Choosing a Game Idea: Part 1

(see: Choosing a Game Idea: Part 2)

All games begin with the same thing: an idea.

It doesn’t matter where it came from, or when, or how. All games started somewhere with someone thinking, “Oh, you know, I bet this would be a fun game.” Even some of the most simple games have quite a complex story behind the idea, such as the Trainyard mobile game I’ve so handily linked you to.

The problem, however, is that game ideas are in no short supply. They are everywhere. It’s trying to figure out which ones could actually work, and then actually making them.

Hopefully by now, you’ve realized that on our banner pasted across the top of the development blog there’s some cartoon fruit and veggies. They are, in fact, the strapping protagonists and antagonists to our first game in development. But, none of us are nutritionists, or even food enthusiasts, or even commonly eat fruits or veggies as our regular fare (more like cookies and red meat…or something like that).

In fact, our development team consists of gamers that enjoy hardcore RPG titles like Mass Effect, the original string of Final Fantasy games (because the recent ones suck by comparison), and first person shooters such as Call of Duty and Halo.

So…how do cartoon fruit fit into this?

Our first game idea had nothing to do with produce. In fact, our second idea, or third idea, or even fourth idea had no resemblance to the project we decided to go forward with.

In truth, our first project was going to be a tactical 2.5D RPG game akin to Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea. Our story developer is a screenwriter and author who had an epic 3-part fantasy screenplay that would make for a perfect RPG game. We all got really excited about this. He fleshed out the story arc to be adapted for a game. I immediately started doing concept art for character design and texturing and wrote up nearly the entire Game Design Document (GDD) with classes, abilities, damage formulas, experience and leveling, difficulty, and mechanics (of which I will get around to posting some examples). Our programmer opened up his XNA books and started plugging away. Our audio guy started making sound effects. It was an ant farm.

After about a month of work, we came to a very real obstacle in the development process: we were in way over our heads.

We had originally set a goal of October for the completion of the project, but then began to realize that we were trying to take the elevator directly to the top, without stopping at the floors in between.

This isn’t a rare problem. See for yourself. Search the almighty Google and browse through game development and coding sites, and just see how many threads you can find where the first sentence in the post is something like: “So I’m making a fantasy RPG game…” Judging by the number of these posts, I would be surprised if even 5% of these games reached completion.

We didn’t want to take our chances.

We are no amateurs to game development (a later post will talk about this in detail), but we are most certainly amateurs in published game development. Given this, we decided to adopt a mantra we have dubbed the “Apple philosophy” (yeah, I have the Steve Jobs book on my nightstand…what of it?):

Simplify.

We reluctantly shelved the tactical RPG idea and went back to the drawing board. This time, we focused on trying to spawn ideas for games that were simple, quick-hitting, and enjoyable. This led us to a top-down 2D space shooter with a quirky space parody element to it (and a very short-lived puzzle game related to Tetris Attack). Again, we spent about a week developing graphics, sounds, ideas, code, and the GDD (you can see some artifacts from this project in our header above).

Then, one day, out of pure curiosity, our programmer and I were browsing our target platform (XBOX Live Indie Games). Much to our horror, we discovered this and this.

It became readily apparent that again, we were aiming way too high.

In one sense, you have to admire what Silver Dollar Games has done to XBLIG. Are games like Cassie’s Animal Sounds and Who’s the Daddy? complete travesties to “traditional” gaming? Probably. But they are also a good litmus test of what people will and won’t buy. And to be fair, Silver Dollar Games does actually try.

So again, we went back to the drawing board and asked ourselves two simple questions:

  • What is going to be relatively simple to make in a short time frame?
  • What will people (gamers and non-gamers) be interested in?

Our new goal became to publish something (anything) no matter how simple, to prove that we can do it – that we are capable. People can knock all they want on Silver Dollar Games, but until you publish a game, you’re just a jaded game developer with a blog.

Over nine hundred words now and I haven’t got to the part about how this led us to cartoon fruit?

Oops, sorry about that.

But you’re going to have to check back in with us for Part 2 to find out.

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3 thoughts on “Choosing a Game Idea: Part 1

  1. Pingback: Choosing a Game Idea: Part 2 | Gigaloth Games

  2. Pingback: The Art of Simplicity | Gigaloth Games

  3. Pingback: 10 XBOX Live Indie Games of 2013 You Need to Download | Gigaloth Games – XBOX and Tabletop Game Developer, Game Reviews, and Dev Tidbits

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