Before you even get near a computer you're going to need the main ingredient in a game â€“ a good idea.
â€œAs long as youâ€™re going to beÂ thinking anyway, think big.â€
- Donald Trump, business magnate.
The game development process starts with a creative spark. This might be a â€œeureka momentâ€, where the idea flashes into one person's head very clearly, or it could be a team effort where thoughts are bounced around until the idea finally takes shape.
Either way, the fundamental idea â€“ or â€œconceptâ€ - influences every single aspect of the development process.
Whose idea is it anyway?
Before we jump into this, please hang your ego up at the door. Coming up with concepts and new ideas goes a lot more smoothly when everyone is aiming for the same goal and not trying to claim ownership of things.
Unless youâ€™re flying solo, the game will be a collaborative effort. Everybody involved is responsible for the final product.
The best idea generators are the people that throw ideas out without getting clingy, or feeling hurt when their ideas get shot down. They always have more in the chamber. They are also effective communicators, just as good at listening to others as they are at explaining their own visions.
Professional development teams often have group idea meetings called â€œbrainstormsâ€, to collaborate on concepts.
This first step is one of the most enjoyable because itâ€™s all about being imaginative. Let yourself think of the craziest ideas, explore them, discuss them and take plenty of notes.
Even the best ideas may not fit the current project but keep a note of them anyway. You may come back years later and realise that one of those shelved ideas would work well in a different game.
â€œNecessity is the mother of invention.â€ â€“ 17th century proverb.
Itâ€™s good practice to have someone guiding the brainstorm, to keep the focus on the subject when everyone starts drifting or arguing. Equally, itâ€™s important for everyone to be heard. Shooting down stray or weak ideas is perfectly normal but it must be done fairly, with diplomacy.
Always go with what excites you, moves you or makes you grin. At the end of the whole process, that buzz of excitement is the feeling that players should have when they play your game!
The concept needs to grab you and keep you hooked, or youâ€™ll lose interest too quickly and so will players â€“ if you actually finish making the game. So learn to follow your instincts and follow the fun.
Try and sketch out some example screens if you can. It doesnâ€™t matter how ugly these concept sketches are. What matters here are the ideas. A picture will jog your memory very quickly and help you to explain your ideas to other people.
At this point, while youâ€™re throwing ideas around, remember which system your game is intended for. What features does it have? How do players interact with it? A touch-screen, for example, is very different to a keyboard, a mouse or a gamepad. So a different mind-set is needed.
Design 101: Function dictates form.
How the player controls the game is a fundamental consideration. For many designers, itâ€™s also an inspiration. Ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere but itâ€™s always vital to keep the final platform and user in mind.
In the words of Jeff Bezos, billionaire founder of Amazon, â€œStart with the customer and work backwards.â€
Player controls - the most important aspect of any game.
Over the last few decades, each new control method has brought new game ideas with it. Pong (the granddaddy of games) only had a rotating dial for up and down movement. The options were limited but then new games appeared with buttons and sticks. Horizontal freedom!
Then gamepads arrived, followed by analogue sticks and vibration feedback. Next came dance mats, cameras, wands, musical instruments, sports equipment, fitness boards touch screens and virtual reality headsets. So many new ways to play!
User interface 101: Nothing should be more thanÂ three taps away.
In every instance, game designers have thought deeply about how the controls should behave. The control system is the gateway into the game world, the sole connection to the playerâ€™s virtual avatar. If this connection with the game is wrong, the entire game is broken.
The most common idea I hear from people about the dream game they want to make, is some kind of colossal adventure set in a richly drawn fantasy world, with over a hundred hours of complex gameplay.
Seriously, itâ€™s more common than you think!
Some of my dream projects are crazy huge but Iâ€™ve got a long way to go before I can make them happen. Iâ€™m realistic about my wildest dreams. You should be too. So before you go any further, don't expect your first games to be huge. Or complicated. Or even amazing. You can tackle the blockbuster epic once you've mastered the basics. For now, let's just start small!
K.A.T.S. Keep All Things Simple.
The ideas behind even the biggest games are actually very simple.
Bejeweled:Â Sparkly action puzzle game where players match gemstones to increase their scores.
Fable:Â Classic fantasy action adventure in which the player makes moral choices.
Gears of War:Â Gritty first-person sci-fi shooter, setting players as soldiers fighting a brutal war against alien hordes.
Grand Theft Auto:Â Urban themed open world jack 'em up, in which players rise through the criminal underworld.
Super Mario Bros.:Â Cutesy action platform game where players run and jump, avoiding hazards, to rescue a princess.
Paring your idea down to the basics like this is vital. Always start simple and then build on it but never lose sight of that initial, simple idea.
The most important thing to remember about ideas is this: Everyone has lots of ideas, all of the time.
Theyâ€™re free. Most people just donâ€™t have the patience to make them real because turning your ideas into reality takes time, work and dedication. So pick only the very best ideas.
Ideas are a limitless resource â€“ but the dedication to realise them is rare!
Itâ€™s easy to think that your latest idea is the finest ever and cling to it blindly but thatâ€™s a good way to fail. If you attack your idea hard and it survives, then youâ€™ll know it stands a chance!
Try to ask yourself the most difficult questions right at the beginning of the project. Itâ€™s better if you do it right now, before you invest your time or do any work!
