Open Response: How Do You Come Up With Ideas?

Mar 14, 2011

Q: I’ve been mulling around a few ideas but nothing is ever good enough that I want to take my time to build it. How/where do you get your inspiration? How does someone come up with a decent idea?

A: Set a deadline, suitable for your experience and comfort with the technology. Pick an end-date soon enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Avoid fluffy, uncertain time in the middle.

Next start on AN idea that you can make in that timeframe. It doesn’t have to be any good, nor completely original. You don’t need to be in love with it. You just need to start something.

Then – and this is the important part – keep an eye out for ways to derail the project into something better. Maybe inspiration will strike (not necessarily from another game, could be a book or conversation or everyday life) and you’ll realize your new idea is only a few adjustments away from where the current project already is.

Pivot toward that. You’ll even have a head start.

If the new idea justifies more time or energy than the original direction, fantastic. What an excellent spot to be in. Re-plan. Of course, if the new idea can be wrapped up in less time, on account of clever tricks, even better.

Worst-case scenario: if no inspiration strikes before the deadline (plus however long it goes over), there’s still got a decent finished game amounting to added experience, code to borrow from, credit to your name, example for portfolio, etc. And it only absorbed a finite, planned chunk of time. Compare that to having nothing new to show for the same time, from having spent it instead waffling over ideas, any one of which may or may not have turned out well if started – none of which turned out at all in that case, anyway.

It’s a lot easier to make something neat with a little momentum than when starting from idle. My favorite games I’ve made all started as something else, in several cases dramatically so. Since I’ve caught on to that pattern, I’ve stopped stressing out so much over how my projects start, concentrating instead on how they finish.

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