In this post we will talk about the basic idea for your game. While this is the easiest step, it is also the step in which most beginning developers get stuck. It is important to stay flexible and let this base idea grow and evolve during development.
Lets assume that you are a blank slate and you are looking for an idea to make into a game (I know this is probably not the case but stick with me). At this point the only limit your game has is what you impose upon it. Keep your concepts loose at this point and be prepared to change as you need.
I often start with a base concept or genre (sci fi, horror, modern, fantasy, etc). Then a sub-genre (survival, spoof, children, etc). The last part of this stage is my general “feel” (dark, light-hearted, epic, etc).
Next, I like to nail down what makes my game special. By this I mean what will make people want to play it as opposed to the many other games that they could be playing. Or at least what will distinguish it from its peers. This is the point where you start to limit the world and draw in a few details. You can tighten up who the players will be in the world and what kind of adventures they will be going on. Or, in short, why it will be fun to play.
The idea: Right now the idea is just a general genre and feel for your game. Then add a few twists or hooks that make it unique and bring the players in. Don’t spend too much time on the base idea right now. Just give it a spirit, we will work on flesh and bones later.
Your idea: anything can be your idea, a zombie apocalypse game on a planet occupied only by rabbits, or even the life struggles of a flea. The important thing for this step is just that you have one and are willing to work with it.
Working idea: So when looking for an idea I decided on a sci fi genre, something old and pulpy. For a sub-genre, I decided on swash-buckling high adventure. I wanted the game to feel light and silly for a fun evening with friends.
While trying to figure out what I would do to make this game different and worth playing was that I would make it a musical. A game in which heroic space pirates may break out into song while dueling the bad guys with laser swords.
Resources: I often find the best ideas in fiction. Sometimes in history. For this I read/listen to books, watch movies, play games and, just in general, keep my eyes and mind open. If you don’t already have a Netflix account, that may be a good start. Audible and Kindle books also give me many great ideas. I don’t condone outright theft, but they may give you a good kernel to start your idea.
Tips: Keep flexible at this point. If your original idea is supposed to be dark and serious but comes out kind of campy, go with it (it worked for Evil Dead). Also, this is the easiest of the steps to follow. Don’t give up and keep going. Don’t let your new idea die. The biggest tip I have ever received in game dev is “somebody has had your idea before, or something very much like it. Don’t be afraid to share it and get input.” Use your resources to get input. If you have questions, ask.