How to Come Up With Ideas for Your Games
Since I started my "one game per week" challenge I noticed that the most common question that I've been getting in my inbox is "how do you come up with new interesting ideas every week?" So I decided to try to answer this question here.
This post will talk about the process I go through to find ideas for my games, but I think this can be applied to basically any creative work.
When you know you want to build something, the next step is to decide what to actually build. However, there are so many possibilities and so many choices to make that it's hard to pick a specific idea. Because of this, a lot of people keep changing their minds over and over again and then end up with nothing.
One powerful tool to avoid this trap is to use constraints. With constraints you are artificially getting rid of a lot of ideas, and having less options means that it's easier to pick one. So instead of focusing on your idea, try to pick constraints that you find interesting.
Here are the constraints that I used to make most of my games:
- Each game must be made in less than 7 days.
- Each game is using retro graphics that I'll design myself.
- Each game will follow a theme that I'll define in advance.
People might think that having these constraints make my work harder, but it's actually the opposite.
Start Right Away
At this point you should have a vague idea of what you want to do, but nothing concrete. So maybe you should start brainstorming to discover the perfect idea? Well, there's one problem: you probably won't find the prefect idea out of nowhere.
Instead of brainstorming, start building your bare idea right away. Do something really simple or get inspired by something similar. Anyhow, since you don't know exactly what you are building it will probably end up being bad. And that's okay, you'll worry about making it interesting later.
For my platformer game I quickly started coding the most basic elements of the game:
- Loading and displaying a map on the screen.
- Having a character moving in the map.
- Be able to die and finish a level.
There was no original ideas involved here. The game was pretty bad but I had something to toy with.
Now that you have your bare prototype finished it's time to make it better. This might be the hardest and longest part in the creation process, but it's also the most interesting.
Here's how it works: have a small idea, build it, test it, improve it, and start again. Some ideas are going to turn out bad, some will need a lot of tweaking, and other will be great. Just keep iterating with new ideas until you have something you like.
I'll try to show you this process with one idea that I had for my platformer game:
- Adding coins in the games sounded interesting, so I coded some coins.
- It looked nice, but felt wrong because the coins where actually useless.
- To fix that, I changed the rules of the game: to finish a level you need to collect all the coins.
- It was a lot better, but now I had to rebuild some of the levels to take this change into account.
Just a small idea like "adding coins" ended up changing my whole game.
Summary: use constraints, start right away, and keep iterating.
With this system finding ideas is actually not that hard. It will still require work and imagination, but in the end you should get ideas, and more importantly, have something that you like.