Creating video games is an art, no doubt. The problem is that it isn’t easy to come up with ideas for video games. And even when we do get an idea, it doesn’t seem as fresh or exciting as we want it to be. The following offers a few ways you can generate some creative ideas to keep your video game as fun to play from beginning to end.
- Make it funny. Humor has a wonderful way of transforming the seemingly dreadful boring into something that’s not only tolerable, but engaging as well. And if boredom is an illness, laughter is its cure. If you can inject jokes, funny imagery, or goofy characters into your game, your players will relax and associate your game with good feelings – a definite formula for success.
- Let your mind wander off the beaten path. Since much of our thinking is associative anyway, there’s no reason why you couldn’t manifest this association into your video game. When one idea makes you think of another, include it as part of a video game no matter how illogical the connection is (at first). Remember that video games are your platform for creativity. It’s time to be a little wild and a little unconventional. Without this free-form thinking, we surely wouldn’t have the creative gems that we have today. You can always restore a sense of logic back into the game at an appropriate time.
- Make your dreams come true. Literally, turn your dreams into video game scenarios. Had a nightmare lately? Include the scary thing in the game. Had a ridiculously stupid dream lately? Include it in the game as a detour or distraction. Sometimes dreams can be more interesting as life, and as a video game developer, you want your games to be the same. Keep a dream journal and write down those bizarre experiences you have at night. Your gamers will thank you for it.
- Copy nature. Let’s be honest – Nature is pretty weird. We have bees flying around and pollinating plants. We have water evaporating into the sky and then falling down from clouds as rain. Childbirth is a strange phenomenon itself, and germs – the smallest thing on the planet can bring down a herd of elephants. If you could emulate some of this crazy stuff in your own video games, you will have done what every man secretly wishes he could do himself. And that’s take nature into your own hands and shape it into the reality you want! But don’t copy nature faithfully. Twist it around. For example, instead of bees flying around and pollinating plants, your video game could have 3-inch aliens flying around and pollinating brainwashed FBI agents. Starting to get the idea?
- Dig into History. Another good resource for video game material is our own history – but not the boring stuff. We’re talking about the good stuff. The embarrassing stuff. Look for odd and weird news online and include the asinine things that people have done in the past as part of your game’s plot. Your players won’t believe what they’re seeing!
- Go Metaphor Happy. Metaphors are figures of speech in which expressions are used to refer to something that it does not literally denote. It simply suggests a similarity. We’re not sure, but we’re pretty convinced that a lot of the space ships in video games are based on what we call the “nuts and bolts” metaphor. If you look closely at the designs of some of these vehicles, and then look at some of the tools you have in your toolbox, you’ll start to see a similarity among the two like we did. You can do the same in your video games to come up with some really unique imagery and situations.
- Play the video game before it has begun development. That sounds crazy, but it can be done and it’s an excellent way to get the plot down. To make this work, relax yourself and visually imagine that you’re playing the game from start to finish. Let your mind suggest scenes, characters, plots, and strategies. Write down the game as its being played before your mind, and then repeat for each twist that you’d like to see implemented in the actual game.
- Throw the plot into the mixer. There could probably be nothing more challenging in a video game than plot twists. As long as it’s not too confusing to the point where players complain and quit playing, rearranging its plot could lend to some fun mind-bending twists that no one would ever predict. Try putting the game’s beginning in the middle, or introduce all the subplots in the beginning of the game and have it all start to make sense toward the end (Think, “Pulp Fiction”).
- Look at the game with someone else’s eyes. You may already know how you want your game to play, but so may everyone else. To inject some real creativity into your video game, design it as if it were presented from the eyes of a child, a lizard, or an inanimate object like a television. This exercise will not only keep the game intriguing for it’s players, it will also keep its development challenging and interesting for you! Don’t be surprised if your newfound view changes the game throughout its development. A new perspective has an interesting habit of creating new purposes and new solutions.
- Challenge the rules. Try to remember that most advances in anything (not just video games) came about from challenging the rules. To make this work, think of the rules imposed on video game developers in the past and just break them! Do the opposite. Where they say you can’t or you shouldn’t – go on and do it. As long as your rule-breaking spree causes no harm and doesn’t jeopardize the integrity of the game, try it!
- Don’t call your project a video game. Sometimes when you change the name of something, you start to view it differently. This is because different words move a line of thought into a different direction – a different direction that sparks new ideas.
