GDD 014 : How To Turn an Idea Into A Game

By May 24, 2014 Podcast No Comments
Game Design Dojo Podcast Episode

The first step to designing a video game is transforming an idea into something that is playable in three key gameloops.  Brian and Ike explain these loops and give examples.

Today’s Developer Diary

Brian and Ike are baffled about Flappy Birds popularity and the simplicity of the game. Perhaps, sometimes the simple idea is the best idea. Ike shares he had to take a step back from the games he’s been working on to try to make some more simpler games. Brian shares one of the most fun games he’s made was a super simple, addicting game for John Deere driving a combine.

Most video game designers want to develop the best game they can, but 90% of their efforts are lost. Just like a Jazz musician that has spent countless hours learning scales and cords, but then Pop music makes a lot more money with just a catchy chorus. The only certainty that Brian and Ike can conclude about this discussion is your success is all in the execution.

How to turn your idea into an Actual Game

Once you’ve done the tutorials, know basic programming, and found a friend or someone that can do art where do you go with your idea? This has been a common question we’ve discovered through Facebook. With so many thoughts and questions running through your head about what to do, we can certainly see why. This podcast will give you the basics of where to start and what to do, ready?

The Basic Game Loop

The first thing is to prototype the basic game loop. The game loop is key.

Most games have three main game loops:

  1. Meta Loop (Highest loop) – The overall game
  2. Level Loop (Middle loop) – Getting through the whole level alive
  3. Core Loop (Smallest loop) – Core mechanic

The first place to start, even before the art, is to define and prototype the core mechanic (your moment to moment gameplay) and try to figure out how the person is going to interact with the character.

You start with the Core Loop. Why?

  • Since the story and overall background in the Meta Loop is something you can always be thinking about but doesn’t get implemented – you can think of it as the North Star guiding you
  • The game can change frequently – the prototyping stage is a discovery stage
  • If you wrote it all out, it wouldn’t be a game – it would just be a story

Sometimes it can be good not to even think about the Meta Loop and overarching story and be ridiculous in your core loop then make sense of it later. It’s all about finding the fun in that core loop.

You start developing, but it’s not as fun as you’d like it to be?

The game needs to be satisfying. Developers always have the tendency or the impulse to keep adding more stuff of variety. Be careful. This could be a trap because adding variety will make it a more lasting experience but it doesn’t necessarily make it more fun.

Keep going super deep in the core ability that you have. Constantly ask yourself and evaluate why you’re adding features and identify will adding it make something else more interesting. Brian talks about Gates of Osiris.

UI Elements

Try to limit yourself to 1 UI element that supports your Core Loop and the basics of what you’re trying to do.

Brian explains a term in the art word called “Gesturing it in.” Ike shares a similar principle in the programming world. The bottom line is when making the core mechanic or core loop, “gesture in” the UI. Just toss it up there without worrying about the details and it might even be good enough to ship it that way.

Starting to Feel Like a Game

  • 30 sec experience – lets you know if the idea has any promise or not
  • If yes, then you can move into a more complete thought

Basically it will start feeling like a game when you have a bit of the Meta game with the level progressions in there and the basics of getting through the level. Even if it’s all just gray and the character is a box, it should still feel like a game.

The Tech Demo

The tech demo is something completely different, but there is power in it. You create something that is not a game by making one thing incredible. Like taking one character fully modeled, rendered and jaw dropping amazing to get people excited. But be careful. It could be a trap or as Ike puts it Fools Gold. If you’re trying to get game deals and they can’t visualize where you’re going with it, it becomes challenging and you might run into some road blocks.

You can use the tech demo to try to build buzz before you can actually build your game. The benefit of that is people will understand what the game play will be like. It won’t be a game loop but more of a promotional thing, but it might help you in your development. You can have both of those tracks going simultaneously with one person working on the core loop and another working on a vertical slice of what the whole thing’s going to look like.

Working on the Core Loop

  • Go through many different prototypes
  • Allows you to throw the idea out
  • It gives you a place to evaluate and stop
  • Failing fast

You know you’re on to something when it might not look great, but people keep playing it. Ike shares about the rhythm timing game he’s been working on.

Once you’re done with that core prototype and it’s all working, it’s a yes or no as far as if you can make it into a game. Then you’re ready to move into the production phase – which will be discussed in another show.

Here are some basic steps to take:

  1. Gray box at least your Core Loop
  2. Once that’s working, do your Level Loop
  3. Play testing, get feedback
  4. Make an internal greenlight decision – invest more time or pivot
  5. Try not to get defensive and keep an open mind with critiques
  6. Polish and iron out issues before in the spotlight

We’ll be keeping this conversation going. We’ve just scratching the surface of basically going through and taking a game from point A-Z, from idea all the way to completion.

Please leave any comments or questions you might have for us on Facebook or Twitter, we’d love to hear from you!










About Deanna McRae