Getting started is the hardest part.
I’ve come to find that this statement is incredibly accurate, particularly when it comes to creative endeavors. The first stroke of a pen; the first function in your code; the first page of your UI – getting started is HARD. Once that first piece is in place, time usually flies and the job gets done.
It’s totally natural. We’re putting our work out there for the public to see; in the internet age, that comes with very real fears and consequences on social media. The fear of making a mistake can be paralyzing!
Get out there. Find something in the real world that you wish was a part of your virtual world. Depending on the type of game you’re building, this could be as simple as an image search in your browser, or re-watching a great TV show.
This weekend, I treated myself to two bits of inspiration: here’s what I did, and how it helps me – maybe it will help you, too.
Take a trip – and lots of pictures.
We’re building a farm-sim RPG right now, but we’re aiming to do something different and innovative. There are literally dozens of Stardew Valley ripoffs on Steam right now. We aren’t going to be one of those – but I’m not here to explain everything about how we’re different…that comes later.
Right up the road is the small mountain town of Roslyn, WA. Its proximity to the Snoqualmie Mountain recreation areas give it a pretty vibrant tourist economy in the winter. We stopped there last summer, running into a weekend farmers’ market, and were taken with the look and feel of the town. I’d just finished sketching a few of the buildings for our game’s town, but was having trouble coming up with a design for our Inn.
So we jumped in the car and headed up to Roslyn – a little over a hour by car. It’s near the end of winter out here in Western WA, and the trip up the Snoqualmie Pass was breathtaking.
Seeing things as they appear in the real world inspires me to create things for my virtual world! The trip also gives me some quality time with my wife, which is never a bad thing!
If you can’t travel, I highly recommend Google Earth and Google Maps Street View (here’s one from the top of Seattle’s Space Needle). Even if your environments are interplanetary or lost to time, remember that production designers have been using real world locations for both inspiration and filming since the dawn of film. You might see something that can be transformed or evolved into what you’re looking for…just get out there and look!
Go play some games.
The other thing I did was fire up a classic (well…a remake of a classic). I love the Rune Factory series – the ones on the Nintendo DS and 3DS, at least. Those games have some of the most immersive characters and delightfully complex crafting systems I’ve ever seen. Rune Factory 4 was just re-released on the Nintendo Switch. I picked it up…the 3DS version is still suspended on my 3DS with well over 200 hours of playtime.
Why buy the game AGAIN?? Just play the old one again…
I could have – but I planned to play the game from the very beginning, to look with a critical eye about pacing, economy, and systems. I was also interested in the design choices the developer made in moving the title from a dual-screen system to a single screen, updating to 1080p, etc.
Back to the point…play games that inspire you. RF4 is starting to show its age – even as a remake, the game is 7 years old (and likely started development around 10 years ago!) – many things have changed since then. I’m enjoying playing the game again, but I’m also looking for things I’d do differently. One thing I’m not doing differently is befriending the character Margaret – that’s my girl! 🙂
Inspiration is the cure for writers’ block, and can help you come up with ideas for your game. I believe it’s a must for game developers to seek it out at every opportunity. Just know when to tell Margaret “good night” and get back to work, OK?
Note: Rune Factory 4, Stardew Valley, and Nintendo Switch are property of their respective rights holders.