A game concept in its simplest form is the vision for the game, usually revolving around some kind of unique “mechanic” that makes for engaging gameplay. Coming up with truly innovative gameplay concepts is a challenging, often frustrating, process. But it doesn’t have to be.
Good game concepts make good games. Think Portal, a gold standard when it comes to innovative concept design. The one mechanic (the ability to make two portals and travel between them) lends itself to a whole array of puzzles. Designing new core gameplay concepts such as this one can be summed up in a simple 3-step process.
1. Playing in your head
The first stage requires getting creative, really creative; this comes more naturally to some than others. To those who have grown through the decades enjoying arcades, consoles, PC, and now are now moving onto VR, the tetris effect is probably a familiar phenomenon, and you have probably spent hours thinking about your favourite games.
I like to use this to my advantage. The ability to get immersed in games, and for them to become a part of your reality outside the game is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a powerful tool when designing new core gameplay concepts. It gives you the ability to think of the most interesting, original, even broken thing you can play, and play it out in your head.
You will need to replay this in your head, over and over again, making time for it as you would a real game. With VR, you have the added advantage that it can be quite similar to real life. If you can imagine it, you are already close to building it.
As you play, start to think about if it is feasible within your development means, fun to play, scaleable or if it’s too similar to things you already played before.
In the case of a Fisherman’s Tale (codenamed « Abîme » during development), playing with the general concept in my head didn’t raise any of the red flags above. If you find yourself in the same situation, you have passed the first step of feasibility!
2. Cryptic diagramming
Now you will need to pick a diagramming tool. There are a lot of options here, such as Visio or Omnigraffle, but my personal favourite is Google Draw. It integrates nicely with the rest of their work suite, and works really well with collaborative projects.
With the mechanics you came up with earlier in mind, you need to illustrate a variety of game situations based on this mechanic. When it comes to playing the game, this will keep the mechanic fresh and challenging, and avoid it feeling like the solutions are repetitive.
Here are some schematics I made at the very beginning of Abîme / A Fisherman’s Tale.
As you can probably see, these were not made for someone else. These designs were personal, and the more creative and innovative your idea is, the more of a challenge it will be to represent and for others to understand.
If you are ever using this document to present your idea, you will be there to explain how to read it anyway. This process is still convincing yourself that the concept is that balance between feasibility and excitement that could become something incredible.
3. Video proof of concept
This last step is critical, and requires the most work of the three.
Based on the most interesting gameplay situation you diagrammed, you need to develop a bare bones proof of concept to ensure that your idea plays right; the ultimate feasibility test.
If you are not a programmer yourself or if your idea is too complex to prototype alone, you still have some options:
- Saving up some money (from $100 to $1000) to pay a programmer
- Build a relationship with a programmer, and sell them on your idea
- Participate in a game jam, and if you can mould your idea to fit the theme, you can team up with some programmers
- If you are a student, approach other departments (video game developers etc) that might be interested in developing your idea
- If you are working for a company with developers, approach them and see if they are looking for a passion project
At one point in my career, I have tried all of these concepts at least once. For Abîme, I actually used the last one. Innerspace happened to have a few available interns that could work on the project, and this was the result:
If the proof of concept works, don’t be afraid to capture it and share it. There is no need for a fully fleshed out demo process with actors and professional recordings, as this will just add unnecessary time to what is just a concept, and that should be the focus here.
A video capture is almost as important as the proof of concept itself, because almost none of the people you will need to convince going forward will have the time or the means to even play your proof of concept. Until you can scrap up the funds to make a vertical slice or develop your ideas further, for all intensive purposes, this is your one chance to convey its potential.
And that’s it. From there, your idea will either sink, and your idea will go no further, or swim, and it will become a fully fledged title. If you take anything from this article, it should be this: do not be discouraged if your idea goes no further. The majority of ideas go no further, but you can always go back to the drawing board and start again. It only took one successful idea to make my favourite game: “A Fisherman’s Tale”.