- Combine ideas. We’re often told to ditch the first, second, or even third idea that we come up with for a project in favor for a much stronger idea. But instead of ditching these ideas, why not combined them into one. Combining ideas is one of the easiest ways to come up with new ideas and you can do the with your game. You could combine life forms, scenery, and all kinds of things. The end result would be nothing short of amazing and all the while, your players will wonder, “How did they come up with this stuff?!”
- Do the unexpected. This is probably one of the hardest things for linear programmers to do because as software developers, programmers are trained to keep everything working in some sort of straight, logical order. To make this work, game programmers are going to have to give themselves permission to go nuts – to do the unexpected and not obsess over the consequences. As good training for all of us, doing the unexpected is a freeing experience that opens our minds to workable possibilities we probably wouldn’t consider otherwise. These are possibilities that could make your video stand out from the crowd of copy-cats.
- Design the video game for a specific audience. Choose a unique audience to design your game for and make sure that every character, scene, subplot, and strategy caters to the interest of this audience. But don’t pick a typical audience – go crazy. Design your game as if a dog were the player, a computer mouse, or even a stack of pancakes. Let your imagination go wild and you’ll see a new world unfold before you.
- Imagine that you’re the video game. If you were the video game that you’re designing, how would you want to be played? Attempting to answer this question should set you off on quite a creative spree of new and original ideas (if not one hell of a giggling session). Don’t just throw the goofy ideas that you get from this exercise into the trash bin. Seriously think of how to implement them into your video game. This strategy is sure to put you on the gaming map.
- Substitute. Using one object in the place of another is another sure way of coming up with cool ideas for video game, and in certain situations, it’s the only way to dream up something fresh and new. When it seems that you just can’t come up with a new slant, you’re best bet is to replace a typical, predictable character with a lively, cute and helpful soda can. Or replace a typical, predictable plot with some bizarre scene out of a dream. Remember: nothing is irreplaceable.
- Introduce a little randomness into the mix. There’s a lot to be said about random events. They always bring us the element of surprise and you can use it to keep your video game exciting. The key to making randomness work in a video game is to introduce a set number of possibilities into several sections of the game and then have each of those possibilities lead to a different outcome. Sure, this could drive a player crazy, but you’ve got to admit, it will send them scrambling for a solution and talking about your game for days.
In the last section of this four-part article, we bring you two more ideas before coming to a close.
- Don’t finish developing the game. Wouldn’t that be a hoot! Instead of developing a video game that has a beginning and an end, design a game that continuously loops with challenges (levels) that increase with difficulty on every round. Winning a game like this would be a matter of racking up points and to satisfy game play, you could have the game post the name of the player with the highest points to a community website. (Hey, it’s a thought!)
- Exaggerate, Exaggerate, Exaggerate. One way to generate ideas for a video game is to exaggerate the characters, scenes, plots, and strategies that you already have down. This is how ‘nice” turns into ‘cool’ and how ‘cool’ turns into ‘awesome.’ The trick is to know when you’re crossing the line and going from “possible” to “impossible.” You always want to keep a sense of possible reality in a game, however on the same token, you don’t want to make the game so possible that it’s predictable. There’s a delicate balance and as a game developer who wants to stand out from the crowd, you’ve got to know how far you can stretch this balance without being offensive, silly, or stupid.
The basic point that we want to stress throughout this guide is that your game development doesn’t have to follow the status quo. If you stick to what’s been done before or what’s been played before, you’ll find that your games will collect dust on the shelves and that all your time and efforts will have been for naught.
Break established customs or doctrines and you’ll get noticed. Get noticed and you’ll gain a reputation for developing the most outstanding games around. Being able to get good ideas for your video games ideas is a gift – especially since good ideas can be hard to come by. But stop and think about what you have so far. Is it the best? Could it be better? Would a different approach help you obtain the fame that you crave?
Take a look at each strategy we’ve introduced in this article and see if you can’t implement just one or two of them. Implementing ALL of them would certainly be a challenge, but so would the end result: your game.
Today’s gamer craves the unknown, he craves something new, different, and original. If you’re suffering from the “blank page syndrome,” just pull up our article and consider each strategy as the answer. Expand your current ideas to the point where they excite even you – the developer.
And always remember that your video game is an extension of you. It deals with self-expression, creativity and communication. Don’t underestimate yourself or your capabilities to do the unthinkable. And whatever you do – don’t underestimate your players. The advantages of following our suggestions far outweigh any doubts you may have because once you step out of the realm of expectations, you make a wonderful contribution to the world.