A Game Concept
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:
by Matt Powers
This is a quick concept overview of the mobile, free-to-play game, PowerBall!
- 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
- Mud pits that slow ball down
- Black holes that suck balls in
- 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
- 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
- Angry Birds
- Star Trux
Example: Progression of Play
- Aim turret, shoot ball across playfield into hole
- Playfield puts up a barrier in front of hole
- Player must use their toolset (probably a bounce-pad) to modify playfield to his benefit
- Aim turret, shoot ball, ball bounces off bounce-pad into hole
- Player gains different type of ball – BIG ball – the bigger, slower ball (this ball goes slower but can smash certain objects)
- 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
- Aim BIG ball, hit acceleration pad, hit bounce pad, go into hole
- The hold is now surrounded by barriers (new type of barrier – brick and not steel)
- Player places two acceleration pads.
- Aim BIG ball, hit acceleration pad 1, hit acceleration pad 2, smash wall, go into hole.
- Aim regular ball, hit bounce pad, go through hold in wall, go into hole
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:
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 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:
- Rainbows and Unicorns
- Elves and Trolls
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).
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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