Design Journals Rule

Lately, GarageGames has had the good fortune to begin to fund game ideas for publication. So, for a few months, starting last April, I began to talk to outside developers about what games they would like to create. My job was to pull together a portfolio of games that would be unique, fun, and, since it is a business, eventually sell and make money. I thought it would be no problem since we have been making games for six years with absolutely no money. I figured a few calls to developers that we had been working with and met over the years, and the portfolio would practically fall into place. Turns out I was wrong.

Dave Werner's site.

Our only requirement was that the games be fun. I was not looking to change the world, just pull together some fun games. After all, games should be fun, first, and anything else later. My assumption was that developers would be walking the talk of all the Indie blogs and game blogs that are complaining about mainstream publishers putting out the same old crap, and and have a bunch of ideas just bursting to get out into the world. Well, not so much. At least 80% of the developers we approached were like a deer in the headlights when asked to come up with an idea. We did end up with a bunch of great games, but it was just a lot harder than I thought it would be.

I can’t go into all of this too much more, but will cover it at a later time. Besides, the above story is just an anecdote to set up the premise of this article. The actual premise is game ideas. You should have literally hundreds of them floating around in your head. Even better, you should have hundreds of them written in your own design portfolio or journal.

I have been preaching this for years. At every IGC, I have gone over it, yet continue to see game developers that have only ONE idea. One idea won’t cut it. What if you can’t get other people on your team to buy into your one idea? What if the technology is not available to get you one idea done? What if you can’t find a publisher if your idea is too big to fund yourself? There are many, many reasons why you need a LOT of game ideas.

For inspiration, take a look at this graphic designer’s site. I ran across Dave Werner’s site on StumbleUpon, and was totally inspired. If you go to the site (all Flash, so a little hard to tell you specific places to go), mouse over the lower left side of the home page and check out the video of Dave’s sketchbook. Every game designer should have something like that.

While mine is not nearly as cool as Dave’s, I have collected a huge number of portfolios, journals, and design documents over the years. Here are some of them:

All of my design journals.

The entire bottom drawer of the cabinet is full of completed designs. The journals have a bunch of scribbled ideas for games, websites, businesses, etc. As you can see, I have experimented a lot over the years with different formats, from the early days and the extremely formal Day Timers (too expensive and corporate, inflexible), to the cool wirebound 3 subject notebooks (too big), to finally settling on the Mead 9 3/4″ X 7 1/2″ college ruled composition books.

Sometimes it is embarrassing to go back through the old journals, but sometimes it is a treasure chest of good ideas. ( “Did I write that?”) But, the point is that many ideas take a LONG time to bring to the market. The original Incredible Machine design overview shown below has an original date of 1985, and did not reach the market until 1992, and was not a hit until 1994. (note that it was written on an original Mac, and printed on one of Apple’s new fangled laser printers that cost $10,000!, but we only paid $6,000 because we had a developer discount:)

Original Incredible Machine design.

Anyway, the point of this article it to urge you to have a “million” ideas, and be ready to spring one at any time. The next time a producer approaches you with money, a great contract, and a huge opportunity, you need to be able to blow them away. So, start designing!

-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Make It Big In Games

  • Dave Werner

    Thanks for the nice comments Jeff. I’m currently starting an indie game project of my own, so browsing through your site has been helpful. Thanks!

  • Josh Dallman

    Spot on Jeff. I thought it was only the smaller indies that had the “deer in the headlights” look and was shocked to hear the same was coming from the bigger developers too. I’ll always remember your “game ideas can come from anywhere” speech at IGC where the resulting idea created with the audience’s participation was a bulldozer game where you must level the city. That one-line bulldozer game pitch is stronger than most ideas that cross my desk! It came from a news item about a guy who had made a tank out of a bulldozer and was leveling buildings in his small town. Ideas can come from ANYWHERE and you should have a million of them indeed. As I go through my own list of 100+ designs I find that less than 10% of them hold my interest over time. You have to hit a lot of wrong notes to hit a right note — record all your ideas without judgement and let time be the test. Then flesh out and iterate those designs which over time seem the best. You’ll never be caught in headlights again.

  • Tom Eastman (Eastbeas314)

    Wow Dave, that’s one heck of a site. Thanks for the link, Jeff!

    This was the reminder I needed to actually write down some more ideas. All too often I’ll talk out an idea with someone and then believe that it won’t be replaced by the next one. Invariably, with so much going on, the ideas fade away until something else reminds me of them.

    Keep the blogs coming – I think a lot of GG community members would love to be told that this site is active again :)

  • Benjamin Grauer

    [quote]I have gone over it, yet continue to see game developers that have only ONE idea.[/quote]

    Well, I’m proud to say it is not my case ^^
    But, yeah, it takes a lot of time for each game to be made.

  • Simon Love

    Allright, Jeff is back!

    Awesome write-up, always inspiring, yet realistic and down-to-earth.

    Always appreciate your thoughts!

  • Joe

    “In order to have good ideas, one has to have lots of ideas.” Linus Pauling

  • Tito Belgrave

    Thx for writing this up. I’m in the process of collecting all my thoughts regarding a game I have in mind. This came at the right time.


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