On Gamasutra (the game developers site), there’s an article that uses the new release of Dungeons and Dragons to inspire thoughts about improving games. What I want to note is the following quote, which nicely captures what I try to tell attendees at my game design workshop:
Being inspired by concepts is not just a good idea. When your skill reaches a high enough level, it becomes a state of mind. Start by analyzing games in similar genres for good ideas. Dissect those ideas and learn from them. Then jump to similar games in different genres. Pen and paper role playing games and board games are a great next step.
A true epic-level master of concept-yoinking like Shigeru Miyamoto can take gameplay features from abstract activities like gardening. Pay attention to everything you see, from movies to conversations with friends to patterns in the ceiling tiles. Where do designers get the inspiration for new games? It’s all thievery.
I remember when Lewis & Reimann, in their online HCI text, said something to the effect of: ‘plagiarize, as far as your lawyers will let you’. The point being not to reinvent the wheel when there’re good examples out there already. You may be the da Vinci of game design, but it’s not the way to bet. Use tried and tested solutions from the world around you; you’ll have plenty of challenge integrating them into a coherent whole without having to reinvent genres.
What I tell my learners is that they have a new, onerous responsibility: they have to start taking in lots more quantity and variety of popular culture – read more novels, watch more movies, play more games, etc (ok, so I’m joking about the ‘onerous’ part :). The reason being, they need richer grounds to mine for ideas to improve their games. They need to consciously evaluate what’s working for them, or others (even if it doesn’t work for them).
When I looked at design a number of years ago, one of the models that came out was a process of modifying (mutating) existing designs or combining elements from more than one previous design. Design is good, streamlined design is better in most instances where pragmatism holds sway, like limited resources, scope, and or schedule (“fast, cheap, or good: pick any two”). So, be an integrator, a synthesist, a problem-solver. Hey, if Shigeru is doing it, you’ll be in good company!