One of the most common issues I’ve seen with people who want to start developing games is that they’re constantly looking for “The One”, the game idea that will immediately click and be great immediately from the get go. They want to come up with their own unique idea and often push back from things that are similar to games that already exist. This leads to them never actually starting a project because they’re always searching for a new and better idea that will let them make the greatest game ever. The problem here is that the great games aren’t made from the perfect first pitch. The foundation of game development lies in testing and iteration; in taking your ideas, finding the flaws and making changes to improve them over time. I guarantee that the Halo and Call of Duty games of the world didn’t start as anything resembling what was released and they likely even had several different names across their development. Even across different versions of games, developers are constantly changing and improving things trying to make the next one even better, meaning their original vision still needed improvement.
So then how does one come up with good ideas? What’s worked best for me is to come up with a “seed”, a foundational idea that I can build upon and flesh out to create a unique experience. Sometimes these seeds fall flat and don’t go anywhere. Maybe the mechanics feel really simple or boring, or perhaps the theme feels shallow and uninspired. These are ideas I keep in the back of my mind, not necessarily as failures, but potentially as inspiration for future ideas which can repurpose and improve them. So then which seeds do I actually develop and turn into actual games? Usually the sign for me is that the ideas keep flowing. I’ll keep coming up with new mechanics, concepts and easter eggs, slowly building up the seed into a foundation I can use as a basis for a game. These seeds are the ones that inspire me to create actual experiences and make me want to see what they can turn into over time.
Seeds can take many forms and come from all kinds of sources of inspiration. For me it’s often started as things that are completely trivial like a basic mechanic or some simple theme I want to explore. My most recent and current project started in the simplest form: “I want to play a game solely designed around being a Necromancer”. I had realized that most games are built with it only being a part of the whole experience and as such the gameplay for that specific class often suffered for it. From there I built it up thinking about how a game solely about necromancers would function and what cool things could I do when I didn’t have to worry about balancing other systems. This is sort of the essence of a seed; an idea that inspires more and more until you can turn it into an entire experience.
One last note is that these seeds and sources of inspiration don’t have to start from somewhere unique. An example of this was based on an idea my partner and I had after we fished playing Stardew Valley. We built up an idea based around being able to move your farm around with you and the different experiences and scale you can create with that. From this we created the first piece of concept art based on the simple idea of “A farm that can move”: