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A Game Concept
by Matt Powers on 04/21/14 11:46:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I'm often asked, "how do you come up with the game ideas?"  There are a number of places the initial game idea comes from.  Some of these may be:

  • A license
    This is usually a video game based on a movie or comic book.  For example, the Lego series of video games or an Avengers video game.
  • New IP (Intellectual Property)
    In this case, I am referring to the first time this game/concept has been done.  For example, TitanFall is brand new and original.
  • Existing IP
    This would be a concept/idea that is owned by the publisher or developer.  For example this could be Sonic the Hedgehog or Call of Duty.

As producers, we rarely get a lot of choice in this.  Often we are given a new project or inherit an existing project.  But regardless of where the idea comes from, the projects all start the same way.

Development usually starts with a game concept.  The game concept is a very important document.  The concept outlines the features of the game, the goals, and the overall game play.

NOTE:  if you are an intrepid game developer in the making, then you should spend time writing up your own game concepts.

The concept ensures all parties involved with the game start on the same page.  This would include:  development team, marketing, licensor, etc...

I thought it would be interesting to examine a game concept together. 

There are a lot of resources online that talk about game concepts and game design documents.  Examples of templates and outlines are available on the internet.  If you do a search for "game design concepts" you'll find plenty of resources.

So instead of retreading used ground, I thought we would try something  different.  I wrote a game concept for us to examine together.  And since I have never produced a mobile game, I thought that would be a good place to start.  I didn't necesarily follow any established template for this - I had this idea and wrote it down. 

Let's take a look at my concept:

GAME CONCEPT - POWERBALL! - BEGIN

PowerBall!
by Matt Powers

This is a quick concept overview of the mobile, free-to-play game, PowerBall!

Quick Overview

  • Player has X number of balls
  • Goal is to get the ball into the hole/target
  • Think – pool table to start
  • Player has a “gun” (which is fixed on the table, always in the same spot) that shoots the ball – always same velocity, player controls angle
  • Player needs to shoot the ball(s) at the appropriate angle to get it into the hole(s)
  • As levels progress there are barriers that come up on playfield to block balls
    • Walls
    • Mud pits that slow ball down
    • Black holes that suck balls in
    • Etc…
  • Player gains his own toolset of objects he can put in playfield.  These objects he uses to help his ball get to its destination
    • Bounce pads
    • Acceleration pads
    • Etc…
  • Player has a set of tools which he can use to modify the playfield to assist the balls to get into the holes – bypassing the barriers presented by the playfield.
  • Now think – reverse pinball machine
  • Game can become very flashy and noisy (pinball machine) w/ lots of things happening
  • Score is tallied by completing playfield objectives, using toolbox items, etc…
  • Multiple ways for player to be successful (can use his tools in many different ways)
  • When player completes the playfield, a new one is presented with new challenges (and the player gains new tools in his toolset to overcome these challenges)

Kinda similar games:

  • Incredible Machine
  • Bill Budge’s Pinball Construction Set
  • Peggle
  • Angry Birds
  • Star Trux

Example:  Progression of Play

  1. Aim turret, shoot ball across playfield into hole
  2. Playfield puts up a barrier in front of hole
  3. Player must use their toolset (probably a bounce-pad) to modify playfield to his benefit
  4. Aim turret, shoot ball, ball bounces off bounce-pad into hole
  5. Player gains different type of ball – BIG ball – the bigger, slower ball (this ball goes slower but can smash certain objects)
  6. To get this BIG ball across the playfield, player needs to place an acceleration pad on playfield so it can make the distance to the hole
  7. Aim BIG ball, hit acceleration pad, hit bounce pad, go into hole
  8. The hold is now surrounded by barriers (new type of barrier – brick and not steel)
  9. Player places two acceleration pads.
  10. Aim BIG ball, hit acceleration pad 1, hit acceleration pad 2, smash wall, go into hole.
  11. Aim regular ball, hit bounce pad, go through hold in wall, go into hole
  12. Etc….

The Playfield and The Toolbox

  • Playfield – the area that play occurs.  This includes the hole the balls must go in and the obstacles that may present themselves.
  • Toolbox – the various objects the player has at their disposal to modify/enhance the playfield.  The player uses the items in the toolbox to assist in getting to the goal – balls in the hole. 