â€œWhat is the main point?â€
â€œWhatâ€™s new or different about this idea?â€
â€œHow will it work?â€
â€œWhat makes it fun?â€
â€œHow will it make money?â€
â€œIs it obvious and intuitive?â€
â€œDoes it suit the hardware?â€
â€œDo I want to put heart and soul into making this?â€
â€œDoes anyone else want to play this?â€
â€œHas it been done before?â€
â€œWhat problems could arise?â€
â€œAm I being honest with myself about this?â€
If youâ€™re not feeling sure, play with some other ideas until you do feel sure of one.
This all sounds rather harsh but itâ€™s just practical. Youâ€™d be amazed at how many brilliant ideas are thrown away every day!
The hardest part of having a new idea... is Googling to see if anyone got there first!
However, for your first game it really doesnâ€™t matter too much. You just need a fun little idea. The aim is to find something that you want to make and want to play. Never let the serious stuff dampen your enthusiasm!
In times past, people needed to learn and remember information. That was the primary skill to have, because there was no Wi-Fi or Wikipedia.
Schools filled people with facts and traditional wisdom from books, preparing them for life in a much simpler world. Research was hard work and mainly for academics.
Focus. Find. Filter.
Now we all have access to the web and itâ€™s lightning quick. Thereâ€™s no excuse for not researching facts.
The new skillset to master is accessing relevant information. Whoever you are, skim reading and smart search engine use are necessary survival skills. Itâ€™s also very important to check your sources and judge if the facts are really trustworthy.
Check your facts. Then get a second opinion.
I cannot stress the importance of research and fact checking enough. This book wouldnâ€™t be much use to you if I simply guessed at everything or made up some names and numbers. It would be vague and extremely unhelpful.
Instead, Iâ€™ve researched just about everything I can â€“ even stuff I already know very well. You are free to visit the links and check what Iâ€™m telling you. This way, you can trust the information Iâ€™m passing on.
Sometimes we need to use guesswork but itâ€™s best to make informed guesses. In the world of computers and in business, being precise and accurate is mandatory. Itâ€™s the difference between success and failure. Not only for technical details but for more artistic matters, like atmosphere and emotion.
Making a game set in space? Watch some archive footage of NASA astronauts on various missions. Get a feel for how weightlessness appears on screen. Get used to the sounds. Study the experience from different angles.
Then youâ€™ll know how things should behave in your game. Players will feel that effort and appreciate it, because your game will be a better experience. They may not be aware of it consciously but they would certainly notice if you hadnâ€™t done any research!
Making an underwater game? Do whatever you can to be underwater. Take some diving lessons. Go snorkelling in a pool. Watch nature videos.
Keep an open mind - so ideas can be transmitted and received!
You get the idea. Research can be practical and fun! Every experience you have and everything you learn, makes you a better game maker. Do as much as you can to be better informed, about everything. Winners never stop learning and applying what they learn!
Whether you are pitching your latest game idea to studio bosses or making your first test app, it all starts with a â€œhigh-level conceptâ€.
Basically, this is where you define your idea in a single sentence. If you can't, there's a very strong chance that your idea is way too complicated and needs a rethink.
Letâ€™s create a high-level concept for â€œGiant Zombie Pets, the video gameâ€.
Bad high-level concept:
â€œThe worldâ€™s pets have all turned into giant zombies and theyâ€™re attacking their owners and the whole city. You have a helicopter and you use rockets to down the giant zombie pets. You get points for that. Itâ€™s awesome! You can also earn power ups and enhancements for your gunship. There would also be a sequel with vampire pets.â€
Where to start with this one? Itâ€™s too long and it simply doesnâ€™t make a clear point. Nobody cares about the sequel because the original idea isnâ€™t even polished yet.
Good high-level concept:
â€œPlayers pilot an upgradeable helicopter gunship, saving the occupants of a realistic sandbox city from waves of attacking monsters.â€
Thatâ€™s a little more focused. It doesnâ€™t matter if you're making a mobile app or a blockbuster console game, simple ideas are always best â€“ and being able to explain them in a simple format is crucial! Try to refine your concept until itâ€™s tight.
The high-level concept is your guiding star. If youâ€™re not sure of something or you canâ€™t make a decision later, always choose the answer that fits the high-level concept most closely.
Letâ€™s say your high-level concept is â€œAn action puzzle game for children.â€ After a brainstorm, you decide that players will shoot something. So itâ€™s a puzzle-shooting game for kids. That sounds like fun but it needs water jets or birds in catapults, nothing too violent. Perhaps firing jelly? Kids like mess! Stick to the concept and see where it goes.
Now you can refine the high-level concept a little more. Eventually it becomes â€œAn action game, primarily for children, where players fling jelly at various silly targets, including friends from Facebook and famous people on Twitter.â€
Ultimately, this first phase is where you can play with crazy ideas and get really clear on your concept. Once youâ€™ve got a strong idea and youâ€™re confident that it will work, youâ€™re ready to start designing a game around it. Weâ€™ll explore this in the next section.
PHASE 1 COMPLETE
Next: Part 2 - DESIGN:Â It really doesnâ€™t matter how creative you are â€“ without clear logic, your project will fail...