For every five hundred generic shooters set in bland locations with cookie-cutter characters flinging around vague motives and Star Wars level exposition, there comes along a gem like Journey or Ico that manages to bridge the gap between storytelling and control in a way that creates something rather special. This week, I’ll be examining the art of concepts – the ideas behind the teams behind the games – and teaching you how to create your own.
The best ideas are the simplest ones. Nobody cares about your epic tale of death and redemption starring a group of unicycling clowns if it takes you twenty minutes to sum up the first act. Think about it on its most basic level and decide what the main elements to the game’s concept are going to be. Let’s break it down, shall we?
Ico = Boy + Girl + Castle
At its heart, Ico is a very simple game, but it builds on each of those elements to flesh out the experience. Similarly, most first-person shooters are essentially just shooting galleries with the addition of movement. You have to break down what your game is going to be and work out how to achieve each one.
I have a little game for you all to play. Everyone flip to a random page in a dictionary (or head here), and pick arbitrary words until you get a noun (object or concept, for you non-English folks). Repeat the process until you’ve got three nouns and a verb (action or process). For example, mine were as follows:
Nouns: Anomaly Scandal Doctor
Look like an odd selection? Yup, they are – that’s what makes them fun to work with. Perhaps the main character is a doctor. Perhaps the scandal is that he caused a medical anomaly (maybe in a public figure) that resulted in some sort of catastrophe. Newly unemployed, our heroic healer travels the world training new doctors to tend to the sick and in the process becoming world-famous. See? Easy.
Now, have you still got the words I asked you to pick earlier? Good, because now you’re going to come up with your own concept for a game. It doesn’t matter how silly it sounds on paper or how inelegantly it might be organised – that’s for later, and besides, some of the best games ever made have used seemingly brain-damaged ideas (think of a certain moustachioed plumber who eats huge mushrooms and fights turtles). Spin those words out into a short sentence (think about having two or three of the nouns interact with each other in some way. For instance:
Nouns: Plumber Mushroom Princess
Would be fleshed out to something like:
‘A plumber who eats mushrooms goes to rescue a princess’
Look at you with your instant thirty-year series.
You can then expand on the concept by establishing a setting, an obstacle for the protagonist to overcome and any unique powers/abilities that might be involved, but be sure to keep it limited to a single paragraph. Once you’re done with your wonderful thoughts about a game featuring a taco puppet murder rampage (or something to that effect), drop it in the comments and I’ll see if I can pick out the best ones for later.
This concludes the first part of our guide to conceiving a video game. In the next section, we’ll be looking at the gameplay elements of your proposed game, how feasible they’ll be to achieve and what would suit the idea best.
Thanks for listening!