How To Innovate In Game Development
Innovation is one of my favorite subjects because it’s a word that’s misunderstood a lot. It also means a lot in the tech and game development communities. We all like to create unique things. We all like to create something that no one’s ever seen before. Indie games in particular have this vibe about them that they’re young, cool, unique, awesome, and new. Unlike some of these other traditional games. For example, the new Call of Duty comes out every year but it’s kind of the same formula.
Indie games come out every year and they could be anything. We’re not even sure where they’re going or what they’re doing. So innovation I think is really cool. I think it’s needed in game development. However, I think the mistake a lot of people make is that they have to make something completely unique.
I remember one day, when I was talking with an old friend of mine about game ideas, we were discussing what game we were going to make. We came up with this really cool idea for a game that we were working on called Echo One, and I said something like, “Okay we’re going to call the main guy Rookie and he’s going to go down to this base and we’re going to do stuff”, and my friend was like, “Dude, that’s the plot to Halo ODST.” I was like, “So? I don’t give a shit what Halo ODST did. I want to make this game.”
We had a big argument about the fact that someone had already done the basic concept of what we want to do and I didn’t care. I found that a lot of people do care. They don’t want to things that someone else had already done. Before we even get into the innovation aspect, I would like to say first off that there are no unique ideas under the sun. Everybody else has inspired everybody. Especially with the internet, everybody has access to everyone else’s concepts and ideas. Rejecting these ideas as if they are some magical formula that belongs uniquely to a certain person and therefor untouchable rather than just taking from everywhere on the planet, smashing shit together is a bad approach. You can get inspiration and ideas from so many places.
Trying to be unique and create something from scratch; something that has never been done before is the wrong approach. It’s the wrong starting point. There’s nothing wrong with stealing concepts from different places or being inspired by concepts and putting them together. I think that’s the way that things are born. In the startup world, we hear a lot like people say something like, “Uber for cats”, or “Uber for lawn care”, or something like that. Taking two concepts and melding them together is a great way to be innovative.
The Key Principles of Innovation:
- Take two things and smash them together.
Rather than try to come up with something unique, you take two things and smash them together, then you have innovation. I think that that’s a much better approach for a lot of reasons. It gives your brain a starting point. When you’re trying to create something, your brain has no parameters. I discussed this in the Embrace Constraints video. You can go anywhere to infinity with concepts. So by constraining it a little bit and saying. “Hey, I want to make a mix of this game and this game.” Just take these two concepts smash them together and see what you get.
It’s a better way to innovate. It’s a better way to try things. At the very least, it’s a good starting point. Once you get that core thing down you can always iterate beyond that or innovate beyond that or whatever and get new things out there. Combining two things you love is one of the key ways that you can innovate and really make something unique although it really doesn’t have to be unique or new to begin with. Everybody is inspired everybody else.
Don’t think that any one of these other people has some crazy unique brain that you don’t have; that they have access to ideas that you don’t. It was inspired from somewhere. It was a concept from somewhere. It was a piece of something from somewhere.
- Randomize your inputs and experience new things.
That’s probably a programmer term. But like in programming, when you generate a random number, that random number has to have a seed. If you give it the same seed, then you’ll get the same random number every time you generate a random number and it will be in the same order. A lot of people do this with their lives. They go through the same routines, they do all the same things, and then they try and sit down and create something new and different.
The problem with that is, your creativity and innovation comes from the things that you’ve experienced, the things that you’ve taken in your mind, from your senses your sights, your sounds… all these different things your brain has access to all that stuff and then you’re creating something new based on combining all these little things in your head. If you have the same inputs all the time, it can be difficult to create something new or think of something new. So randomizing what you intake is a good way to get inspired.
I love to travel. I love to go places. I love to try new things. I like to try new restaurants I’ve never been to and try out the food. I love to go to different places that I’ve never been to. It’s scary at first. It took me a long time to get I used to it. I hated going places that I wasn’t comfortable with and I’m not always in the mood to just experience something. I used to want the same shit that I know and love. I think this is why a lot of people who play games play the same games over a long period of time; because they want the same experience, they don’t want to think.
Experiencing these different things is good for creativity because it doesn’t allow your mind to be passive. When you eat stuff that you’re used to eating or you play the same game that you’ve always been playing, your mind can go passive; it can kind of shut down and not really create because it just goes through the motions. For example, when you’re driving to work. You have to drive to work every day and sometimes you can just end up at work and not even realize it and you can’t remember the drive there. But if you have to drive somewhere you’ve never been to before, you have to pay attention. You have look at street signs or you have to follow the GPS.
Your brain is a lot more active in the process. The same thing happens when you’re out and about. So if you’re really trying to innovate, you’re trying to create something you’ve never created before, one of the best ways to do that is to experience new things. Go and play a genre of game that you’ve never played before. Go to a physical in-person game jam where you’re around all these people, where you experience all this stuff. Go to GDC and just experience cool shit around you. It helps with your creativity.
In another article, I talked about how you should change your environment. This is kind of the same thing. You need to change your environment sometimes in order to change the output. You change the inputs, you can change your output, and for me this has really helped a lot.
Follow those two things I discussed and I really think you can’t go wrong. It’s a great way to be a little more creative and a little bit more innovative in the things that you do. Don’t be ashamed of taking concepts from places.
Everybody takes concepts from everywhere, there’s no shame in that. Like, “Okay, I like the first mission of Halo let’s do something like that, or I like this whole concept of a werewolf chess piece, let’s do that.” Whatever it is, just take from everywhere and use it as inspiration to create something that you really love. If you have 5 favorite games, what would happen if you took a concept from each one of them and just kind of smash them together?
So that’s all I have to say. I would love to see some crazy innovative indie games from you guys. One of the reasons I love indie games is because they’re so fresh and cool.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so please leave me a comment below and tell me what you think.