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Emotion, mechanic and theme
So, in order to start you should decide what kind of emotion you want to evoke in your player. Then you shall decide which core mechanic, according to you, will empower that emotion in the best way. What is a core mechanic? Think of it as a verb describing the main action the player will do in your game: maybe collect? Or run? Or chase? Or escape? Just add the object to the verb (for example: “collect fruit” or “run from sheeps”) and there you are.
This will be your core mechanic, so stick to it! The whole game should revolve around that one core idea.
Games are not just mechanics, though. Choose a theme which supports the emotion you picked. The theme could be an environment (for example: a space facility on mars) or an abstract setting or a mood (a gloomy space with colored waves). Now, you have just set the general mood for your game!
Here comes the hero of our game. Draw a picture, choose a name and describe it in a nice and concise way. Then choose one or more powers. These powers should have something to do with the chosen core mechanic. For example, if your game revolves around jumping, maybe the main character should be able to wall-jump or to double jump. Maybe this would be a collecting game, so an inventory ability should be great for you. What if your character could have the ability to make other character jealous of each other? Powers can get really silly. Experiment!
Remember, this is just a first draft. Keep some possibilities open while shaping a certain personality for your character. Oh, and don’t force yourself to think about humans or other living creatures. What if your character is a stone? Or maybe a star shape? Try to think outside the box!
Now it’s time to add some useful objects to your little game world.
The objects can be power-ups, which will improve the way your character relates with the core mechanics, or elements of the environments. Objects should also be related to the core mechanic; think of them as tools: hammers, magic swords, blocks to move around, bombs are great objects to populate your game with. Let’s keep it simple, though. For now, choose just one object but be sure to pick the one that is most important in order to empower the emotion you have chosen.
There’s a small twist, though! Try to think about three different ways your object may be used in the game. One should be the core mechanic. The other two will surprise your players, adding depth and meaningfulness to your idea.
Bernard Suits once said that a game is “the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”. Whether you believe this or not, in order to make your game interesting you’ll surely need your players to face some kind of difficulty
So, think about what these difficulties can be: not just enemies; they could be hazards like spikes or fire pits. But what if you go for something different and maybe more abstract? A good obstacle could be the love for someone. Or maybe jealousy? What about depression?
Anyway: sketch the obstacle (yes, even if it’s totally abstract you should visualize it in some way), write down the name and a small description. Three obstacles should be great to start. And you know what? Try to stick to the emotion/mechanic/theme. Again.
Now it’s time to jot down a level idea for your game. So far, we have provided a nice dot grid, but you can freely ignore it and draw what you want in the way you want.
The level scheme may be a plant view, a side view (maybe you’re doing a Mario-style platform game) or maybe a flow chart! What’s important here is to gain the idea of the environment you wish to create.
So, will it be the dragon’s lair? Or maybe your high-school classroom? What about the front lobe of your brain? Just try to keep things interesting by offering the player as many chances as possible to use the objects and to face the obstacles you have prepared. And don’t forget to add some secret areas and shortcuts!
Now get it done!
Ok, you think you’re almost there? Actually, you’re just getting started. To make it really happen, you’ll need to start building the actual game. So? Need some motivation?
You sure do. Making a game is HARD. But you can manage. For a starter, try listing 10 things you need to do in order to have a working prototype. You’re going to do one of them each day, so be careful! Don’t bite more than you can chew. Each single task should take you no more than a day. Once you are done with the list set up your alarm clock for tomorrow and wake up early in the morning: for the next ten days, you will accomplish one task at a time. After ten days you will have your working prototype. Isn’t it awesome?
So, good luck. And start making games!