Crack Open the Idea Vault

David Shaw, 7:10 am 18th August 2009
Posted under: Blog Babble

I’ve set myself the task this week of prototyping a core gameplay idea in Flash. This serves as a dual test of both the idea as well as using Flash as a prototyping tool. I’ve only done some basic mini-games in Flash before so there’s a learning process involves, but I feel it should be doable if I don’t get bogged down on irrelevant fiddly implementation details. I’ll be blogging this as I go, typing up my thinking as I do it as a way of recording the process.

Since I’ve chosen Flash, I’d also like to use the opportunity to trial out flixel. It does seem geared specifically towards pixel games which suits some ideas more than others, but I haven’t had a close enough look at it to properly judge. And since some of my ideas are pretty retro, it should be a great help.

But before I dive into tinkering with that, I’ll need an idea. Time to crack open my idea vault:

Pretty collection of lines and boxes entitled 'Game Plan Chart'

“Crack open” might be a bit dramatic, considering this is a chart that is pinned to the corkboard by my desk. You can click the image for a larger version where you can read the boxes; it’s somewhat meaningless if you’re not me but all the pretty lines and boxes at least it helps give the illusion that I know what I’m doing.

This is a chart of all the game ideas I’ve had over the last few years that I felt were worthy enough to remember. I tend to make a lot of charts, mostly as a creative form of procrastination, but I like this one. It’s a good reminder that I need to get cracking if I want to see even a fraction of these ideas implemented.

I made the chart a while back to help organise my ideas into some kind of logical progression. Left to right is organised by theme. Top to bottom is organised by project length and separated into four tiers:

  • Tier I are very small demo projects, mainly for warm-ups or prototypes, duration one week or less.
  • Tier II are slightly more involved, duration one week to a couple of months. They could make good freeware, or with a bit more polish suitable for iPhones or small sellable games.
  • Tier III are full game projects, duration several months to a year or two. These have content level suitable for indie games.
  • Tier IV are advanced, involving a lot of content and/or experimental technology. These would take me several years to do, and are extremely ambitious..

Some explanation of my idea process: If I have an idea for a game that sticks in my mind as a good one, I give it a name. The name is just thought up quickly as a label for the project, not the final game, and is always one word “Whatever” with a full title of “Project Whatever” – the “Project” is because I only use the one filing system for everything and I like to find all my ideas under P (along with my PhD work, publications and papers. P takes up an entire drawer). I’ve got a couple of paragraphs explaining each idea, but I tend to prefer to have scribbled doodles as a reminder. Even those aren’t that necessary; most of these ideas are more about a raw concept or are based on emotion, so really I just need the name to remember them. It’s not as if the details are important at the idea stage.

The project I’d most like to make one day is the one at the bottom, Project Ivan, a highly involved interactive storytelling RPG system. One of the prime reasons I want to be a full-time indie developer is I think it’s the only way I can see a game like that made. I’d be totally mad to start with it, obviously. I’ll start near the top and work my way down the list. Let’s look at Tier I….

Project Zexus is a straight up clone for trial purposes; I’ve had a few botched trials at it and it’s fairly boring. Project Nova is a shmup that has some potential, but it has some AI quirks that make it challenging and might be hard to do in Flash. Project Penguin is a sliding puzzle game I never finished but could actually be a nice trial for flixel. Project Muzzy is standard casual fare and doesn’t interest me at this moment. And I’ve already completed Projects Poisson and Brixtar (that’s Pierre and the Fish and Brixtar, put on the list for completeness).

A strong alternative would be a prototype trial of Project Crystal, the first game in Tier II. It’s the most interesting of the early ideas, a sort of shmup/RTS hybrid, and it should work with wireframe graphics. I think it might even be easier to do than Project Nova listed above it – I probably put it below because it’s more interesting. If I don’t prototype this now, I’m certain to try it out eventually.

Hmm, I’m a bit torn between two options:

  • Project Penguin is tile based and fairly simple, and as such would make a good trial of flixel. The gameplay idea however is pretty simple and is unlikely to have legs – basically it’s a remake of a sliding puzzle idea better implemented in Duck Tiles and as mini-games in Zelda and RPGs like Tales of Symphonia. It’s point was more a test of graphical polish than game design. There’s a bit of interesting AI in the level generation, but otherwise it’s more down to style.
  • Project Crystal is a much stronger idea and one I’d like to try out. The game will work with just geometric shapes so it’s got low graphical requirements. It’s far more the classic sort of prototype I think I should be doing. But it’s not based around tiles and might not be a good first test of flixel – I could probably code this one up myself.

I’d really like to demo Crystal, and technically speaking it is exactly the sort of thing I should be prototyping. But my gut feeling is that spending a few days on a warm-up project like Penguin and trialling flixel may make my life easier in the long run. Given I’m going cold into Flash development I’d like to start looking at ActionScript 3 with existing source code to guide me, and Penguin is a better project to have in my mind for this task. I’ll set myself the task of working on Penguin this week (and only this week to give me a deadline), then I’d do a prototype for Crystal the week after so I can do the idea justice.

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