After a meeting with fellow designer Brett Gilbert last week in which we playtested yet another version of Trinity (and no, we are not out of the alpha stage yet!), Brett remarked that I was very good at coming up with new designs and making prototypes, but perhaps wasn’t so good at iterating and working at a single design while simultaneously resisting the urge to throw everything out and start again.
I’ve heard many designers remark that the least of their worries is coming up with new ideas or mechanics, and I would echo their words here – the untold scraps of paper and half-filled notebooks littering my room are testament to that. While this is obviously a great place to start from as a designer, it can become a bit of a crutch too. It’s very easy to find fault in current designs and go straight to employing a completely different set of mechanics in an attempt to find the right mix for the game, rather than struggling through the current flawed parts to find the gold hiding there.
A counterpoint to this is the uncertainty you always feel regarding the core identity of a design, and whether it is a game you actually want to design or that would be suitable for a given market. Thinking back on some of my completed designs that I am happy with has made me realise that often the core experience or feature of the game that I know like was there from the start, regardless of the number of iterations. In other words, no matter how much I worked on these games, I don’t think they would have been successful if the core idea wasn’t intrinsically interesting or fun. When I apply this thinking to my current designs in their infancy, I’m much harder on them to justify why I should keep working on them, why their core mechanic or idea is so special.
Is the core of a game special or interesting intrinsically, or does it gain this quality only when it is viewed through the lens of a finished and polished product? To put it another way – do all ideas (or at least those who make it through the initial screening in your head to become prototypes) have the potential to be the foundation for great games, or are not all ideas born equal?