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August 5, 2008

Reading week 2: Conceptualization

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 1:32 pm

Game Concept Worksheet  - a reading and summary of chapter 6 “Conceptualization” (pp. 140-156) from the book “Game Design Workshop” by Fullerton, T., Swain, C., and Hoffman, S. (2004).

This chapter discusses the notions of taking an initial idea, then developing and refining that idea through brainstorming techniques and other activities in order to turn that initial idea into a game concept.

Conceptualization:

Fullerton et al., (2004, p. 140), in the second paragraph of the chapter, make the following statement: “We believe in a systematic approach infused with inspiration – taking the spark of a creative idea and allowing it to mature without killing it, then developing that idea into a workable structure.”

They then discuss:

  • ways of recording the ideas using pen and paper, a PDA or voice recorder (Fullerton et al., 2004, pp. 140-141)
  • training one’s self in the “art of continual brainstorming” (Fullerton et al., p. 141)
  • and then transcribing your ideas into a database while editing out the “lousy ideas” (Fullerton et al., pp. 141-142)

Brainstorming Techniques:

In this section, Fullerton et al., outline the benefits of “a  more formalized system of brainstorming” (2004, p. 142) and offer the following as way of explanation:

Structured brainstorming is a powerful skill. And, like any skill, it takes practice to become good. There are brainstorming beginners and brainstorming experts … Expert brainstormers train themselves in how to generate workable ideas and solutions to problems, while written down notes about a character you were thinking of creating, a painting you saw in an art gallery, a dream you has, and odd behavious you noticed. All of this can be used as building blocks for an element in one of your games.” (p. 142)

Offered as methods of brainstorming are the following (Fullerton et al., 2004, pp.142-144):

  • Idea tree – developing word associations based upon (5) key ideas
  • List creation – creating lists of everything you know about a topic
  • Idea cards – drawing out cards randomly creating new associations
  • Shout it out – recording verbalised random thought and then transcribing what was said
  • Stream of consciousness – written form of the above
  • Randomize it – opening a dictionary/etc. at a random page and explore the first word you see
  • Research – doing some research on a topic of interest

[Some of these approaches may suit some people and not others, whether working in an isolated environment or working as a team. Some people do appear to be inherently 'visual' - meaning that even a written word may have more meaning that the spoken word; however the inverse is also true, whereby that type of person garners more creative power from the spoken word and may not find the visual associations described above of particular worth.]

Further advice in the section concerns “Extreme measures” – trying out different activities to stimulate the creative juices; and “The right environment” – getting your head in the right space by not being too judgemental about your ideas (Fullerton et al., 2004, pp.144-145).

Team Brainstorming:

The idea of brainstorming alone is fine, and it appeals to many maverick game designers and misanthropes, but ultimately, game development is collaborative art, so why not start by including your team in the creative process? The payoff is enormous. Working with others in generating ideas is both stimulating and highly productive. Two or more people bouncing ideas back and forth tend to generate more and better concepts that a single person working alone. The reason is that two or more minds in a dialogue can build upon the core idea being discussed, each acting as a catylist to inspire the other in ways a single mind can’t. (Fullerton et al., 2004, p.148)

Apart from the notion of the creative thought generation of new associations that team brainstorming encourages to foster, Fullerton et al. also offer the following as to the benefits of working in a team: “It also helps to verbalize your ideas. Hearing yourself speak can stimulate new thoughts. It’s difficult to become excited sitting alone in your room or cubicle” (Fullerton et al., 2004, p.148).

[This would make sense from a Fruedian psychological viewpoint: "How does a thing become preconscious?' ... the answer would be: ‘Through becoming connected with the word-presentations corresponding to it'" (Freud, 1923, p. 445).

 ...these word-presentations are residues of memories; they were at one time perceptions, and like al mnemic residues they can become conscious again ... only something which has once been a Cs. perception can become conscious, and that anything arising from within (apart from feelings) that seeks to become conscious must try to transform itself into external perceptions: this becomes possible by means of memory traces" (Freud, 1923, pp. 445-446).

The writer of this blog has never been 'into' brainstorming all that much, prefering to work alone and usually in isolation. However, games development generally is a team sport and having read some of Freud's writings concerning the importance of word-memory associations and armed in the new-found knowledge that 'ideas' can be described as stored perceptions that the ego has gathered but need to be activated to be made conscious again, well, no doubt there is something to it after all.]

Offered next are rules of “teamstorming” – a brief synopsis of what Fullerton et al. (2004, pp. 148-149) list is as follows:

  1. State a purpose – define the topic/statement that is to be developed
  2. No idea is bad – there are no good or bad ideas
  3. Encourage different views – again, there is no right or wrong answer
  4. Vary the structure – try different methods of brainstorming
  5. Go for lots of ideas – go for quantity rather than being concerned about ‘quality’

Editing & Refining

At this point in the conceptualisation process, Fullerton et al. (2004, p. 149) suggest ways that the initial brainstormed ideas are whittled down from the top ten, through to the top three ideas in a critical manner. Main points to note are:

  • this process is not a brainstorming process
  • the critique of the ideas is held on different day than the brainstorming session
  • Go through each idea systematically
  • Rank the top ten ideas

Once these top ten ideas have been identified, they should then be discussed in a positive way concentrating on the relative strengths and merits of each idea (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 149).

