How to Build a Game #1 Think Big, Start Small 2.0

If this looks familiar, that’s because it is a post I released 3 years ago! Wow, time flies. My new plan is to go through the old blog and see what I said back then, and apply what I have learned in three years. Keep in mind as you read these posts, these are the kinds of things that I have observed or have worked for me over time. I will be sure to reiterate that as the posts roll on but if you catch this series revisit from the start, keep that in mind.

 “The best place to start is with a small mechanic or interaction with the goal of building out a frame or web of a game that starts with  something small and manageable.”

I still believe in this. I think the goal for a designer that doesn’t know how to get the ball really rolling on a project is to build a frame. The frame can be based anything the designer feels strongly about. Theme, mechanic, intended experience…..all are good places to start. If you are able to build a strong framework, you can build out the rest of the game, even if it is only bits at a time.

“So go ahead, start every idea you have rolling around in your head”

While I agree with the sentiment, I don’t think this is practical anymore. I may have also written this as a joke at the time. I think it is a better idea to spend some time thinking about what ten ideas you have floating around are worth going after. Maybe that ten is really only five, but spending some time beforehand thinking about what you feel most strongly and building frameworks to those games is probably a better approach than, “GO NUTS!!!!”

The example game is dead but it still holds

The example in the original post (I will let you scroll down and read that), while it may be a dead idea, the example of how to build a framework still holds. I think this example is a fine showing of how taking a small piece of a concept and “digging”, HEYO!, into the topic allowed me to build a strong frame for the game. When we started adding more parts to the game, did it make sense with the original framework? As the project grows, the framework or original concept of the game can change, and that’s okay, but the framework described in this example was a constant anchor. While the original game idea is dead, the mechanic is still alive and on the list of projects to explore.

Original Post

I have this crazy idea that I can help people build the games they want to build. Coming up with ideas is easy, I think we all have tons of ideas for games we would like to see produced or think of changes to the make to current games we love and changes we would make to garbage games to make them better. House rules would not exist if it were not for the designer in all of us to make changes to games. My goal with this series is to help my fellow designers in the world to see the tools we use to make games and hopefully help make your ideas a reality. Even if that reality is a paper and pencil game you play with just your family and friends, or you are able to publish your game, we want you to at least give it a go because we love the process of design and we want others to experience the joy game creation can be.

Enough preamble, on to the good stuff…

Think Big and Start Small….Where do I start and How do I stay focused?

Over a number of conversations I’ve had with designers, I hear the same think over and over. “I have plenty of ideas but I don’t know where to start and I have too many ideas to focus on one of them.” I feel your pain regarding both of these problems. The best place to start is with a small mechanic or interaction with the goal of building out a frame or web of a game that starts with  something small and manageable. The premise of this approach is by picking something small and completing a basic mechanic, you have started! And that is the point, even if you need to start 10, 20, 40 different game ideas, the point is you have started. So go ahead, start every idea you have rolling around in your head. The hope is that one or two or three will stick and make it to the second step. Maybe you show your friend the game you started and they say, “well I like this idea you have here, tell me more about it?” The next thing you know, you are working on the next piece of this one idea that a friend said looked interesting. By taking this shotgun starting approach, you will see and talk about the ideas that are the most fun to you and your friends and this will help you focus on the ideas that are the best. Depending on the number of ideas you have, finding a final focus point will take an unknown amount of time, but I promise you the cream will rise and the garbage will get chucked.

This completes the lecture portion of our lesson today, now onto our hands on example portion of class.

Think Big

I started with an idea for a space mining game where the asteroids players were mining were falling into a black hole. That was the entire idea.

Start Small

Since I knew players would be mining from an asteroid, I figured I would start there. What makes the most sense? Players will need to find an asteroid they can mine and they will need to set up a mining operation on said asteroids. In order to find asteroids, players will have scout ships and they will be able to upgrade their scout ships to increase their chances of finding a mine-able asteroid. Once players had found a mine-able asteroid, they would need to set up a mining operation. Knowing very little about the mining industry and how it works, I picked two parts of mining I thought made sense and ran with them, Core Samples and Depth of Mining. I figured a mining operation would start with a core sample and based on that core sample, would decide if they wanted to build a mine in that location. The deeper a player mined the higher value minerals would be located, however, mining deeper takes longer and the asteroid is falling into the block hole! Get off this rock!!!!

And that is it. I was done with the start. I took a big idea about space mining and black holes and created a small piece of and connected it to the larger theme. Regardless if the mechanic is good, complete, or reasonable; I can come back to the idea days, weeks, years from now but there is a seed of a game that is waiting to be grown and it can be grown small pieces at a time.

One thought on “How to Build a Game #1 Think Big, Start Small 2.0

  1. Hi,
    I am a teacher-researcher here in Scotland looking at digital and analogue games as a way to support learning.
    I am hoping – with limited funds – to progress towards a PhD with the University of Edinburgh, investigating the development of subject and content knowledge through narrative games-based activities.
    Is there *any* possibility that my school could obtain a copy of your game ‘Mars 4:45’ to support our ongoing research?
    Furthermore, we have been selected to provide play-test of a new space-faring RPG system – and we would like to offer you the opportunity for us to play test any forthcoming titles that you have.
    Thanks (from the students) in advance
    Hugh O’Donnell MSc
    Teacher of English @ Port Glasgow High School
    Kilmacolm Road
    PA14 6PP

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