For the last month, as I've detailed on this blog, I've been working on a project with the artist brontosaurus.
Both of us are very new at this whole indie game development thing, and we have made plenty of mistakes. And we will make plenty more. But we are learning.
I thought I'd share some of our latest mistakes, and what we've learned from them.
First of all, we've switched game ideas almost every week for the past several weeks. This in itself is not the problem. We change direction because we find problems with our old ideas that prompt us to start anew.
Here's a quick overview of the journey our ideas have taken:
And now, we're still in suburbia, but reconsidering.
Why have we had to switch ideas so frequently? What mistakes made it so difficult for us to just stick to one idea and finish it?
It has been a progression of mistakes. We started off trying to randomly doodle a game into a existence. Then we realized that we need to start with actions and gameplay before we start doodling interesting worlds and characters.
Now I'm beginning to see that our process for coming up with gameplay has been flawed.
My specialty is in game design, and programming. I choose to work with brontosaurus because his skills complement mine - his specialty is in world design, and art.
The way it usually works is that someone like me comes up with an idea for a game, and then finds an artist who is interested in making the art for that game idea. But we did it differently. Since I didn't have a particular idea in mind, and I like talking with brontosaurus about game design, we thought we'd just come up with an idea together.
This was not our mistake. The problem started because we were both communicating our ideas in words.
When I try to explain a game idea to brontosaurus, he has trouble understanding how it would look or feel. But the ideas I come up with usually have interesting game mechanics that I could prototype.
When brontosaurus explains a game idea to me, it's always very evocative and visually interesting, and he's ready to create all sorts of cool concept art for it. But I have no idea how to start prototyping it, since the mechanics are too vague.
Because I've been impatient to agree on an idea and get going, I always go with the ideas that brontosaurus comes up with, even though I don't know what the gameplay will look like. But sooner or later the vagueness of the design catches up to us, and we reluctantly decide to come up with a new, more feasible game idea. This is how the cycle continues.
Brainstorming may be fine in text. But when it comes to choosing ideas to work on, it's not really fair to evaluate our ideas until we have experienced them in either a visual or procedural form. I will express my ideas through prototypes, and brontosaurus will express his ideas through concept art.
If my prototypes inspire brontosaurus to come up with a world and an art style, then we can make them into full games. If brontosaurus' concept art inspires me to invent mechanics and gameplay, then we can turn those into games, too. But our starting point must be tangible. Words are not enough.
Let the game designers come up with gameplay, in the form of prototypes. Let the world designers come up with worlds, in the form of concept art. Don't force one to do the other's job.
It may take longer at first, but it's the only way we'll make something that we're both satisfied with.
Let's hope it will work in time for the contest. ;)
In other words, Less Talk More Rock.