre does double-duty in talking about games. On the one hand you have things like horror, fantasy, science fiction, romance, historical, noir, cyberpunk, etc. - these are genres of fiction, or literary genres, and are part of the Story area of game design. On the other hand you have things like RPG, RTS, FPS, MMO, adventure, sidescroller, strategy, sim, etc. - these are gameplay genres, which naturally are part of the Gameplay area of game design.
So, the first question to ask yourself in designing your game is, "What gameplay genre of game do I want to design?" If you already know, good. If you're not sure, here are some decision making strategies:
Again, again! - This is the simplest strategy. Just think of your favorite game, the most perfect game you've ever played, and make one of those.
If Only - If you aren't happy imitating an existing game, why not try improving one instead? Pick a game that looked amazing when you read the back of the box, but turned out to be fatally flawed. What could you have done differently to make this game live up to its potential? Unless your answer to this question changes the game's genre, you want to make the same type of game. If it _does_ change the genre, of course you want to figure out what the new genre would be and then make _that_ kind of game.
Make What You Play - If you can't think of a good example game or you're just not a happy camper unless you're doing something truly original, here's a more complicated exercise. Figure out what genres of game you like to play. Cross off any you just wouldn't want to design. Assuming that there is more than one genre of game remaining, figure out what the difference is between them. Turn-based vs. realtime? Puzzles vs. no puzzles? Combat vs. no combat? For each of these differences decide which you prefer, then combine all your choices - congratulations, you have made your own genre. Good luck - I'd like to see some new genres show up on my game store shelves. But for purposes of selling your idea to others I suggest you call it whatever existing genre it is most similar to, then specify the difference, for example, "I want to make an Adventure game with combat".
Daydreaming - And finally, the least efficient but possibly most fun method. Lay somewhere comfy, close your eyes, and imagine you are playing the best game ever. What kind of game is it? What are you doing at the moment? What else can you do in the game? What makes it cool? Can you design a game like that?
Well, I didn't cover a lot of territory in this entry, but it's gotten pretty long and I'm tired, so we'll leave the discussion of gameplay genre characteristics and gimmicks for the next entry.