Game Design Theory Level 1 – Fundamental Game Design Principles & Industry Structure

Creating Unique and Interesting Concepts


Anything can potentially be a great game concept or idea:


– Mario is about a plumber who jumps on mushroom enemies to free a princess


– Angry Birds is about birds who slingshot into pigs


– Public domain: Wizard of Oz, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland and Hercules 


Brainstorming is when any idea is accepted, and you expand on the best ideas with details or absurd twists Ideas are great, but must translate into “fun” or otherwise interesting gameplay. All gamers want is great games – you don’t have to reinvent the wheel and it’s okay to copy a format but not content. In other words, borrowing ideas is fine but don’t violate anyone’s copyright or use their work illegally.  


So when you brainstorm about games that people want to play, one thing you want to keep in mind that gamers want to play good games. A game is generally considered good when its concept is well executed, its gameplay is engaging and if its fun to play. So what is “fun”?


 The Concept of “Fun” – Is It Relative to the Player? Is Anything “Universally” Fun?


The topic of fun and how to define what is fun and what is not is a tricky and it’s something that game developers have struggled with when trying to meet the demands of corporations who fund game development. What sounds “fun” on paper is not always realistic due to restrictions on budgets, time, equipment and team members. Also some restrictions on technology in general can limit what can be accomplished and make a great concept look bad.


Also there’s the contentious issue of fun being relative to the player. What is fun for one player is not fun for all players. NOTE: If something is fun for most players in it’s target audience then it will be received well. Would your audience play and enjoy your game? What kinds of things do they like to see in this genre?


Are there any unfulfilled variations in demand? Even if you have a great idea and the game looks polished there is no guarantee that players will consider the game “fun”. There are some ways to give yourself a much better chance for success.


 Keep the “Fun” Ideas and Get Rid of the “Un-Fun” Ideas




 Once you have selected a concept and have started brainstorming ideas for gameplay, keep and add more of the “fun” things and get rid of the “un-fun” things. Think from a player’s perspective: Build a game that is challenging and engages the player! Here are some tips:


  • What is “fun” is based on how it makes the player feel, and players want to feel cool.

  • How the player feels is based on what they can see, hear and engage on-screen.

  • Players want to play a game that makes them look cool and gives them cool moves.

  • Games can offer the following emotional rewards – Fellowship, Fantasy, Discovery, Narratives, Freedom of Expression, and of course Challenge.

  • “Un-fun” things can include bad animations, unreliable controls and incoherent gameplay or stories. Un-fun can also be boring objectives or bad pacing.

  • The player’s loss or “death” should mean something and have consequences!



The Mexican Pizza Method – A Technique for Creating Unique Game Ideas and Concepts




Regarding of the idea / vision of the game, let’s introduce a technique that we’ll discuss more in-depth a little later. This technique reminds me of the old saying that there are no original ideas anymore – just new ways of mixing up old ones. Also it is taught in professional writing classes that there are only 7 basic types of stories, and every story is a variation of one of more of these 7 types:

 1. Overcoming the Monster. 2. Rebirth. 3. Quest. 4. Journey and Return. 5. Rags to Riches.

6. Tragedy. 7. Comedy.



The technique is the “Mexican Pizza Method” which comes from the idea that you can mix two or three different types of things (food types) together and it may not sound logical or tasty at first but when you actually try it out you find it can be quite good or even better then one of those things by themselves. There are many cool games which can be described as using the Mexican Pizza Method.



For example in video games there have been space-shooter / on-foot action games (Star Wars franchise), adventure / puzzle games (Tomb Raider) and shooter / driving games (GTA and others). Don’t be afraid to mix and match these common elements to create something that is original to you.



Warning: Mixing and matching 3 or more major elements together increases the risk that your game will feel clunky, confusing and unsatisfying to players. It would be difficult to cook up a dish with 5 different food cultures represented well and it is similarly hard to successfully blend many gaming genres. Remember that there are tons of genres and sub-genres to consider when you’re brainstorming.



 Note: Don’t be afraid to put aside or throw out bad ideas! Some ideas can be set aside for later because they are awesome concepts but don’t fit in with the game’s vision or objective. Some ideas are stinkers and time-wasters that should be discarded altogether. If you’re unsure, list and rank alternatives. Keep the good stuff written down somewhere safe and keep copies.




Remember that ideas are cheap, so it doesn’t matter if you have the greatest idea in the world, it’s what you do with that idea that counts. How to realize that vision is the main objective.



The Title of Your Game is Important: 4 Main Types


  1. Literally a character, location or gameplay feature: Sonic the Hedgehog, Castle Wolfenstein

  2. Action / cool title: Super Smash Brothers, Street Fighter or Rocksmith

  3. Pun title, which is a pun on words involving the gameplay or story: Just Cause, Bioshock – be careful because people don’t always “get it” or enjoy it.

  4. The curious title ( Players won’t get it until playing the game ): Pokemon, LittleBigPlanet


The title is the first impression a potential player gets about your game and is what usually convinces them to take a closer look and maybe even acquire and play your game. Try not to be too wild with it unless your audience can understand what kind of gameplay that title implies. Ex. A character title usually implies action/adventure or shooting experiences, a title that’s the name of a place can imply adventure, puzzles or a specific period of history. The title should convey the idea of what kind of game ( genre and game mechanics ) the player will get to experience or provoke interest by being quirky and descriptive.




If you’re having trouble coming up with new concepts, ideas, etc. you should definitely take a break, and go back to doing what developers love to do: play games and read about the latest technology, techniques and innovations. These types of activities will give your mind time to rest, recharge and get re-inspired. Don’t let your work sit too long though – you don’t want to give up on a problem just because it seems like a lot of work. A recharged mind will help.