Game design demands a lot of research. Good ideas come from all around you, and it is the height of arrogance to assume that you and you alone possess the power to envision undreamed solutions. Don’t be that asshole that thinks, despite all evidence to the contrary, that they shit gold.
This manifests so often, in so many people, they have an official term for it: Not Invented Here. It states, in short, that we tend to prefer our own designs, or designs that originate from within our society. Like most principles of design, though you feel charged by a sudden bout of clarity, it can be hard to execute them in practice. It is not enough to simply be aware that it exists. You must be vigilant; you must constantly ask yourself if you are rejecting ideas for the right reasons. Devour your research, and once you do, don’t be afraid to use what you find.
The early days of a project are lived in the conference room, but where one might picture a group of creatives all sprouting something the world has never seen, I picture a group of designers gathered around a book or computer studying the genius of the past. This is does not mean that true originality is forsaken. Far from it in fact; however, you must ask yourself if your idea is truly original. Have you never seen it because it is original, or have you never seen it because others have tried and realized its faults. Can you tell the difference without doing research?
In my spare time I enjoy designing games (all day AND all night), and I’ve been doing it, with varying degrees of consistency, for several years. I will put my money where my mouth is by cataloging a typical day of research through the Holy Trinity: wikipedia, gamefaqs, and youtube.
A Starting Point
My latest (greatest?) fascination is roguelikes and their many cross-bread children. Nothing fancy about this fascination, as it is one claimed by many. It is, however, one thing to think about or play them, and it is another to design them. One must start from somewhere, and so I did as so many do:
Wikipedia is not about facts; it is about flow. The great criticism against wikipedia is that, given that it is a conglomeration of public opinion, it is not very factual. This is true. You should always take your findings with a grain of salt, but do not be dismissive. The great power of wikipedia (of Wikis in general) is flow. Their ability to seamlessly lead from one topic to the next, and for that they are unbeatable. Everyone knows the time-vampire that is Wikipedia, but it can be put to the good.
Starting from a nexus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roguelike
I was able to branch out:
- … (it goes on and on from here)
Some leads are good, and some leads are bad; some I learned a lot, and some I learned nothing at all. What it did, in the end, was lead me here:
This rabbit hole was deep; so deep in fact, that it felt as if life was imitating art. Like a great Roguelike, I was delving deeper and deeper into the dungeon. Still, what I came away with was a great collection of names. Games to research. The wiki doesn’t provide you with facts — it provides a road map. I know where I’m going, and next begins the research.
Youtube is one of, if not the, greatest tool in the designer’s arsenal. Fact. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then youtube is worth ten thousand. If I was limited to one website when designing a game I would have to throw down with youtube, because it serves two very important roles. One, it has become a database of video game play throughs. You would be hard pressed to find a popular game that does not have a play through up on youtube. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up old games on youtube to see how something was done. Two, it is the clearest way to get across what you want with a design.
Let’s say I was designing an encounter. Which of the following is more clear.
The player enters a long rectangular room with several pillars. The player must walk through a metal detector, and when it is set off, a huge firefight with lots of security guards erupts.
Yes, it is true that you can write a description that is JUST as good, but why waste the time? That link coupled with an additional description takes less time, and is much clearer.
By the time I reach Youtube I have a list of games I want to check out: some I’ve never played, some I need a refresher. My goal is to catalog any interesting links that I can use for later, and I’m always keeping my eye on the related videos. Like Wikipedia, it has a sense of flow to it. One video leading to the next. Eventually, after much spelunking, I will have whittled down the games I want to check out to a much smaller subset. These are games that I wish to play first hand, or if that’s not possible, I go to my final stop.
If you play games you’ve probably been here, so it does me nothing to sell its many features. It is a simple website, but the documents people upload are of surprisingly decent quality. God bless OCD fans. If it is one thing you can count on, it is the insatiable obsessive compulsives to hammer out every detail, calculate every probability, and in general, break a game down to its most minute detail. There is no greater source for a system designer – besides hint guides (of which I own a ton).
Bottom line: this is your last stop. Youtube has paired the list of games you wish to research down to the bare minimum, and now it is time to squeeze them for all they are worth. If can’t get hands on access to a game, then come here. Seriously, if you don’t come here to research what other games have done, then you are an idiot. Sorry, it’s just the facts.
Good But Not Great
Hitting up the holy trinity is awesome, and it is necessary, but it is not the only places I go for research. To close I thought I’d just throw out a bunch of random links that I came across in my day of research. They are in no particular order, and definitely missing a few. Do your research, and don’t be afraid to use what you learn.