Game Design 101- Step 1: Inspiration

in design •  2 years ago

While many people would love to make their own games, most don’t even know where to begin. I know I didn't when I first started my career. If you are someone who has always wanted to make games but doesn’t know where to start, this is the article for you.

(For an overview of how to become a game designer and the 6 Step Process for making games, check out my game design intro article).

The Art of the Steal

All creation is theft. Creativity is 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.

3. 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.

4. 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 focused 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.

5. 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.

6. 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 future articles.

7. ABE- Always Be Exploring!

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.

8. Keep a journal

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. We’ll cover that in part two.


Hi, I’m Justin

I’ve been obsessed with games since a very young age. I won the Magic: the Gathering US National Championships at the age of 17 and played cards professionally for 5 years, travelling the world and paying my way through college. I started designing games professionally in 2004 and I founded my own game company in 2010. I’ve launched multiple hit games with some of the biggest brands in the world including Marvel, DC, and World of Warcraft. I love reading, writing, dancing, meditating, learning, and helping others. Learn more about me here.

"This post originally appeared on my blog ...... - it has been modified and updated exclusively for Steemit!"

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This gave me a lot to take away and think about
Thankyou very much and i hope to read more context like this .

Oh wow this is great! Thanks!

I have actually been struggling lately coming up with ideas for this fiction story I started and wanted to add my own drawings to it and evolve it further. Even to games. While reading your post I felt like all these examples could also fit in for writing as well.

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You've stumbled on the big secret- the fundamental creative process is the same no matter what field you are in. Good luck with your writing! I look forward to seeing it evolve.

Nice post... I'm following you now. I post a lot of game design, game dev, and gaming posts as well.

My first one was 3 months ago Starting with influences from board games.
I followed that with quite a few in that thread.

I started a ton of other ones about three weeks ago. I intentionally posted other topics so as not to flood steemit with me continually posting about it. There are some other people posting gamedev related blogs as well. It is pretty cool.

Like I said I am following you... welcome to the crowd.

I asked people to vote on a few projects and the one that got the most votes was to do a Turing Test style game. I just posted the second part of that project. That's what they seemed most interested in out of the very few votes I received.

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Awesome. I'm following you as well and I look forward to reading more of your stuff!

Great Post! I've always been a fan of the classic table top games i.e. - Monopoly, Life & Risk. I'll be looking at these games with your ABE lenses now.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge of game design! Interesting stuff...& continue to follow your passions, and never give up @jg02!!! Nice post man:)

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Thanks! I just finished the series today and am looking forward to sharing more with the community.

This is an awesome post -- Thanks!

Very interesting. We want to hear more!

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Thanks! Part 2 is coming within the next two days! :)

Hi @jd02, love your article! Really enjoyed it and wish there's a way, and call to action to have a chat with you easily... maybe if you're not on https://steemit.chat yet, please consider registering. It'd be a great place to even run small workshops / mentoring programs, basically community-building.

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That sounds like a great idea. If there is enough interest, I'll put together some kind of workshop to help people with their individual issues. Please upvote this comment if that is of interest to you! In the meantime, I am available on chat @JG02

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I'm getting @curie (introduction) to vote on you first :), and weird that I'm not seeing you on Steemit.chat, even "JG" itself is not bringing up any accounts. (in anycase, i go by the same handle on chat as well.. unless we're on totally different platforms!)

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I just realized my handle on chat is @Justin, not JG02 :) - I just messaged you on there.