The next step is to break those top ten ideas down to the top three before commencing another brainstorming session to further develop the ideas, rinse and repeat until one of those ideas is felt by the team to be superior.  “Once this is done, present the idea to other people for feedback, and go through the process again, taking their advice and structuring brainstorming sessions around this” (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 149).

Your ideas should be limited to single paragraph descriptions. Only once an idea has made it through the entire process and received outside feedback should you expand it to about a single page treatment. The less you write at first, the less attached you’ll become to your idea, and the easier it will be to alter your plans if things aren’t heading in the right direction. (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 149)

[This process of obviously an iterative approach which, from general readings and discussions with games industry representatives, would certainly be applicable to a game development project managment methodology where an iterative approach is employed so that there is always a product, in some form in the project cycle, that can be viewed and evaluated.]

Turning Ideas into a Game:

This section describes transforming the idea into a game structure by identifying the elements of the game – or basically the “look and feel” (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 150). Fullerton et al. then list the “Formal elements of game design” (p. 150):

  • Players
    • Number of players
    • Roles of players
    • Player interaction patterns
  • Objectives
  • Procedures
  • Rules
  • Resources
  • Conflict
    • Obstacles
    • Opponents
    • Dilemmas
  • Boundaries
  • Outcome

At this point, Fullerton et al. comment: “One stumbling block many novices run into is allowing themselves to be distracted by the dramatic elements. Story and characters are necessary, but don’t let them obscure your view of the gameplay” (2004, p. 150). Listed then are the “Dramatic elements of game design” (Fullerton et al., p 159):

  • Challenge
  • Play
  • Premise
  • Character
  • Story

The reader is then advised to develop and hone their “Critical thinking skills” and refer to Chapter 1 of the book where the reader was told “to become a tester, to take notes as you play” (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 151).

The point of this section is to develop those critical thinking skills by analysing and taking notes on games – whether they be positive or negative issues, likes and dislikes, which will eventually form the basis of a ‘game bible’: “a list of every game you’ve ever played, along with detailed analysis of the gameplay mechanisms” (Fullerton et al., p. 151).

Next the chapter discusses “Focus on the formal elements” stating that “Once you have decided on a concept you’d like to develop into a game, you should sit down and lay out the formal elements (or game mechanics)” (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 152). Furthermore “As you begin to fill in the elements one by one, you will see a structure emerge. This will become an actual system that you can model and test” (Fullerton et al., p. 152).

The game developer is told “the more questions you ask yourself the better” following a list of suggested “Questions to ask yourself”  (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 152) which are as follows:

  • What is the conflict in my game?
  • What are the rules and procedures?
  • What actions do the players take and when?
  • Are there turns? How do they work?
  • How many players can play?
  • How long does a game take to resolve?
  • What is the working title?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What platform will this game run on? What restrictions or opportunities does that environment have?

Finally, we come to “Fleshing out the game structure” where Fullerton et al., offer the following guidelines (2004, p.152):

  • Define each player’s goal.
  • What does a player need to do to win?
  • Write down the single most important type of player action in the game.
  • Describe how this functions.
  • Write down the procedures and rules in outline format.
  • Only focus on the critical rules.
  • Leave all other rules until later.
  • Mao out how a typical turn works.
  • Using a flowchart is the most effective way to visualize this.
  • Define how many players can play.
  • How do these players interact with one another?

The chapter puts this conceptualisation process into perspective of the development process by informing the reader: “this is the very beginning of a process of prototyping … Suffice to say, that the brainstorming process, as it evolves, naturally segues into prototyping and then playtesting”  (Fullerton et al., 2004, pp. 152-156). The final advice to the reader is “Practice, practice, practice”:

The first time you go through this process will be hardest. Each time you do it, however, you will become more capable of generating workable ideas. Every accomplished game designer has developed many more concepts than he or she will ever produce. The key is to be persistent and keep practicing.  (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 156)

Conclusion:

The writer of this blog can see that the process described by  Fullerton et al. (2004) to be that of an iterative approach to the formulation of an initial ‘spark’ of an idea into a well thought out and considered game concept in a way that enables the designer(s) to concentrate on key issues before becoming bogged down with superficial ideas that do not affect the gameplay of the game proposal.

While one can find fault in the informal writing style that the authors’ choose, Fullerton et al. do manage to find particular analogies, such as, in reference to the Design Document, ”the writing of the document itself becomes a process for communication” (Fullerton et al., 2004, p. 371) and, in reference to brainstorming, ”It also helps to verbalize your ideas. Hearing yourself speak can stimulate new thoughts” (Fullerton et al.,  p.148) that, for this writer at least, leaves the reader of these texts with some profoundly valuable knowledge.

 

Reference list:

Fullerton, T., Swain, C., and Hoffman, S.. (2004). Game Design Workshop. San Francisco: CMP Books.

 

Freud, S. (1923). Psychic Personality Structure. [no puiblishing details provided]

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