Friday, July 07, 2006

Game Design Step 1 - Coming Up with an Idea

Coming up with a game design idea is easy for most gamers, but coming up with a good idea that's worth developing into a game is a little harder, but not by much. That is, if you know the trick.

I see a lot of gamers who suggest game designs in forums or on blogs who don't understand a few basic principles:
  1. If your design is very similar to an existing game, your game will have to be significantly better (or much cheaper) for it to be successful. Taking your favorite game and tacking on the one feature you wish that game had is not game design, it's just wishful thinking.
  2. If your design is completely original, you have to ask yourself, who would want to play it; who would be attracted to the idea of playing this game?
Most of the game designs I come up with (with the exception of more abstract games, like puzzle games and such) start out by answering a specific question: is this something people dream or fantasize about doing?

Think about it, many successful games let the player do something they probably can't do in real life (or can't do without suffering consequences...) :
  1. Shooting down cops and stealing cars (Grand Theft Auto series)
  2. Flying a fighter plane
  3. Shooting down nazis (any WWII game)
  4. Driving a fast racecar
  5. Driving a tank
  6. Commanding an army (this includes turn-based wargames and almost every RTS ever released)
  7. Second-guessing an army general's decisions (that's the main point of most realisitic/historic wargames)
  8. Living in a fantasy or sci-fi world, and possibly being a hero in that world (or an asshole) -- that's the point of most RPGs.
  9. Playing various pro sports (anything by EA Sports, for example)
  10. Rocking out on your favorite rock songs (Guitar Hero series)
This list could go on... As a further example, the game design I suggested in Monday's post answers the fantasies of racing fans, sci-fi fans, and gamers who wished they could race using the ships they flew in previous games, such as X-Wing, Freespace, Wing Commander, and so forth.

Here are some other fantasies I'm likely to address in the coming weeks: managing a space station, flying a dragon and dogfighting agains other dragon riders, creating a fighting with magical spells, and being a supervillain.

The other side to this basic concept is that some games are so totally original that they don't really fill an existing desire. The most popular example would have to be Tetris, along with most other puzzle games (Dr. Mario, Columns, Bejeweled and most of the other games up on Popcap.com, and so forth.)

Another recent example of a game that's taken many people by surprise is Katamari Damacy: it's such an original (but simple!) concept that no one could have had the desire to do what they do in the game, yet it's a successful game.

But note that most of those games that don't fill a desire or fantasy for the player tend to be extremely original and artistic in the way they're presented. They tend to be very rare, and so they could be considered the exception to the "rule" I postulated above.

So if you want to raise your chances of working on a successful game, start by thinking about the one thing you wish you could do, but can't. Chances are it'll lead to a compelling game.

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