One game design question from Nicole Swimley:
How do you go about getting ideas into a cohesive format? And what methods do you use to start narrowing down what makes for a better design?
- Write one sentence about your game, tell it to someone you trust, then study their expressions to see if they get the hook. Repeat this to various people until you have a good sampling. Ideally, any game you do should be cool enough to explain why it's cool and fun in one sentence. If not, you may need to rethink the game... or the sentence.
- Even better, draw a sketch about your game and gameplay and show it to someone - if that immediately communicates why the game is fun, that's good. The reason I say sketch of the game is because I would play Psychonauts or Deathspank solely by looking at a character concept shot. Shallow, I know.
- After the steps above, choose 3 things about your game that you want to be the coolest things about it, and choose the priority of those cool things (1st, 2nd, and 3rd or A, B, and C priority). Do not choose more than 3. Arguably, I wouldn't recommend choosing more than one cool thing for your first outing - keep it manageable (see below).
- Once you have the coolest of the three ideas, do what you can to prototype that element first. Keep design documentation to a minimum until you get something working on screen, and the sooner, the better. (Doing design documentation, formulas, stat charts, etc. and even the story usually ends up being worthless once a sampling of the mechanisms and content are actually in the game - it's more important to get the basics in and be able to easily iterate on it). Also, don't have the tweakable numbers or the gameplay solely in the hands of programming, make sure they can expose the mechanics and values to you so you can play around with them. This is not to cut programming out of the loop, it's done so you don't have to bother them every single time you want to adjust the sword swing speed by a a few milliseconds.
- If you can't program or don't know enough about a toolset engine to do it yourself, grab a programmer who's excited about your idea. Then bring them cookies to help you out, if need be.
Also, got a lot of questions concerning game pitches recently, and here's my first pass of thoughts on doing a game proposal pitch:
- Again, if you can't make your game idea sound cool to your friends in a single sentence, consider re-evaluating your idea.
- Make sure you specify all the target platforms in your pitch document.
- Any publisher is going to want to know how long the project is going to take, who's on this project, who your team is - so if you don't have a team, budget, or time table, it's time to assemble all of these.
- Whenever possible, having a prototype your target publisher or developer can play - or you can demo - is worth far more than just a written pitch.
- Having an idea for a game is worth far less than the strength to implement it. No game company is at a loss for game ideas, they're usually more interested in people who can make it happen.
- If this is your first game, don't put in every single cool feature you can think of (for example, I'd shy away from an adventure game with RTS elements and a full heroic RPG dungeon crawl mode). My suggestion is break down each of the systems of your game and do a smaller game based solely around that, polish the hell out of that game mechanic, then do a second game that proves the next mechanic out (possibly adding what you learned about the first system to that), and so on. A lot of successful games on the market have a number of systems that have been iterated on heavily until they're polished.
- Concept art is worth more than a text description. When in doubt, show visuals or screenshots of gameplay rather than describing it with words.
- Reviewers at publishers get a lot of pitches, so keep your pitch brief, no more than 3-5 pages (5 pages is pushing it).
- Learn to use Excel, you'll need it for budgets and spreadsheets showing your man month cost. And you'll need to provide that at some point, even if it's just for yourself.
- Not sure who to contact? Sign up on LinkedIn.com, look for Business Development guys, drop them a line (don't send the idea), and ask for advice. If they don't get back to you, you wouldn't want to work for that company anyway.
- Start with companies you like.
- If that doesn't work, look for companies that are in the same game space (social games, for example) but don't look for ones that do games close to the one you're thinking of - look for ones that have a hole in their game portfolio that your product would be perfect for.
- Don't send unsolicited pitches to Obsidian. It's not because we hate you, it's because we can't review them legally.
- Make sure your pitches are submitted electronically - don't do a physical pitch, the pitch usually needs to be emailed around to a bunch of folks.
- Watch out for fonts in your docs and make sure the fonts you're using are common ones that the recipient is likely to have on their system (or else submit the pitch as a pdf). Nothing looks worse than a pitch that's missing the unique font that you used to assemble it.
- Lastly, make sure you're legally protected before you send in a pitch - if you're not sure how to do this, contact your IGDA chapter or look up the lawyers or other legal speakers for the current year's GDC and drop them a line. There's usually a panel every year at GDC focusing on law in the game industry, and the speakers are putting themselves out there so you can ask them questions, and potentially hire them down the road.