Much like the process of reproduction, in game design there are a few fundamental pieces that you put together to get things started. From there, the thing grows on its own. You're mostly left to deal with growing pains, college loans and, if you're lucky, a top-selling spot on Steam!
Like raising a kid, from the fundamental pieces you put together, a game grows into its own personality. Also like raising a kid, forcing a game to be something it's not, makes it turn out shitty.
Over the years, this has been among the hardest design concepts for me to grasp. I often will get so excited about a story concept or gameplay mechanic that I blind myself to the bigger picture. I love donuts and I love lobster. Putting them in a blender together is less than desirable. So, how does all of this apply to my project?
When I first thought of the concept of a wall jump attack, it was within the context of a Super Meat Boy meets Shadow of the Colossus sort of thing. I was imagining that you would wall jump up huge enemies to get to their weak points. I needed to start smaller though, so I came up with the idea of jumping off rockets quickly after prototyping basic movement with moving platforms.
Well, that's pretty fun. Maybe this game is really about deflecting projectiles. Maybe it's some sort of platforming bullet hell! This phase is my first glimpse into what my infant's passions might be. As if they as picked up a ball and threw it, pride pulled me to my feet as I proclaimed "My child is a quarterback".
But how do they die? The parental analogy breaks down here. We need the player to die sometimes. If they're deflecting rockets with their feet, what could possibly harm them? Maybe getting smashed between two solid objects? Okay, if the purpose of the game is to avoid getting smashed, what are other ways to nuance that challenge?
Not getting smashed is a thing in all sorts of platforming games. Of course we have the classic Mario Thwomp, but maybe something more interesting, like an enemy that hops. In most games, an enemy that hops into the air would be threatening while in air and prey while on the ground. Interestingly, wall jump combat changes that up.
Enemy Combat Prototype
If I make these baddies invincible while on the ground, and always a threat vertically, they become an enemy unique to my game and the way that it's played.
Everything is young. I know that wall jumping to attack threats is what makes my game fun, so everything I'm adding should be with that core gameplay mechanic in mind. However, I barely know what my game is right now, so I shouldn't be buying a football uniform for my child yet, they could still turn out to be a dancer.
In these early stages, focus on the cornerstones, build a sturdy foundation. With just a few hours of work a day, I've got all sorts of design potential here! They grow up so fast.
William's Comment: When you mention, "However, I barely know what my game is right now, so I shouldn't be buying a football uniform for my child yet, they could still turn out to be a dancer," that doesn't totally resonate with me as a designer. While there could be some moments of emergent ideas that could shake up the forumula from your original plan, I think it's important to keep in mind that your game is something that you're designing from beginning to end, and you should always have the end result in mind when you're building a foundation.
While a franchise can develop a personality past your original influence and design, your game can not. Even the passions that it appears to adopt on its own are your own influence, your own design, your own passions.
You're not growing a child. You're growing a topiary.
You've expressed that you have difficulty keeping a game under reigns in a way that keeps it down the path that its own personality wants, but a game doesn't have personality until you give it some and there's never a moment where you can't shape the game to become something different. With a child, there's a point where the kid is an individual that takes over who they're going to be. With a shaped shrub, all that you're doing is trimming the right places and guiding growth to become the art that you know that you want it to be, and I think that's much closer to what game design is.
And sometimes a topiary grows to be a child. Please try to keep up.
And that's the thing about the design so far: you've got your foundation down, the seeds planted, but it's growing wild right now, but a wild shrub is amorphous and doesn't have a personality. As the shrub expands into an impressive bush (ladies) it's going to be up to you to trim what needs to be trimmed and guide the growth to create the art that is ultimately reflective of your own personality, tastes, and goals. It's you who decides if you'll trim the parts that make it a pyramid, or if you'll trim different parts to make it a sphere, or trim different parts to turn it into a sexy topiary lady.
I think that what I'm seeing as our fundamental difference in design so far is that you're putting forward that a game finds itself in the prototyping stage while I'm saying that a prototype has no personality until you start forcing it to be the cohesive game you want it to be. This actually harps back to our discussions on prototyping vs concept art, where you seem to support finding out how a game works through organic experimentation and I prefer to plan things out and adjust along the way. This distinction is really interesting to me because, even though we've developed games together for going on a decade, I'm only just starting to see the differences in our distinct approaches from a new perspective.
Did things just get weird in here or is it just me?
Let us know what you think, who do you agree with? How do build the foundations for your game?