How do you make a game?

I guess that something inspires you, but you knew that, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

So, assuming there is that primal, driving inspiration, what do you do next.

Below I attempt to explain the very early stages of the design process I go through.  This is not how I started, this is a process that becomes more and more formalized the more I learn and the more I experience, and it is a process that will inevitably change.

Get Started

The first thing to do is to write down the very core of that inspiration, the most important idea or element that without, your game just wouldn’t be your game.  This might be simple, something like “. . . Zombie rock bands battle to be crowned The Ungrateful Dead!” or it might be something more complex, ” . . . 12th century agrarian economics are simulated through a complex series of card decks, each of which represents one of the 16 major factors that determined the success or failure of a crop . . .”  Whatever it is, get it written down.

Conceptual Healing

Next try to develop three ( I like three, not too many, not too few) very clear, independent and achievable main goals for your game.  Again, these will depend very much on you, your idea and can really range, but I find it is a really good idea to shift your focus away from yourself and towards your audience at this point.  There is always a danger that you might end up developing a game that is absolutely brilliant and wonderful and exciting and desirable – for you!  It is a good idea to start putting the public, the players, the people you presumably want to pay you for your game at the front of your thoughts, and the earlier you do this the better.

So what might these goals look like?  I like to go for goals based around concepts, that avoids too much overlap and pretty much guarantees that the goals are significant, that they will drive growth of your game.  The concepts I try to place goals under are:

  • Form – what will the game look like, what cool physical aspects will it have (e.g. original 25mm figures)
  • Function – how will it work?  What system or systems will it use?  What are the various parts of the game?
  • Connection – does the game connect to anything or anyone in particular?  Is it aimed at fans of a genre or fans of a system?  Is it trying to appeal to younger gamers?  Does it draw ideas from a particular mythos or pantheon?  Also, can I connect directly to others who can help me with the game?  Who do I know, or need to get to know who will make me better at game design (and trust me, you can always get better and there are always people out their who can teach you something, from how to choose paper stock to how to calculate the probabilities of success with various dice combinations).
  • Causation – so what?  What do I want to be a result of the creation of this game?  Do I want to get it into PDF and give it away?  Do I want to sell it?  Will it go to print?  Will it be the first of many?  The first of a brand?
  • Reflection – what do I want to learn from the process?  How will I record the experience of designing the game (because you will forget details as the game takes on a life of its own)?
  • Change – will the game be able to grow and adapt?  Should I have a plan for future elements, additions, expansions and the such?
  • Perspective – can I develop this from a point of view other than my own?  Diversity in gaming is a big deal, as it should be, and it is necessary if gaming is to keep developing and stay vital.  Having a diversity goal might seem a little forced, but actually trying to see your own ideas from someone else’s point of view can be very powerful.  If you can’t quite do that, try getting someone else to be your counterpoint, someone as different from you as you can find (non-gamers work surprisingly well, and often become gamers because of their involvement).
  • Responsibility – can my game drive forward some important ideas, social justice, human rights, ecological awareness, love, kindness, collaboration, resilience, humour, conflict, death, loss, self, sexuality, gender, compassion . . . The list can go on and on, and is clearly subjective, but that’s okay.

If you have a main idea and your three goals you are well on the way to developing a robust idea that will provide the basic framework for your game.  And that’s where we’ll pick up next month!