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I'm trying to come up with ideas for games to develop - as per the advice on this question I've started jotting down and brainstorming my ideas as I get them, and it has worked relatively well - I now have a growing collection of ideas that I think are relatively original.

The trouble is that I'm a solo hobbyist developer so my time is limited (and I have short attention span!) I've decided to set myself a limit of 1 working week (i.e. 35-40 hours) to develop / prototype my game, but all of the ideas that really spark my imagination are far too complex to be achievable in that sort of time (e.g. RTS or RPG style gameplay), and none of my simpler ideas really strike me as being that good (and whenever I get a flash of inspiration I invariably end up making things more complicated!)

Am I being too picky - should I just take one of my simpler ideas and have a go?

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I don't have an answer, but I do have the same problem! Simple games don't interest me; complex games will take too long. – Kylotan Dec 11 '10 at 14:34
I am also struggling with this. Even when you come up with something a tid bit on the simple side it soon grows into something far too developed and large. The main thing is to finish stuff, but it's hard to limit creativity. – Michael Coleman Dec 11 '10 at 21:40
+1 I have the same problem too. Also if you are interested in doing a hobbyist game development project of the idea of yours. Count me in – Vishnu Dec 12 '10 at 13:04
@The Communist Duck: I can't speak for Kragen but my reason for not doing that is simply that I've done it several times before, and never finished these projects. That's fine if you enjoy the journey as much as the destination but I personally want to get to finishing games, not just starting them. – Kylotan Dec 14 '10 at 1:48
@The Communist Duck - This is my first real attempt at making a game - although I'd love to work on a long-running project, I think I'm likely to learn a lot from working on a game that I manage to finish. – Justin Dec 14 '10 at 1:58

12 Answers 12

up vote 36 down vote accepted

You need training. Consider entering a Game Jam. It's a friendly competition where you have to create a game in a very limited time frame, usually 48h. Quite often, a theme is given at the beginning of the jam. The prize is your own finished game.

Such a tight deadline is an excellent exercise on "thinking small". You learn what are your strenghts and limitations, when it comes to creating a game that quickly; you learn what kinds of elements you have to cut off of your designs; you see where do you spend too much time in development and where do you need to polish more, etc.

Right now some possibilities are:

  • Ludum Dare, the coming weekend. One of the most famous.
  • Experimental Gameplay. Once a month, you have 7 days to create an "experimental" game.
  • Klik of the month. Restricted to games made in Klik'n'Play only, and the competition is only 2h long.
  • Game Prototyping Challenge. Honestly I don't know much about this one, but it's starting on Monday the 13th and lasts till the 20th.
  • Global Game Jam, at the end of January. This one is massive, takes place in many cities around the world simultaneously.
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Thanks for the Ludum Dare heads-up! – Kylotan Dec 11 '10 at 14:40
Also, I want to add: use an agile/iterative method. Cut your game into small, two-week implementation cycles where you do something. Not a full feature, maybe, but something playable. – ashes999 Mar 16 '11 at 16:43

I've been doing a lot of reading and listening to pod casts recently, and a lot of successful developers stress making a bunch of games as one of the best paths towards success as a game developer/designer. I've repeatedly heard comments along the lines of "Don't try to make your dream game initially, just make ANYTHING."

I had recently been having some of the same issues you mentioned, but I decided to try using my hour lunch break at work to create a simple game each day. Admittedly, an hour is obviously not long, but if you are sufficiently experienced in some type of game tool (Flash for me, or Unity), it should be possible to make something during this time period. I've done it five times now, and the crazy thing is that I have five new game ideas done.

They have horrible graphics, are buggy, and often not incredibly fun to play, but the cool thing is that I have an idea now of the possible success of five new game mechanics, and I've lost less than 5 hours. One of the five seems like it could actually be a fun game, so I might spend more time to actually make it into something.

Yesterday, I happened to have found a link to a guy who made one mini-game or interactive program each day for 219 days! (see Imagine having 219 ideas and prototypes in less than a years time. Sure, a lot of them will be junk (many of his are less than stellar), but incredibly, many of them will quite possibly be fun and interesting ideas.

Creating something within a super-constrained time frame forces you to focus on the core mechanic of the game, the idea that makes it special. Sure, to have a commercially successful game you need polish and high production value, but "you can put makeup on a pig, but it doesn't change the fact that it's a pig" lol. How much better to spend a tiny amount of time on each concept, then you can focus on polishing the ideas that seem to actually have merit.

Doing so will increase your confidence ("Wow, I have X ideas functional in only Y hours?"), increase your portfolio, and increase your skill as a designer. Good luck!

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Great use of your lunch time hour! Thanks for the idea. – Error 454 Dec 31 '10 at 20:35
This is a cool idea. I often get overwhelmed in trying to do to much, so focusing on the core of the game, and trimming the fat, will really help me complete my projects. – jumpnett Sep 6 '11 at 23:16

Even the biggest games are made up of a series of smaller systems.

If you are really excited about a big concept, split your big game idea up into all its different component system. If you can't finish a system in a week, split it further. Then make small prototype games of each one of these components.

Don't worry about hooking them in together, just build each one as quickly as possible to see if the idea is viable.

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This is a very common problem, and there are a few exercises to get around it that I ask of my students.

Try this thought exercise: take one of your designs that's too big, and ask what you would do if you had to cut 90% of the features.

Here's another idea: change your design so that the game could be played to completion in 5 to 15 minutes. Can you use clever design to restrict the scope of the game so that the play time is incredibly short -- a competitor of Minesweeper more than Final Fantasy?

Identify the "core" of the game -- what's the one thing the player does over and over that's fun, that really drives the gameplay (or alternately, the one unique mechanic that makes your game stand out from the genre)? Implement that only, consider everything else as fluff.

