Concept: Art – The Guide to Dreaming Up a Game (Part 3)

So, the first part of this series of guides had us lay out our basic idea. Afterwards, in part 2, we talked about the gameplay features which complement different core concepts. This week, we’ll be finishing the series with an attempt at writing a 500 word or so synopsis of your game.

[Note – I’m emphatically NOT helping you write a game pitch. I’ve never made or pitched a game to anyone. What I have done is written concepts to help any possible development team and myself understand game ideas.]

Here you’ll be breaking the write-up down into several different paragraphs to help divide up the information and make it easy to read. As usual, I’ll be using the game idea generated in part 1 as an example. Your paragraphs should be as follows:

1) Opening Statement/Basic Description.

Open by stating the name of the game, a very short phrase on what it’s about its genre, the expected length and platforms for release. You might also mention the number of possible players. For instance:

MediQuest is an open-world/sandbox game with a potential length of around 40 hours, to be released on PC, Mac, Xbox 360 and Sega Saturn. It features online co-operative and competitive multiplayer modes compatible with Xbox Live, Steam and SegaNet.

See? Was that so hard? Right, next up:

2) Technical specifications.

Here you’ll be going into the specifics about engine (the core code elements that manage how the game functions – some popular ones for indie games are Unreal 3, Unity and RPG/Game Maker) and system requirements, as well as things like resolution and audio surround capability. You may also want to mention elements such as disc capacity and hard drive space, which can be important factors in determining how your game is distributed. Here we go again:

The game will be built on the Gamebryo [Oblivion/Fallout3/New Vegas engine, fact fans!] Engine, under license from Emergent software [Note: Epic Games’ Unreal Development Kit allows for free use of the Unreal 3 Engine for educational and non-commercial purposes. It might be worth a try if you’re actually aiming to be a developer]. It will be capable of display at 1920x1080p resolutions on Xbox 360, Mac and PC, and at 720x480i/720x576i resolution on Sega Saturn, with full 7.1/Stereo surround sound (varying by system). The finished game would be available as a digital download and on physical media, taking up one dual-layer DVD (or 13 CDs).

3) Scenario Synopsis.

Okay, now we get down to the meat of it – putting down in words precisely what will happen. Not much I can tell you about what to do here – just describe the main plot points and you’re golden. Oh, and because I’m uncreative, I’ve stolen character names from various TV shows, games and films. See how many you get. Let’s get going:

The game opens on a hospital in the Rocky Mountains, where a military officer is undergoing procedures to save his life following a freak accident near Cheyenne Mountain. Dr. Eric Foreman [see?] is a young doctor in charge of his care and when forced to intervene in very short time, makes a critical error that ends up killing the patient. To avoid the inevitable crippling lawsuit, Foreman flees the country in order to help train doctors in central Africa. While going about his business, he discovers an abundance of ethnic tension and random killings that look to be growing into calls for total genocide. Foreman must use his influence and intelligence to avert the crisis by meeting with several factions, such as the incumbent government, the moderate opposition, Marxist guerillas and several tribal groups. The player can opt for multiple methods to resolve the situation, including inciting a coup d’état, evacuating as many people as possible to neighboring countries, talk down militia groups or raise an armed resistance. The player is rewarded for how efficiently and bloodlessly the conflict ends, with multiple endings to match any given scenario.

That… actually sounds pretty fun. Like Fallout without the broken combat system. Ahem. Woo, nearly done! now for the fun part:

4) Content Rating and Target Audience.

Unfortunately, we can’t all make games about knifing puppies in the throat in order to gain access to Encyclopedia Dramatica’s ‘Offended’ page (seriously, don’t Google it). Since Fluffy’s Knifey-Gore 2000 caused a spate of baby animal murders way back when, there are age ratings to think about. Note: This doesn’t apply if you’re distributing your game directly rather than through a publisher or distribution service like Steam. Then you can go nuts with the Canine slaying.

The ESRB in the US and PEGI in Europe (there’s BBFC in UK as well) won’t take kindly to any depictions of exceptionally gory or unprovoked violence, explicit sexual content or anything else obscene (defecation is a good example). Thus, you should explain what sort of audience this is for so that you seem open and can get away with an M/18 rating if you’re planning to include anything questionable. Bear in mind that some countries (Germany and Australia, to name two) have stricter laws than most on game content, so it may have to be toned down for specific regions. For example, Australia has no 18 rating, so most gore has to be removed or lessened, while in Germany all blood must either be green or removed entirely. They also ban Nazi imagery (particularly the swastika) so be prepared to have a lot of Iron Cross banners in that WWII game of yours. Here’s my take on it:

MediQuest will feature some bloody depictions of wounds/infections etc. in a medical context, along with several incidents of unprovoked murder or genocide (these are portrayed negatively and not carried out by the player) which may be distressing or unsettling to some players. For certain markets, the level of explicit gore will need to be toned down or removed in order to achieve a rating, though this can be achieved without compromising the immersion of the game. The recommended age rating for this game would be an 18 certificate or equivalent in most territories, however given the documentary/educational nature of the plot, a 15 (or equivalent) rating may be workable.

Right, now I want all of you to compile something like that for yourselves. When you’re done, drop it in the comments or send it to robin@cubedgamers.com. I’ll let you know what I think!

That concludes this guide to game concepts. Normal service will be resumed next week.

– Robin

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Robin Wilde

Co-Editor of Cubed Gamers, meaning I send out, take in, edit and upload content. I’m also in charge of doing much of the graphics and design stuff for the site.

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