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Game Design 101: How to handle ‘polygamemy’ as a designer

Some game developers and/or designers have a gift for ideas. They have far more ideas than time to develop them all... and of course these ideas can come from anywhere and at anytime. Ideas are great...except when they're interrupting your work on another game or concept.

Here's a short version of how I personally deal with this 'polygamemy', in two scenarios

  1. Hey, it's an idea! Splendid! -  If it's just a name, clever mechanic or concept for a piece, I'll grab the notebook and write it down on a new page. These sorts of ideas are wonderful, even as you begin to puzzle through how to use them all later. Once it's written down, get back to work! Don't worry about figuring out what to do with this name / clever mechanic / concept right. Just get it down somewhere tangible and get back to whatever it was you were doing.
  2. Wait, this idea is better! - If it's more of a full game idea or a theme to play with, there's a bit more to do. Here's what I do.....
  • Open a new Google Doc file - I love Google Docs, and the Google Drive suite as a whole. It's free, backs itself up automatically and does at least 125% of what Microsoft Word does.
    • If you're on a Mac, the built-in Notes app is great.
    • Other online options: Google Keep or Evernote,
    • Other offline options: A basic text file on your computer or a Microsoft Word document.
  • Whatever technology you're using, give this idea a title, then write down as much of the idea as you've had. This is classic free-writing here — allow yourself to type out everything that comes to mind as it relates to this new idea. It doesn't have to be organised, it doesn't have to make sense, and it definitely doesn't have to be complete. Just get writing.
  • When it begins to feel like the well is beginning to run dry, I give the document another look to see if it sparks any other ideas or thoughts.
  • Save the document (if it isn't already), then bookmark it in your games or ideas folder.
  • Get back to your original work.
What happens when it's time to give the idea a second look? Here's how I begin to organise the headers:
  • Title.
  • Number of players, play time, age of players.
  • Short summary (about a paragraph like you might see on a box).
  • Setup (go from un-boxing to ready to play).
    • Any cards that need to be dealt, or any decks that need to be shuffled (or placed in a specific place)?
    • Who starts the game?
  • Play / On Your Turn
    • What do players do on their turn?
    • Are other players allowed to move / do something while it's your turn?
  • End of the round
    • Does something happen after all players have played?
    • Does the game / game-controlled player / 'AI' have a turn?
  • Winning
    • Simple question: how do you win?
    • If there's more than one way to win, or if each character has their own win condition
  • Components
    • How many cards / dice? If you're sleeving the cards, you can mention their colors here.