Example of items:

Toolbox Item
Playfield Item
Bumper
Brick Wall
Accelerator Pad
Steel Wall
Static Field
Slow down pad
Timed actions
Black Hole
Ball Return
Playfield Powerup
 
 
Etc…
Etc…

Playfield Powerups

There are two ways for the player to add items to his Toolbox.  One is using his PowerPoints to purchase toolbox items (assuming they have been unlocked and are available).  The second is by picking them up from the playfield.  On certain levels there will be Toolbox items represented as powerups on the playfield.  The player can pick these up by causing one of his balls to hit/run over the powerup.  In addition to being Toolbox items, Powerups could also be items such as:  bonus balls, play again, bonus score, bonus PowerPoints, etc…

Themes

Themes are how the playfield, the playfield items, and the toolbox items all match and have a common look, color, and styling.  Examples of themes include:

  • Traditional
  • Robotic
  • Candyland
  • Rainbows and Unicorns
  • Elves and Trolls
  • Etc…

At a certain point in the game the player unlocks themes.  The player gets to pick his first theme for free.  Future themes the player can purchase  by using his earned PowerPoints.

Commodity / Money System

  • To complete a playfield the player must get a certain number of balls (based on playfield specification) into the hole(s).
  • The player increases his score on a playfield by using his toolbox, getting balls into holes, hitting point target, picking up powerups, keeping the ball in play for long period of time.
  • Once requirements of the playfield have been met, the player gets a score tally.  The score is then converted to PowerPoints.
  • PowerPoints are used to purchase items such as:  more balls, toolbox items, themes, etc…
  • A player can reply a playfield at the cost of a certain number of PowerPoints (but he can only pick up a Powerup once).
  • Players can spend real money to purchase PowerPoints.
  • Each day the player gets a random allotment of PowerPoints (or other special items) – this is to get him to return to the game on a daily basis.
  • As the game becomes more challenging, the player must find ways to use all the Toolbox items to get all balls in the hole(s) in a certain period of time to get the maximum score.  If he does not gain maximum score after a certain number of playfields, he will run out of balls/PowerPoints in which case he will need to replay playfields (or use real money to purchase PowerPoints).
  • If the player is good enough or willing to replay playfields a number of times, he can continue without spending real money.  But to unlock Toolset items and new Playfields quicker, he can spend real money to purchase PowerPoints which can then be used to unlock or purchase in-game items.

Some More Details

  • When player creates his own “pinball machine” to get his balls from start to finish, it can become very complex.  He can make it more complex than needed.
  • The more of the tools used, the higher score (and hence, more potential PowerPoints).
  • Players can save their really cool “machines” and show off or share with friends.
  • Players can use themed art to personalize their machines
  • Think of players making their own reverse pinball machines to complete challenges.

Playfield Construction Set

  • Player can spend PowerPoints to unlock a playfield construction set. 
  • With the Playfield Construction Set, the player can now create his own Playfields.
  • Playfields can be shared with friends to challenge them (or just used alone for personal challenges).

Other Details

  • Practice Ball
    Player can eventually get a Practice Ball.  This ball will automatically be returned to player after it is put in play.  It does not count towards target ball count to reach Playfield goal.  It is used by player to test out his Playfield solution without threat of using one of his valuable balls.  NOTE:  the Practice Ball is lost forever if it goes into a Black Hole.  More Practice Balls can be acquired by spending PowerPoints.
  • Players can “customize” their ToolSet
    As more tools become available, players can pick tools which they prefer or like more.  Players at the same “level” of game may have totally different looking ToolSets.
  • Some playfields may not be solvable with maximum points at current time or with players current toolset
    Players can replay playfields at any time with their current toolset to achieve a higher score.  The difference in score from their last playthrough counts towards possible more accumulation of PowerPoints.  This motivates players to go back and try Playfields again with their newest ToolSet.
  • Some Playfields require a certain type of balls or Tools to reach maximum score
  • Players can share their Playfield Solutions
    A player may have worked out a very complicated solution to a Playfield using his massive ToolSet.  This may result in a very high score for that playfield.  Player can “share” his playfields with friends.  The player can post a short video of his solution showing the tools used and how he acquired such a high score.
  • Prefer to not have time limits for Playfields
    The idea is (especially for the later, more complicated, Playfields) is for players to try and use all their Tools to realize maximum points for a Playfield.  A timer on a Playfield limits the players creativity in finding a personal, creative, solution.
GAME CONCEPT - END

Wrap-Up

There is our concept to start.  I am pretty happy with this concept but I would like your input.  I have questions for you:

  • Does this write-up convey an image to you?  A style of game?
  • Is there enough information in the concept for the development and publishing team to understand the goals of the game?
  • Enough for sales/marketing to evaluate and make predictions?
  • Enough for design team to detail out the design?
  • Enough for the technical team to identify the risk areas?
  • Is the monetezation included?
  • What about the social aspects of the game?
  • Do these need to be included in the concept or perhaps just mentioned they will be available and can be detailed out later.