You can approach this two ways, either as a serious attempt to reduce a genre to its essentials, or as a parody of the genre that lampoons the inherent banality of the core mechanics.

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The core idea of the game I want to make is a space combat sim controlled not unlike Freelancer. I figure the best way to get started is to work on this "space flight" aspect first then go from there. – Nick Bedford Mar 15 '11 at 4:43

If you have a brainstorm list of ideas you're part of the way there. Pick your favorite 2 or three and break down what you liked most about them.

E.g. RTS: liked building the buildings -> make a game centered around only building buildings.

dungeon-crawlingRPG: liked the combat with monsters.
-> make only the combat part. no character choice, no stat or equipment choice, just the killing.

Oh, and don't do it alone, get at least one other person in on it who can keep you sane. If at worst you can't get a developer, at least get someone you can bounce your ideas off of and who can play whatever simple prototype you make and who you can watch try to play it, or talk to while they play it. The second you have anything manipulatable (not balanced, not playable, just does something), get someone other than yourself to start manipulating it.

Set yourself a hard definition of "a working prototype" and a hard deadline of "max prototyping hours" and pause once you reach them. Set the gamelet down for a bit, like two days, and when you come back to it, re-examine whether you can make it fun and want to add another prototyping goal to it or prototype something new.

(I advise this because despite being continually full of ideas, I got myself embroiled in developing a single live, legacy game, and 7 years later I'm still trying to get it to a "fun to play" state.)

Luckily, fun doesn't -require- complexity, and often you can add complexity later around a simple core for more options when you find a promising base.

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Do a remake!

Pick a simple game you enojoy from the 80s/90s and give it some interface love, turn it into something shiny again.

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Have you thought about going retro? Older games will obviously not have the bells and whistles you would expect, but the plus is that they have a much smaller code base. Try structured steps too, If you wanted to make a game like Asteroids, step one might be set up the basic enviornment with a spaceship that can move and fire in any direction. Step two, add rocks that you can destroy. For the next step, vary the size of the rocks, or add missiles to your ship's arsenal. The trick is, build a base app, expand on the idea, structure your versions so you can reuse the greatest amount of code possible for other projects. Create your own personal code and resource library (if your not interested in creating your own models/sounds search out sites like, otherwise is a good place to look. Blender is a (FREE)3D animation studio that is heavily supported and close to AAA quality. It has a built in game engine you can use to prototype ideas.). The the more assets you have in your code library the less you have to build from scratch later(you also lessen the chance of reinventing the wheel!).

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Firstly, I think you are being to hard on yourself. You need to start of with a project that certainly interests you but you should be keeping it small.

The reason I think you should keep it small to begin with is so you do not become unmotivated.

Games evolve as they are created, I think you should challenge yourself with a simplistic project and allow yourself to build it into something more over time. Don't put yourself on a time-table, this will hinder your project. It's done when its done. Which is essentially never!

It's OK not to have the coolest new idea for a game, a lot of ideas are used and reused. Blizzard hasn't made an original game in years, but they still make the best games.

One last thing on creativity. You need to be creative with what you have, not with what you don't have. We don't have experience, we don't have massive art teams, and we don't have the a large diverse team of people.

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Creating sprites or models is time consuming, adding animations just increases the time exponentially. Do what you can to create your game without any of the cool animations or fancy graphics. A cube or circle are awesome placeholders.

Unity3d now has a store you can download lots of amazing free or cheap prototyping scripts/models/animations ($15 gets you a great prototype graphics set, and I've had a lot of fun with a free explosions kit).

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Nothing beats the old hard coded multi-coloured triangles as placeholders :P – Nick Bedford Mar 15 '11 at 4:50

Try to keep your projects small, even if the result is "unintrestingly simple" games. The code from those projects can then be reused or extended, resulting in more interesting projects. If you are impatient to get something finished soon, work extra hard on getting the game idea simple and stripped of everything but the really bare essentials.

I have been fighting with this as a hobby game developer myself. Having a family with kids, fairly bad discipline, and a bad habit just like everyone else to want to do everything at once (which seem to plague not just hobbyist game development but all software development), I find it hard to get any of my games created. So the years goes on but in this matter, time is on our side as I see it because:

  1. I develop software for a living, and some of the things learned from that job is usable when developing games. As the years goes on, my skills toolbox increases. This is true also for hobby programmers "cranking out unintresting simple games" for the sake of exercising his/her programming skills.
  2. The computer industry (hardware and software) moves on as well, so what was a dreadfully complex task in the 1980ies and 1990ies or even a few years ago might today be taken care of by some proven and reliable library someone else wrote. As hardware gets more powerful and cheaper over time, more high level tools, libraries and programming languages becomes an option when developing games.
  3. I mature over these years as well (at least I hope so) and manage to restrain myself more and more to remove as much as possible from the game I try to create. I can imagine many programmers share that experience, that over time, it is easier to adhere to "keep it simple, stupid".

In my case, in any year, all these three factors will converge to the point I actually manage to write some playable incarnation of some of my ideas. For you Kragen, that point might already have been reached, if you manage to pick a simple enough game idea to write.

Good luck!

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If you're piling so much stuff on your plate that you can't finish a game just bite the bullet and cut the thing into smaller chunks. If you keep the game short it really doesn't need so much stuff and if you're doing anything object oriented and you write your programs well you'll have this big library of your own code that you can copy from later if you really want something with a much more complicated structure.

But really that's just if the whole experience thing isn't enough to motivate you on its own.

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I would suggest to start with something as simple as a board game or card game. Doing something like that can give you a real taste for game mechanics. Writing software comes later. Remember, games are about fun, not snazzy graphics.

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