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Ink - Creating a Game Design
Coming Up With an Idea
About This Project
Coming Up With Ideas

Whether it's books, movies, comics, video games, or any type of story or game, you've got to start with an idea. There's really no right way or wrong way to come up with an idea. Ask a bunch of creative people how they come up with ideas and you'll probably get quite a lot of different answers. Personally, I've gotten ideas for my books, game concepts, and the like in all sorts of different ways. Sometimes it's a song, a TV commercial, a dream, or just a passing thought... From time to time something will just click and I'll think, "hey, there's a good story there". At that point I'll just run though the basic idea in my mind for a while and let it grow and evolve until I have a basic structure, which often has little relation to whatever inspired it in the first place.
I'll go a lot more in depth when discussing the idea behind Ink but, just to give a quick example of the process, let's take my short story Memories of a Hero. If you don't feel like reading it right now, it's a serious short story about a man who is named a hero by his village and is forced to live and die by their expectations of what a hero should be. I came up with the idea while in Japan. I was sitting in the park during my lunch break on a Wednesday playing Ouendon 2 (the Japanese version of Elite Beat Agents). There's this one level based on the legend of Momotaro (a boy found in a giant peach who, along with a dog, bird, and monkey, defeats a group of monsters that have been terrorizing the area). In the level, the hero Momotaro is now an old man off to collect his social security check (or whatever the Japanese equivalent is). But suddenly the monsters return and, despite his age, everyone looks to Momotaro to stop them. Of course, the game treats it humorously and old Momotaro manages to get it together and save the day. But the thought popped into my head that, in real life, people would probably act the same way. There was a story there. A hero, too old to fight yet forced to by others. Taking that basic idea, I started asking myself questions. Who was the hero? Why was he a hero? Why did he keep fighting? What would happen to him? Who was telling the story? I've been doing this for a long time, so the whole process occupied only a short time and before I'd even finished level I'd already begun writing the story in my head (exact sentences and wording and all) so I quit the game, grabbed a notbook, and got to work.
Naturally they don't all go that quickly. Most of my stories are far longer and there are often some important details that I don't figure out until I've already written a significant amount, but the basic process is the same. I come up with game concepts in a similar fashion. I typically get an idea for either the story or a cool gameplay mechanic and work from there, asking myself about all the details that are needed to support that idea and what kind of story / gameplay would be a good match for it. But, as I said, there's no right or wrong way to do it, that's just my usual way. And not everyone has a talent for coming up with ideas, much less good ones. The real trick is being able to objectively look at your ideas and see if they're actually good. Here's a hint, most of them probably aren't. And that applies to everyone, I've had plenty of bad ideas and so have most professionals. They just generally know enough to discard them (or at least to trust the judgement of others in that regard).
Then there's the really important part... When you're making games professionally, you often don't get the luxury of coming up with and developing your own ideas. Unless you're one of the higher ups in the company or a very well respected designer, it's quite possible that the types of games you make will be dictated by someone else. It may be someone else's idea (such as the lead designer) or it may just be something passed on by marketing or some other business exec. Perhaps RTS games are really popular at the moment, or games about the mafia. Maybe the company just got the license to develop games based on some movie or TV show. While being able to come up with and develop your own ideas is an important skill, a good game designer also has to be able to take and expand someone else's ideas. My first real lesson in that came during a class back when I was getting my bachelor's degree. The teacher had us divide into groups. For the next half an hour each group was supposed to go off, create a basic game design, and then return and present it to the class. After we grouped up, the teacher went around and asked each group what genre of game we'd like to do. After getting everyone's answers he promptly assigned each group to create a game of a completely different genre. My group, who had chosen RPG, was given RTS instead. Was it what we'd wanted or planned for? No. But, despite that, we were still able to adjust and come up with an interesting design.
Lots of people go into game design with all sorts of grand ideas about game they want to make. Some are truly brilliant, others would probably interest no one other than the would be designer. Regardless of how good (or bad) his ideas are, it might take a starting game designer years or even decades before he's in the position to actually make those games. I accept the fact that I may very well spend the first couple of years of my game design career working on Hanna Montana games and, even after I get a job at a company I like, it could be far longer before I get to make Ink (or any of my other designs) into actual games. I'm not thrilled by the prospect and I can always hope that things will work out better, but I can't count on a lucky break. It might happen, it might not, and I need to be ready to do my best regardless. In the end, game design is still a job and only a few people get to be the ones calling the shots.
But I think I've crushed enough dreams for now. This is supposed to be about Ink, so let's look at just what it is and how I got the idea...

