Managing an indie game project is a daunting task. We all know how it starts off; a grand brilliant idea for a game comes to mind and the first instinct is to either jump into development or start designing all the cool features that the game will have.
But I think this is the wrong approach for most people. Granted, there will always be the Brendon Chong of indie dev discipline. But for the rest of us mere mortals, we need strategies and processes to help keep us focused and motivated from start to finish. Goodness knows it’s a long journey.
Our initial excitement for a new game can cause us to bite off more than we can chew. I experienced this myself in my senior year at CSUMB. Luckily I had a smart adviser that convinced me to take a different approach. His philosophy was simple, “high concept, low fidelity.”
The idea was to come up with a core concept that was so focused intellectually that it required minimal technical fumbling to achieve the desired experience. This wasn’t out of laziness to avoid doing work, but out of necessity as most projects were single student operations and time, as our most important resource, needed to be allocated towards production rather than research and learning.
It is far more valuable to design a game from the ground up on a strong conceptual foundation rather than a bullet list of technical features.
Since I graduated three years ago I have tried to stick to this philosophy and I think it is one that every small team or independent developer could utilize. With very limited resources we are forced to carefully select what aspects of a game will get the most development. It is far more valuable to design a game from the ground up on a strong conceptual foundation rather than a bullet list of technical features.
This conceptualization can take many forms and is most often found in the story lines of contemporary video games. Often these stories have all the necessary components for a good drama like betrayal, war, jealousy, or passion. But only a handful of the hundreds of games I have played engaged me cerebral enough to truly have me invested in the characters or plot like a good book can.
I think this is probably attributed to mechanics and game play. These are the areas sucking up the majority of resources during development. After all, games should be fun… or should they be? That is another discussion altogether…
In my senior project the abstraction I handled was based on ancient Greek philosophy. I have always been fascinated with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave because despite it’s age it is amazingly applicable to society no matter what place or time in history.
That allegory became my focus. While plotting out how the game would play out it became apparent that the setting of a literal translation of Plato”s cave couldn’t get my creative juices flowing. It was then that my professor advised me to use the allegory as the foundation of the game, but use a different theme to cover it. That is when I decided to cover the ancient Greek allegory in a theme of American consumerism and obsession with material goods.
From there it was easy to design. It became a very simple process of breaking down Plato’s themes, dressing it in a consumerism metaphor, and inventing game play mechanics for those elements.
What came out was something I was really excited about and to this day I still think is a strong concept that I want to revisit with my new skills and knowledge. The most exciting part, though, is that it was a design process not based on features to support the concept. Instead, it was a very powerful and historically proven concept whose features were built around it.
The whole project has given me the belief that any classical or artistic theme can be molded into something playable. And it is up to indie developers to push the boundaries of what can be explained and explored in video games.
What do you think? Are video games capable of communicating such abstract ideas as the works of Plato, Shakespeare, and Camus? Is it too young of an art form to entertain such concepts? Leave a comment.