Key Design Elements
All games start as an idea, something like “Wouldn’t it be cool to be a space marine and blow up zombies on Phobos” or “Wouldn’t it be cool to be a pilot in a starfighter involved in an epic struggle to overcome the oppression of a star empire gone bad” or “Wouldn’t it be cool to drive modified street cars on Tokyo streets at night.” These idea sparks are often the source of long conversations between developers late into the night at the studio. Another potential starting point for a game is a licensed property; i.e., “make a RPG/RTS/action game using XXX license.” (Fans may want to play that license specifically. Major licenses include Star Trek, Star Wars, D&D, WWF, Lord of the Rings,and Harry Potter.) Chapter “Business Context First” discussed getting your business goals and parameters settled for your project before you start formal design and development of your game.
This chapter discusses how to use the structure your business context and your game ideas provide and how to turn them into a game concept worthy of fleshing out into a game design document.
Where the key design elements lie in the project’s Lifetime
Business Context Shapes Design, or Does Design Shape the
First of all, I am not asserting that having your business context in hand will act as a magical tool that will turn any game idea into a well-thought-out game concept. It is only an important aid to assess the requirements that your game idea is implying. Some game ideas (such as the faithful recreation of Middle Earth where the whole world is modeled with strong AI, 3D graphics capable of great indoor and terrain rendering, where an unlimited number of players can join in together on both sides of epic conflict between good and evil) cannot be reconciled with the business parameters of two artists and a programmer looking to break into the industry, who have six months of living expenses available to them on their collective credit cards. That Middle Earth concept is an example of a game that will dictate the business parameters. If we take the business parameters of two artists and a programmer, they might want to recreate an arcade classic on the Nintendo Game Boy Color or Advance, use it to secure their first deal, and then move on to more ambitious projects.
For many game projects there is a middle ground where the business parameters and the game idea go back and forth and refine each other. Perhaps the developer pitches a massively multiplayer game to a publisher who is wary of the costs and risks behind massively multiplayer. From these talks it is quite possible the developer will end up creating a game that exploits a license the publisher has rights to and features a much more modest multiplayer feature set. This is not an acceptance of a mediocre plan; rather it is a mature development of the idea into a viable concept. A viable concept is a game that people with capital believe will be seen through to completion, with a high probability of favorable reception in the market to overcome the inherit risk in game making.