How to find a new game idea

I might like to call myself a game designer, but I’ve never officially worked a single hour in that position. But, like many people in game development, I have a notebook of ideas. I also have a list of “distorters” that I often refer to when I’m “making stuff up”.

So, I decided to put this list in order, in the form of a blog post. I hope that there will be people willing to add their own items to it in the comments.

Coming up with something completely new is a thankless and difficult task. And concepts don’t come out of nowhere. All “new” ideas are rethinking of old ones. That’s why I will give you a list of “distorters” – catalysts that accelerate the mutation of ideas. And I will try to use well-known mechanics for examples.

1. Reversed Game

So, we have the original game or mechanics. Our task is to imagine how it could be played in reverse? But since it is almost impossible to define exactly “what is the reverse” in this particular game, it gives rise to a huge number of ideas on the given topic.

For example, let’s imagine how Mario would be played in reverse:

  • we play as Bowser who places obstacles on the level so that Mario, if possible, does not get to the castle;
  • Bowser simulator that meets Mario in the castle and tries to stop him. Each time he dies, he gets a chance to pump up for the next encounter in the next castle;
  • the player controls the obstacles directly, being the director on the show “Mario, save her”.
2. Limitations

A lot of good ideas are born through restrictions, for example on game jams. Let’s try to set some hard limits and think about what might come out of it.

  • character lives for 10 seconds. It will be a puzzle platformer in which dying and reviving we need to pass rooms;
  • a city-building simulator in a limited area. So the action takes place in a futuristic world and buildings we build upwards (multi-level buildings, like in the movie Blade Runner);
  • we really want to make a shooter, but we don’t know how to model characters. Let the characters be filled with white noise, as in one of the episodes of the series Black Mirror.
3. Physics

Playing with physics is always fun. Physics is a sandbox in itself, which is exciting and gives a lot of variation. What if you add physics where it doesn’t exist and wasn’t counted on? Or change the laws of physics in the game, making them realistic or vice-verca?

  • Tetris, in which the pieces fall according to the laws of physics, and the player controls the wind on the field;
  • weightlessness shooter;
  • weightless rugby (kind of like the training in the movie Ender’s Game).
4. Multiplayer

What if you add synchronous or asynchronous multiplayer to an existing game? Or split control between multiple players?

  • a hidden object game with asynchronous multiplayer, in which players are “on opposite sides of the barricades” and a player’s progress in the story affects the progress of another player;
  • a match3 in which multiple players play simultaneously on a large field;
  • a bubble shooter, in which 2 players play on the same field on different sides (the screen of one player is an inverted screen of the other player) and they break the field moving towards each other. In this case, the level is the size of several game screens;
  • or Tetris on the same principle, but the level is not on several screens, and one, divided in half. And the destruction of the line leads to the expansion of the field for the player at the expense of the opponent’s field;
  • and another variation of Tetris for two people and for consoles. One player can only rotate the pieces, and the other can only move them.
5. Autonomy

What if some actions will happen by themselves, without the player’s participation. For example, a platformer with automatic running – it is a runner.

  • a session-based roguelike in which the character does everything by himself, depending on external conditions and skills. The character during the game gets experience and accumulates skill points until he dies. And after death, the player can redistribute these points and send the character out into the world again.
6. Infinity or OUT OF Bounds.

What if we take the current game’s limitations and expand them. Or even replace the limitations with infinity?

  • an infinite mahjong, in which all found tiles are spawned on the lower layers;
  • a match3 in which the playing field on the level is not limited to the initial configuration and one screen, and the player gradually expands and explores the level;
  • an endless runner, in which we run on the inner perimeter of the screen and can only jump, each facet has its own gravity and as soon as we pass one of the facets of the obstacles on it change.

Changing the external conditions can significantly affect gameplay. This can be weather conditions, location, etc.

  • a platformer with viscous platforms;
  • a platformer where a strong wind blows and the player has to think about where to jump and where not to jump;
  • an io-shooter where the action takes place in the dark;
  • and what if you put a space simulator in an underwater world?

It is not easy to draw a clear boundary between these “distorters”. For example, when we invented the Reversed Mario game, we applied Autonomy (the character runs by himself). But this is more of a list of directions rather than a clear classification.

Of course, most of the ideas are untenable. But these are ideas, not elaborated and tested concepts.

Many people, romanticizing the profession, think that coming up with ideas is exactly the job of a game designer. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, this is not the case. An idea is an abstract entity, and everyone understands something different under it. Ideas stir the imagination and motivate to create something, but they are not an instruction with precise instructions.

Therefore, the usefulness of such a list as an attempt to invent game worlds is very weak. But in relation to game mechanics and prototyping on them – quite tangible.

The list of references to the topic:

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