Before we even discuss if this is a good idea, we should determine if the idea has been conveyed well - if the concept document itself is complete.

And then:

  • Does it sound fun?
  • Worth moving forward to prototype?

I purposely left off any description of style or look to the concept.  I have some questions regarding that.

  • Does the concept need artwork to make it more understandable?
  • Is the artwork necessary at this stage of development? 
  • Can we establish the gameplay mechanics without artwork and skin the game later?

I would love to get your input.  Design by committee doesn't usually work but design input is always useful. 

 

About The Author

Matt Powers has been making video games for over 20 years.  Matt still enjoys spending some of his spare time writing new game concepts.  

If you liked this article or have any questions about it please leave a comment.  For more articles written by Matt Powers you can visit:

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MattPowers/951858/

If you would like to contact Matt:  mattpowersblogs@gmail.com


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Comments


Kevin Sultan
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I think you can't write an unique concept for both your development team and the editor / marketing department without losing either the first one or the second. It is too technical for the marketing and not enough appealing if you try to sell the concept to an editor. You also directly start explaining the gameplay without providing the main information:

1) What kind of game is it? Puzzle?
2) Who is the target? Casual players?
3) Is it a 2D or a 3D game? This is important to allow the reader imagining the visual aspect of the game before understanding its mechanisms.
4) What are the 2-3 Unique Selling Points that ensure you the game will be a hit?

Matt Powers
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Absolutely correct, I totally forgot about marketing. And the questions you pose I should have answered near the start of the concept.

Marketing likes their "X" - define the game simply and quickly. One should be able to define the game in one sentence and that sentence should get people excited. And we need to talk about who the target audience is.

I did leave out some important information. Now, more for me to think about and figure out...

Jon Jones
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Great article! And since it's relevant, I actually run a site called Game Pitches (www.gamepitches.com) that houses the initial game pitches and design documents for a broad variety of games, both successful and unsuccessful. I thought I'd mention it as a potential complementary learning resource.

Chris Book
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That is super, super useful. I always wanted to see how some of my favorite things were pitched.

Akhil Dev
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Hi Jone, for some reason, I couldn't open your site. It's the 404 error showing. :( Hope you will fix it soon.

Mac Senour
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I have always included a "Why sales will love this title" or "Sales points" or "Differentiators" section.

Matt Powers
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Yes, good, thank you. I totally went straight into gameplay with this concept and skipped over the marketing and sales material. As you mention, a "Sales" type section should definitely be included (in this and any concept). It is important to remember that with any concept one is "selling" the idea to ALL parts of the company. Thanks Mac.

Tim Page
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Similarly we add in business requirements first which helps us know who we're aiming at, where and why. As an indie studio working with publishers, its the first few question we usually get asked. Once we have that covered, then its easier to justify to publishers (and our how team) how we got to that idea.

Matt Powers
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Could you give me some examples? I would like to add this to my concepts. Thanks!

Wes Jurica
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Thanks for writing this... I'm cloning this concept right now!

Seriously though, great, detailed example. :)

Matt Powers
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Thanks! I'm glad people like the concept and found the article useful. I have more concepts I have written. Perhaps I'll post those as further examples....

Thanks again, appreciate the comments.

Henry Sterchi
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I think some lines are blurring between a pitch doc and a concept doc. Since you are always writing for your audience, this will probably be too in depth for a marketing doc, but it lacks feature definitions and scoping for a design document. My opinion is you are falling somewhere in the middle making it a tough read for execs, and only a starting point as a design doc or outline.

If you're trying to sell people on the concept, consider an info outline with platform(s), genre, camera style, rendering style, engine, etc. as appropriate. This helps establish some of the elements that can help people picture your concept/understand it and cover the core of the questions you will get.

