19 July 2011

MGDA: Part 1, Idea Phase

(MGDA means "Making a Game: the Direct Approach" and it is a series of blog posts meant to educate people to learn how to make a video game professionally.)

What is a video game?

Before I begin to teach you how to make a video game, lets see what a video game really is, what it can do and what uses does it have.

A video game is an interactive program that puts player in a world with a set of rules he/she has to follow to achieve a goal. Thats the premise.

The world can be anything from a realistic representation of real life to something completely abstract like an alternative dimension, for example.

The rules are anything you want them to be. Most commonly you are given control of something to interact with the previously mentioned "world" and that, in itself, creates the rules. When I say "rules", think of the word as "rules of nature". Like as in, "stuff that just exists" and "it just happens/works that way". Gravity is a good example of this. Its a rule and it happens.

The goal is essentially the point of the game. You are put in a "world" with its own "rules" and your task is to reach a "goal" within the said "world" by its "rules". This is what challenge is all about. And thats what games are all about ultimately, a challenge. Either or both physical or mental.

Often there are multiple goals in a game, some small, some larger, some finite and some infinite. It all depends how complex and what type of a game is in question. A goal can be anything from doing something small like moving over from point A to point B, to defeating the final challenge of the game. A goal's purpose in a game is to bring a sense of progression to a game. A reason to play the game. Without a reason, the game is dead and pointless. This applies to sandbox/freedom/free-roam based games as well.

A video game can have many purposes, but essentially its main concept lies within the idea of the player facing an interactive challenge that he/she attempts to overcome in order for him/her to do progress, and in turn, gain something from the experience.

This "something" can be satisfaction, entertainment, inspiration, skill improvement, gaining friends, learning new things, personal growth and/or recieve a message from the author to make you think or be aware of something.

Games have a lot of potential as a medium. They have many uses and many qualities that no other form of media has, with the main one being interactivity, requiring the user to participate and this makes games feel more of a personal experience than any other media.

You, as a developer can use video games to a great extent for various purposes. This doesn't mean it has to, but I just want to point out that video games can be used to do big things.

Purpose of video games:

Now lets look at what kind of video games you can create and for what purpose. The purpose can be one or many. Some notable purposes of a video game are the following:

  • Entertainment
  • Education
  • Simulation
  • Expression of Art
  • Message

Entertainment means fun, thrills, excitement, inspiration and satisfaction, i.e. the stuff that makes you feel good, happy and alive. Stuff that relaxes or gives you a rush of adrenalin.

Education aims to teach something from the experience. That something is virtually any subject you can think of that is possible to teach. Almost anything can be taught through a video game.

Simulation is suited for a more serious purpose, like testing out something virtually before (if ever) doing it in real life. Simulation can be entertaining, useful or just simply add more believabilty to the game through detail, which is always a good thing.

The video game may also be an expression of art or a message, through which the developer is trying to communicate with the audience and bring out thoughts and/or discussion on some matter or idea. Or simply just impress or inspire the player in some way.


You might have heard of the word "genre" mentioned often by the media. This is just a word used to help categorize games so that people would have a better idea what to expect from it. They help the average human to figure out the type of a game is in question.

Beyond that, there is no such thing as genres. Every game is a unique project on their own and categorizing them is done only for the purpose of being able to describe a game to the public more efficiently, thus helping the consumer to be aware what its like and what to compare it to, roughly speaking.

This is just a marketing thing, really. You and I can just as well create as many new genres as we want, both for anything already out there and whatever new we create ourselves, it wont really make a difference. Its just a more accesible and quick way of explaining products/services.

Starting  a project:

Every serious project begins with a purpose, a goal it aims to achieve. I've already covered the purposes of video games, but I must say that without a purpose there is no reason to create a video game. You really need to have one or you might be wasting your time.

This is where you and your ideas come in. You might have played various games and were inspired by them to create something better and/or different. Perhaps you want to capture the atmosphere of a movie, video, image, text or audio and make it an interactive experience that you can play and immerse in, as if you exist and live there. Maybe you have some knowledge, story or idea you want share with the world and make others learn from it/experience it as a game.

Sincere ideas like those roughly described above are driven by a purpose and this is vital if you aim to make a good product and be able to develop it efficiently. This is because you will have a clear idea of what you're supposed to do and achieve with it.

I want you to realize that I'm not teaching you on how to become rich or milk your customers with a quick, cheap and easy product. I'm teaching you how to make a meaningful product/service that could be considered actually something very good and worth its time and price.

While money isn't the main focus here, I will however, teach you important things about marketing and PR to make your product be succesful so you could get compensated for your effort monetarily so that you can sustain yourself and be able to fuel your future projects.

Where to get ideas:

Incase you don't have one, ideas can come from virtually anywhere. See what are you are interested in personally and think what you could come up out of it to create a game. Sources of ideas are everywhere: daily life, nature, movies, music, art, games, news and anything else you found personally interesting, important or impressive.

So if you have no clue on what kind of project to start, simply get inpired by anything through any means I just mentioned above. If the idea doesn't hit you right away, don't push it or force it. Just keep exploring, listening and looking everything around you. Sooner or later something will get you interested to come up with a genuine idea.

Is the idea worth developing:

Once you get an idea, examine it thoroughly and be convinced its going to be worth the effort. Making a good game isn't a fast process, so you will want to be sure the project has a worthy purpose for you to invest your time into it.

Check if its not already made, so you dont end up making a duplicate. Check if its even possible to make in the first place, as hardware and software do have limitations that you must abide to make your game work at all. Check if you have the resources to actually finish the project, since there is no point in making something you don't have the time or manpower to accomplish.

Don't worry about insufficient skill though, that is something you will learn on the way when it becomes necessary. You will also learn things more efficiently when you have an actual use for it. For all skills and checks you require, all you need is access to the internet to use a search engine to find any knowledge you could possibly wish for.

In the next part I will talk about refining ideas into concepts and how to create a proper design as well as how to plan out your project. Its the most important and largest phase for any project, so I expect to write a pretty massive post about it. Stay tuned.

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