The Idea Behind Ink (4/27/2009)
I first got the idea for Ink when I visited the Phoenix Renaissance Festival in February of this year. Not long after I arrived, I came across a shop selling hand made old fashioned books. Being both a writer and something of a bibliophile, I couldn't resist getting one for myself. But then a question came to mind, now that I had this really cool old looking book, what was I going to write in it? I though about writing a journal, since that's what the the book was kinda intended for, but I've tried keeping a diary before and never with a whole lot of success. Besides, if I want to write about what I'm doing, I can always do it on Pebble Version like with my Japan Travelogue. So a journal was out. Next I considered writing one of my novels in my new book. Although the idea held a sort of "romantic" attraction to it, I had hand written a short novel in the past and found the whole process to be more trouble than it was worth, due to the difficulty of making corrections and edits, and the fact that I'd just have to type the entire thing into the computer later anyway. Moving on, I thought about filling it with short stories instead. I had handwritten a few of them before, and since they're not all that long, typing them up later isn't all that bad. Besides, it's kinda nice to be able to write wherever and whenever I want, instead of having to always be in front of a computer. However, the idea fell through when I thought about how rarely I actually come up with ideas for good short stories (most of my stories end up being novel length at the very least).
With all those ideas discarded, I was running out of options. But if I wasn't going to use my new book for a journal, novel, or short story, what else could I write in it? A game design maybe? I could, of course, but aside from the any time / anywhere convenience, I couldn't see any good reason to write out a game design in the book as opposed to just typing it up on my computer. But the whole any time / anywhere thing was tempting so maybe if I could come up with another good reason to write my design in the book... Maybe if the book itself played a roll in the game? That would make it kind of poetic...
As I continued to explore the festival with these thoughts running through my head, an idea began to take form in my mind. If the game was going to involve my old fashioned book, perhaps the main character should be an author. An author in a medieval fantasy setting, since that both fit the appearance of the book and whole Renaissance Festival atmosphere. These thoughts combined with a couple old and mostly undeveloped ideas of mine. The first being about the characters in a novel escaping into the real world, and the second about a young man who was drawn into another world of fantasy and adventure only to eventually be forced to return to his own world where, depressed at his inability to return to the place he'd come to love, he instead began to write the story of his journey, so he could relive it again and again.
In the end, I came up with the following basis for my new game design. A modern day author is drawn into the world of his unfinished novel and must join with the main characters to complete the story. Taking that idea, my mind continued to work on it as the day progressed. Like I already discussed when I talked about coming up with ideas in general, I developed my concept further by asking myself questions. Who was this modern day author? I could make someone up but, just for the heck of it, why not use myself? How did he get drawn into his novel? Why is the novel unfinished? What's the novel about? The medieval fantasy setting had already been established but who are the main characters? Their allies? Their enemies? What's the plot? How will the author interact with the main characters? As the author, what powers would he have inside the world he created? And, of course, how would my old fashioned book fit into all of this?
While I could go into detail about my through process and eventual answer for each question, I don't want to give away too much of the plot so quickly. But here's a quick summary of some of the basics (minus most of the details and plot twists of course, gotta save stuff for later).
The main character would be a version of myself, a popular author who, after suddenly canceling his previous novel before its completion, is struggling with his latest story. One day, someone breaks into his house. As he struggles with the intruder, he's knocked unconscious and awakes in the world of his unfinished novel. He soon meets the main characters, a brother and sister who are on the run from a group of soldiers. As they all hide from the soldiers, Josiah finds a book (my old fashioned journal) and a pen in his pocket. As it turns out, the book contains a copy of his novel. Suddenly something goes wrong. The soldiers, who are supposed to fail to find the heroes hiding place and leave, suddenly spot them and give chase. Shocked, Josiah turns to the proper page in the book only to find the words of the story being rewritten before his very eyes. Hearing the main characters wishing that they had weapons to fight back, he takes the pen and begins to write. A moment later, the words become reality and the group stumbles across a crate of weapons... After escaping from the soldiers, Josiah joins up with the main characters to see the world he created and find out why his story is being rewritten.
As I planned all this out, I was also asking myself questions about the gameplay. What genre would it? Well, RPGs are my favorite and it would fit the setting well. In that case, how would the battle system work? What about character development? What would Josiah's roll be in battle? How would I integrate his ability to change the world with his writing? How could I keep it from becoming too cheap or powerful? What would the graphic style be? How about the writing? The sound? Once again, so as not to give too much away right off the bat, I'm not going to answer all of those questions here though I do have at least partial answers for all of them. But I should at least spend a few moments talking about the central gameplay feature of Ink.
As I mentioned, I needed a way to integrate Josiah's writing into the main gameplay that would keep it from becoming overly cheap or powerful. In the end I decided that Josiah could alter the world in many ways with his writing (the details of which will be covered in a later section) but he could only write in the book with the pen he found with it and the pen required special ink to work. Ink which could only be gained by defeating enemies. After all, seeing as they're all creatures and characters from a book, they're technically created from written words...from ink. And, since the game was about a writer and so many key aspects were going to revolve around ink, what better title could there be?
By the time I left the Renaissance Festival I already had a fairly solid idea about many of the aspects of the plot and gameplay elements of Ink, far more than I have the time to cover in this section. But don't worry, I'll be getting to them soon enough...

About This Project

Pokemon and all related images and trademarks are copyrighted by Nintendo, one of my favorite games companies who would certainly never waste their time by trying to sue me. Especially since I'm protected under the Fair Use Rule of the United States Copyright Act of 1976. Aside from that the actual site content is copyrighted by me, Josiah Lebowitz 2003.