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Educational Feature: Where Do Games Come From?

Game designer and educator Dr. Lewis Pulsipher has written a new educational article for sister site GameCareerGuide.com that explores inspiration for games, from theme through mechanics
GameCareerGuide.com has just posted a new educational article called “Idea Origins,” written by game designer and educator Dr. Lewis Pulsipher. The article explores where ideas for games come from, with Pulsipher pointing to the five most common sources of inspiration -- theme (story, title, image), mechanics, game system or genre, components, and constraints. In the piece, he also explains why recognizing and discussing these sources of game ideas helps lead to successful game-making. “Idea Origins” dives into basic premises and assumptions that students of game development and other newcomers to the field may have. Dr. Pulsipher, designer of the board game Britannia, teaches video game design at Fayetteville Technical Community College in North Carolina. In discussing where ideas for games come from, he references a multitude of known games, from those that spun off the original Star Wars movies, to Dungeons & Dragons, to Sid Meier’s Pirates. In this excerpt, he talks about games that are inspired by other games, a game system, or a well-defined game genre: “A ‘system’ is a case where a set of mechanics has become so well-known that games are made using most or all of the set. Many historical board games begin with a system, such as ‘block games’ (Hammer of the Scots), ‘card-driven games’ (We the People), Risk-like games (Risk Godstorm), Britannia-like games (Italia, China: The Middle Kingdom), and “committed intent” games. Video games, apart from obvious sequels, very often adapt a system, and video game genres themselves tend to involve challenges to players that are common to most games of the genre. Many video games originate with a genre. ‘We want to make a real-time strategy game,’ or ‘let’s make a shooter.’ There are genres in non-electronic gaming, but they tend to be broader (RPGs, collectible card games, war games). The genres in video games are quite specific, tending sometimes to straightjacket the designers’ efforts. … In the end, many games derive directly from specific other games. In the video game world, the ‘safe’ way to go is to design a game that is much like an existing successful game, but just enough different to be unique and to be perceived as an improvement. While derivation from another game is probably the most common method of origin, it is also probably the least successful, because too many resulting games suffer badly from being ‘too derivative.’” The article is now available in full on GameCareerGuide.com. For more introductory information about the video game industry and careers in it, see the Getting Started section on GameCareerGuide.

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