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Old, Older, Ancient: Searching inspirational ideas for successful games

by Vadim Loktionov on 07/28/16 10:27:00 am

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There is a number of successful titles among the modern mobile games. The Gameplay of those games is that exciting to create addictiveness for the players in the long run for months and even years, for instance Snake, Pac-Man, Tetris, Clash Royale and Candy Crush Saga.

Several examples of old good game ideas inspiration

In 1975 a Game designer Mirko Marchesi invented a board game for two players named Blockade. The winning goal of the game is to get one of your pawns to a starting spot of your opponent. Each turn players can move one pawn up to two spaces, and also place one wall, useful for blocking off their opponent's move. Once players are out of walls, they keep moving pawns until one wins.


It is interesting to mention that one year later, October 1976, an arcade video game for two players with the same name Blockade came along. This game was designed by Lane Hauck, Ago Kiss, Bob Pecarero and was published by Gremlin Industries. Each player moves his character around, leaving a solid line behind them. All moves are made on an invisible grid, so you can only turn at 90 degree angles. To win you need to last longer than your opponent before hitting something (first person to hit something loses).


The Snake video game is believed to be based on the concept of Blockade arcade video game of 1976 with the distinction in single player mode.

In 1980 a Game designer Toru Iwatani created the arcade video game Pac-Man. During the 80s the most popular games were of Space Invaders type. As the game author said: "There were no games that everyone could enjoy, and especially none for women. I wanted to come up with a 'comical' game women could enjoy”. The idea of the game came to the author from the kanji word “taberu,” to eat, this small word became the centrepiece of future idea about the game.


In June 1984 the next great game Tetris was designed by Alexey Pajitnov. Pajitnov studied the problems of artificial intelligence and speech recognition, and applied ideas by running the puzzles, including classical Pentomino. Pentominoes is a plane geometric figure formed by joining five equal squares edge to edge. It was designed by an American professor Solomon W. Golomb in 1953. Pajitnov tried to automate laying pentomino at predetermined figures. However, the computing power of the equipment for rotation pentomino was not enough, and he had to adjust to tetrominoes, which determined the name of the future game. In those experiments, the basic idea of Tetris was born.

What is the main source of a successful game idea?

One of the key factors of a title success is the originality/exclusiveness/uniqueness of the game idea.

But how does it find its way among the hundreds and thousands of brainchilds? Why do only few of them chance to be successfully implemented in the final version of the project?

Ideation can be seen as a matter of generating, developing and communicating ideas, where idea is understood as basic element of thought that can be either visual, concrete or abstract (Ben Jonson (2005) "Design Ideation: the conceptual sketch in the digital age").

There are numerous approaches for finding inspirational thoughts, among the others:

  • observing the world around you;
  • prototyping;
  • spending much time thinking (rational thinking, inspired thinking or their combination);
  • constantly playing games of all kinds;
  • taking part in an unfamiliar activity;
  • mindmapping;
  • using thinking hats;
  • implementing forced associations;
  • experimentation;
  • creative reviewing.

I would like to talk about such method as creative reviewing and its role in finding new ideas or a part of a new idea upon which the future game is going to be based.

Successful ideas from the past are good tools for inspiration because they are confirmed by many years of experience and being applied in the right way by a huge group of individuals.

Brilliant idea relevant for the Midcore game

One of the most popular mobile games of the beginning of 2016  was Clash Royale. All the best game mechanics from collectible card games to MOBA were implemented in this game. The title is a good example of an addictiveness.

I took a closer look at the battle arena with two tower-defended lanes flanking the player bases. Let’s try to guess where it might have come from.

One of the board wargames representative is Xiangqi, which is believed to have given the original idea for the Chinese chess game. In contrast to the classic chess, in the Chinese variant  every army has its central fortress, where the general sits. To win a party one has to take the enemy fortress by storm. A river flows between two armies and can’t be passed by heavy elephants, but other lightweight units can freely cross it.

The game field of the Chinese chess, with initial position of figures of one of the players.

The goal of the game is to do the mat/pat to the enemy general.

What if we compare game fields of Clash Royale and the Chinese chess?

What is obvious, the winning goal in Chinese chess is the same as in Clash Royale - to conquer the tower of the enemy general/king.

Sweet Match 3 game idea

The Match 3 games are another example of top grossing genre for the last 16 years, they didn’t lose popularity and hit the top of  mobile stores.

There has been written much about the origin of the Match 3 genre, among the others “Swap Adjacent Gems to Make Sets of Three”, Match Game Mechanics: An exhaustive survey ,  Match 3, From Bejeweled to Candy Crush: Finding the key to match-3, however there is no unified opinion where the idea of match 3 genre comes from.

The earliest references to the use of Match 3 game mechanic in video games is connected with the game “Shariki”. This puzzle game was developed for DOS in 1994 by Eugene Alemzhin.

Jesper Juul in “A History of Matching Tile Games” mentioned the idea of Match 3 and there was a thought that the idea of the Match 3 genre took its origin  from the board game Mancala, the National Game of Africa (Culin 1894).

However, I guess there is an alternative to Juul’s idea. What about other board games which could have given the original idea of Match 3 genre? To my mind, it could be “Three Men's Morris game”, where the game field consist of nine points and each player has four chips of the player’s colour. Players take turns one after another by putting one chip on one point, and if the player manages to place three chips in one line, he wins. The first mention about a similar gaming idea goes back to 1400-1300 BC.

It may be that any game of the past with core mechanic of manipulating the tiles might have given the origin for the match 3 genre.

Further on, in April, 2012 the well known game title Candy Crush Saga brought some new experience in Match 3 genre not only with new approaches to game mechanics of the game field, new level design and puzzles, but also with such innovations as peculiar game map and social features on it.

The game map showed the main progress in game, brought aspect of competition and social cooperation with friends. It was separated by different episodes which linked with the narrative story of the game world and created curiosity for the player.

I was wondering of where the idea of the game mechanic might come from.

“Candy Land” board racing game was designed in 1948 by Eleanor Abbott.

According to the storyline of the game, players should race across the global map and find the King Kandy, the one who reaches the Candy Castle first wins the game.

By comparing these two games I’m not talking about similarity of game setting, I’m talking about the possibility of combining such factors as competitive, social interaction and storytelling with one game mechanic of the global map in both games.

Qui quaerit, reperit…

I guess that finding appropriate ideas for games is a very interesting and complicated process and by learning the experience of the games of the past we can find something new and valuable for the future games.

Some people used to think: “There are no new ideas, only the combinations of old ones”. Do you agree?

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