last post was too curt in its dismissal of 'formal abstract design tools', so im here to elaborate a little.
first of all, games are an unbelievably broad form, including basically all human expression. stories are games of make believe. some games are like dances, some like paintings, some like sports, some like playgrounds, some like obstacle courses, some like gardens, some just little puzzles. its ridiculous to talk about them all together. 'game design' is a silly category. there is no rigorous set of formal tools that would apply broadly to all of 'game design' and still be useful for the design of a specific game.
secondly, in artmaking (games are at least 'art' in the sense of being a cultural form) lots of things can be helpful conceptual tools. whatever helps you make the game, that tool is useful. and different tools are more or less useful for different people, at different times in their lives, making different things.
for me, what i need to make the sorts of games i make, is time, inspiration, the ability to make decisions quickly, and a kind of steady happiness.
inspiration i source from research, mainly reading, these days. ive been thinking a lot about this lately, and if youre a budding game dev i highly recommend you center your projects around subject matter that interests you, and then buy as many books about that subject as seems responsible. build a little library. your work will be better, youll have a font of inspiration, youll have a way to take a break from your screen that's genuinely rejuvenating, and youll be changed for the better by the process of making.
as a visual artist, im also sometimes inspired by beauty, mostly from the natural world.
when im having trouble making a decision by gut or simple reason, i ask my team or consult old games i liked and take their solutions. im not shy about it anymore. sometimes i can apply a metaphor or concept from another game or experience in my life to help make these decisions. generally it feels like whatever the decision ends up being is fine, as long as the decision can be made, and can get out of the way of moving forward on the project. i often steal from games i like. i think younger artists are more nervous about this. stealing is cool. youre gonna fuck it up anyway, and by the time it comes out its not gonna look much like wherever you sourced it. its whatever. trying to reinvent everything yourself is narcissistic.
steady happiness is a whole-life problem but i find that seeing people i like helps. letting myself take breaks when i want helps. (big fan of afternoon naps and long walks.) reading helps. good food helps. laughter helps a lot.
in addition, i collect tools from other practices and other parts of life.
one tool i learned from painting and from traditional animation, is to switch back and forth between these modes of work:
1 - stepping back, squinting, planning, methodical, coverage
(in animation, working out keyframes and curves of motion)
2 - driving forward, small brush, focused, nose to the canvas
(in animation, working straight-ahead, each frame after the last)
look, i know im distorting and misrepresenting the original concept of 'formal abstract design tools' into something completely different. im doing that because i think the original concept is bogus: both too narrow in what it sees as useful conceptually for game development, and too narrow in its thinking about what games are in general.
i dont want or need precise language. i want whatever helps me make games. sometimes language is useful, but usually not in a very precise way. conversation, with others or with myself, can help me find inspiration, or help me make decisions, or help me get out of bad moods and find my steady happiness again. sometimes something that looks like a 'formal abstract design tool' might be useful as a part of one of these conversations, but probably each conversant is understanding the concept differently (which is fine). often metaphors from other parts of life, concepts built out of stories, are better.
October 20, 2021