By Tom Greenawalt,
Greenwood Games, Inc.
If you are in any profession requiring creative ideas for any length of time, I’m sure that you have suffered from the dreaded “inventor’s block”. You stare at the wall, twiddle the mouse, chew on pencils while waiting for great ideas to flow and…..nothing! I share your pain having been a mechanical engineer for 35 years and a game designer for 10 years. So, what can you do about breaking through that cloud of meandering and meaningless brainwaves? I have some suggestions that have worked for me. Some solutions are traditional and some not so much. Knowing where you are in the design cycle can help you decide what technique to try. For example, it makes a difference if you are 80% done with a design and stuck versus starting from scratch with a generic request for the next “Monopoly”.
Start with the ending, or winning move, and move backwards through all of the various “plays” until you reach the start. This can force you to develop rules that promote your desired actions, steps, strategies, etc. This technique also prioritizes the “cool plays” throughout the game especially at the end and the beginning. It also forces you to develop a flow to the game. Although going backwards seems counterintuitive, I find that it really helps shake up my thoughts.
Start with a Catchy Title or Story
This is a good process for starting a design from scratch. It works best if you allow the title/story to drive the game play steps. Thinking of a cool title can help you avoid “analysis paralysis” by focusing on a single theme and not on numerous detailed steps. This also works well with the “Go Backwards” design technique with your ending driven by the title or story.
List Desired Game
Play Steps Start with a list of desired game play steps, player interactions, skills required, and educational goals. Checking your design progress to this list may jolt you into another direction. It will also identify gaps or redundancies in meeting your list of expectations. The key is to trick your brain into action and challenge it to do something different.
Design the Box and Game Artwork
This is a fun way to look at your design in a whole new light. This procedure works well with the Catchy Title technique and has generated a lot of good ideas for me. Some inventors think this is a waste of time because the manufacture will just change their artwork. That’s not the point! You are trying to shake things up and look at things in a different way and focusing on the art will do that.
Observational Game Testing
Conduct game testing but watch only. Don’t play and don’t ask for feedback. People will identify problems and opportunities by their actions. Children are especially good testers because they are brutally honest with their actions and emotions, good or bad. Take notes of your observations and then try to address each issue.
Destroy a Design
Take one of your designs and figure out ways to make it bad. I mean really awful. Or redesign it completely. Start with a strategy game and try to make it a party game. Turn a toy into an educational game. Continually ask yourself “what if” questions. It will certainly get those neurons firing and get you unstuck!
General Creativity Tricks
Here are three tricks to improving your creativity: a. Change your daily routine. If you have a set time for designing, change it. If you are a morning person, don’t design then and do it late at night. It will not take long for your body to adjust to your new routine and jump start your creative juices. b. Learn to write notes in the dark. Many great ideas occur in your dreams or in a semi-sleep mode. You don’t want to wait until morning and forget. So keep a pencil and paper on your nightstand and jot down your ideas in the dark. c. Use your left hand to write, move mouse, eat, and drink. This will stimulate your right brain which is the center of creativity. I tried this on a process improvement team at my previous engineering job and half the people swear that it helped!
In summary, mix and match these techniques. Experiment and have fun with them. They just might break up your inventor’s block and send you on your way to inventing the next great game!