Have a nice and tight elevator pitch, if you can't grab someone in a few seconds you may need to refine your concept, hook, pitch, or a combination of those things. A great elevator pitch either makes people say Ah ha you've got something, or wow tell me more. "It's a physics based puzzle game where players hit their ball into the hole while avoiding obstacles on the playfield. Players unlock playfield customizations and use their ingenuity to up their scores! Think Angry Birds and Pinball with a dash of the Incredible Machine". Just a quick gist to get the idea.

In addition, I personally like to use pillars or goals to help people understand the intent behind your ideas. This step helps keep you focused on your primary goals (especially when making tough decisions or looking at scope down the road) but it also helps people come along the journey with you and feel a part of your idea and what you are striving for. I also tend to get much more knowledgeable and engaged questions when I explain some of the intent and the soul of my idea. You also may want to express a mood, emotion, or atmosphere/setting that you want your players to feel.

With all that said, your concept is good and it seems like you have a good amount of passion about it. I hope you find some of these things helpful. All the best!

Matt Powers
profile image
Very helpful, thanks. It seems almost the best approach would be to create multiple docs. A summary document for each audience as your marketing, sales, design teams are all interested indifferent information. Hmmm, something to think about.

And I love the summary of the concept you provide - I think I'll be using that.

Thanks for all the feedback.

Henry Sterchi
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No problem, best of luck!

Jan-Willem van den Broek
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Great article. Thanks!

I certainly got a good feel for the game based on your concept. Reverse pinball sounds fun!

One idea I like in principle is that scoring encourages maximum use of tools, since it's fun to look at a screen where lots of stuff is happening. I wonder know if it'll work well though, since all similar games that I can recall reward the opposite: accomplishing complex tasks with as few tools as possible. Won't such a mechanic just result in players cramming in as many irrelevant tools as possible? E.g. a straight shot over lots of unnecessary speedup tiles? That's more of a chore than fun.

Matt Powers
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Good point. As I envision it - the player would only get points if the tools they place in the play field are actually used. Sure, they could still put "more than necessary" but I see that as part of the fun and creativity. And this hopefully provides lots of options for redoing puzzles with new/different tools. Also, players can choose how much or little effort (or creativity) they want to put into any given playfield. Certainly the scoring system will require a lot of tuning and balancing to provide encouragement but avoid frustration.

Thanks for the comment.

Will Nations
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It could also be productive to come up with different particular "modes" of play where the goals change. Game like Candy Crush add a variety to their gameplay that similar games lack, and as a result, it helps entice players more effectively because they can hope to discover different TYPES of gameplay rather than just expansions upon the existing gameplay (with a new tool).
1) Trying to get into the hole with the most tools used
2) Trying to get into the hole with the longest time in the playfield
3) Trying to get into the hole while minimizing tool usage
4) A "Campaign" mode in which the various upgrades are all provided to the player at some point, but have to be unlocked by completing "missions". This way, a player can become familiar with the abilities they don't yet have access to outside of the Campaign mode, which leaves the yearning to get them even more in the other modes - helps to entice PowerPoint purchases and/or further gameplay to get the one(s) they want.
5) Players are restricted to using a particular set of tools provided to them to complete a particular playfield, and they HAVE to use ALL of the items, perhaps even with specified sizes in the playfield, etc. Ex: It would be quite difficult to get a ball into a hole in a U shaped wall on the other end of the playfield if all they have are gigantic angled acceleration pads.
6) Develop things where the hole moves, at which point the player must not only strategize the construction of the field and the angle of their firing, but also the timing of their firing.

Matt Powers
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These are great, thank you very much. Definitely some great ideas. I think showing the variety of game types possible for PowerBall! would be really good to do in the concept.

One of the challenges I have when writing a concept is deciding when to actually stop. I have a lot of ideas for the game but I don't want to write a design document. I want to write enough to make sure the reader understands what I am trying to do but leave enough room for the designers to get their creative input. As I mention in my latest article (which is another game concept) I don't consider myself a designer and I like to work with a designer to detail out a game design.

Speaking of latest article. My latest article is another game concept. I took another one I have been working on and took the input from this article and am putting out to the community for input. You can find it here:

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MattPowers/20140507/216913/Another
_Game_Concept.php


Thanks Will for the input.


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