We’ve all experienced writer’s block once or twice in life. There is an equivalent feeling for every artistic endeavor, including game design and development. When it feels like every great game has already been made, and you begin to overthink your plans, it almost feels like you’re out of good ideas.
Rejoice, for this is not the case! There are plenty of great unexplored game concepts out there, many of which are already stirring around in your brain right now. Let’s walk through some quick steps you can take to refresh your mindset and get to work even when the ideas aren’t complete there.
Drill Down and You’ll Eventually Find Gold
Nothing beats a brainstorming session. If you have a concept or theme in mind, drill down on the individual components of that theme. Let’s say you want to make a strategy game, the next level down would be “a spaceship battle strategy game”, and another level would be “manage ship placement, fuel, ammunition, and crew health”. Notice how a genre became actionable game mechanics? You’re well on your way to crafting a Game Design Document at this rate!
At this point, do not make the mistake of overthinking your idea. You may be tempted with side concerns, like, “this game idea is not very original / exciting / flashy” however these concerns around game feel can be remedied later. Go with what works, and plan details instead of concepts. Introducing more concepts further complicates the core premise and makes it even more difficult to get started.
So how should you start brainstorming? Write down your “drill down” list in Notepad, or Google docs, or even a piece of paper. Mind-maps are also an excellent tool that you can use, that helps visualize connections between ideas. Some great and easy to use online tools for creating mind-maps while brainstorming include:
Can’t Make Music or Art? No Problem!
Many game developers get stuck when they consider the amount of art, music or sound design they need to pull off their game idea. Just because your idea needs assets does not mean its a bad idea! If you are indie game developer working alone, it may feel even more daunting to create all the art for your game. To start, focus on simple art and music styles. There are plenty of game genres and types of art that do not require professional training as a graphic designer to pull off!
Earlier this year I wrote an article on how to make a game with no art or music skills. Believe it or not, its quite easy! I go into more detail in my other article, but keeping a consistent theme through your art and music is key, and a strong concept is more powerful than artistic skills. Chiptunes and pixel art go together wonderfully. An abstract word or puzzle game can be set to soft synth or string chord progressions.
Visit the Tire Shop Instead of Reinventing the Wheel
If you don’t feel comfortable creating art or music, you can always visit an open source website like OpenGameArt.org, or your IDE’s asset store (e.g. the Unity Asset Store). There is no shame to start from an existing template, asset or plugin. Your goal should be to actualize your idea and deliver on your theme and core premise — how you get there is almost never the concern of your players.
Prioritize creating a fun to play, inspired game over creating every line of code, pixel, or music note yourself. Effects engines, user interfaces, character controllers, and more have been created tons of times, there’s no need for you to recreate all of these things. Even more so, there’s no reason to be concerned with these things when coming up with your game’s theme during brainstorming. Don’t let these details get in the way of your ideation process!
It’s always a great idea to get inspired by other games or assets. If you find a fun asset for swinging ropes, your game’s central mechanic can utilize it for a grappling hook. Fun, interesting and unique things you find in assets can definitely help you focus and fine-tune your game idea!
Just finish your game. It’s as simple as that. When I am working on a personal project, it almost never gets completed unless I constantly remind myself that the goal is to get it in the hands of players. The best game ever created can be sitting on your hard drive, or in your brain, and will never become anything until it’s in a deliverable state.
Consider this when brainstorming. Your goal should be to finish your game, and to get people wanting to play your game. Don’t overthink your idea and don’t introduce too many new and conflicting concepts. Just get your Minimum Viable Product out the door, and connect your player-base with a download link or WebGL build of your masterpiece.
Iterate or Obliterate
Feel free to borrow this phrase that I just came up with. Once your game is in a playable, deliverable state, you need to hand it off to players to try out and provide feedback. You need to play your own game as well. Tweak the things that work, scrap the things that don’t work. That includes the entire game. Yes, the whole thing. If it’s not fun, stop working on it and get back to brainstorming.
Don’t be surprised, you saw this coming. If your game is no fun, then it’s not delivering on your core promises. Think of the spaceship strategy game: if resource management makes the strategy battles less fun, you need to change up the resource management or get rid of it altogether. This is important to think about in the ideation stage — don’t brainstorm too many contrasting ideas, because they’ll eventually be cut if they are distracting and not fun.
If you only walk away with three points from this article, they should be:
- Draw heavily from inspiration and drill down on your theme
- Don’t introduce too many concepts at once
- Iterate or obliterate
Interested in starting your own independent game development venture, but don’t know where to start? Check out some of my other articles that outline how you can go from beginner to seasoned game developer.