I’ve been working on many game designs lately. Only few of them ever reach the prototype stage and even fewer will ever get turned into final products. Since game design is not an exact science, everyone doing it has its own ways and techniques and this makes it more or less the “black art” of game development process.
I’ve done more than a dozen game designs during the last year, up to various degrees of completion, and I’m starting to recognize a process here, my own way of doing game design, so I thought of sharing it with you, get some feedback on it and maybe you can share back some of your own techniques regarding game design.
I will start by enumerating the tools I use: a pen and a notebook. Why a notebook and not a bunch of paper sheets? Well paper sheets tend to get lost and I like to keep my ideas archived for posterity, who knows when I’ll get to revise them and come up with something new based on them. I even number the notebook’s pages and keep a sort of a document map/table of contents on the first couple of pages to help me find the information I’m looking for in a quick manner.
The general process has its roots in my background as a software developer, therefor I tend to work in iterations, or revisions as I call them. Each revision consists of multiple stages.
The first stage consists of brainstorming ideas. I have a main idea in my mind about what the game should be and how it should feel when I’m starting the process, but all this is very fuzzy and needs to be refined. Every idea which comes into my mind gets written on paper, whether it is a game mechanic, a story idea, a concept, etc. The whole process can take up a couple of hours and that is because it takes a bit to get into the creative thinking mindset, therefor it is best done late at night or very early in the morning, when I have nothing scheduled to distract me from my work.
The next stage is to “sleep on my ideas”. I know it may sound funny and few people do it because they feel like they are losing precious time, but I strongly believe a human being cannot objectively evaluate his own ideas or concepts immediately after emitting them. So I just wait a day or maybe two before moving up to the next stage. If I don’t want to waste so much time waiting, I can work on multiple game designs at once, but I always take care to leave myself some time before writing down and idea and judging its value.
The next stage is a revision in which I read up my previous ideas and decide which ones are junk and which one should be taken to the next iteration.
The last stage is actually the beginning stage of a new iteration, during which I also repeat the brainstorming process, but also develop and expand on the ideas I kept from the previous revision.
I keep repeating this process as long as it is necessary until I get to an acceptable version which is both close enough to my initial vision about the game and also detailed enough to be turned into a prototype game. Some of these designs get abandoned because I reached the conclusion they can’t be turned into something fun, some make are turned into a prototype right away or just archived for future use.
Hope this was helpful, I’ll write about my way of prototyping games in a next article.