The definition of an indie developer ranges from being defined as a single individual doing development all alone to being defined as a small team of unknown developers with limited financial resources. Resources may also be limited in the areas of media or even coding skills. Either way, there are resource limitations that must be worked with or overcome to become a successful indie developer. It is those limitations that often serve to hinder or even stifle inspiration.
There are also many reasons for being an indie developer. For some developers, it’s the creation and the freedom to create. For others, it may be the excitement of being in a growing company. And yet for others it may be their answer to being unemployed. It may even be a solution to being disabled wherein a person is unable to work full-time hours and meet the rigors of the workplace.
Although there are exceptional game creation tools available, and even art creation tools such as MakeHuman, the indie developer still must find the inspiration to create that next game within their own limitations. Fortunately those limitations need not be as great as they once were. However, if an indie developer is going to attempt to create the next great RPG or racing game then that developer may well be working on the project for years and may find that they are simply unable to finish the project due to the variations of life. But then again, if the indie developer is unemployed or disabled then they may simply not be in a position to work on a project for several years. On the other hand, what can an indie developer create that has not already be done to death?
This article is not an attempt at posturing as an expert and telling everyone what type of games that they should develop. It is an attempt to help the indie developer overcome “writers block” or “developers block.” Every person in a creative endeavor has experienced writers block at least once. Fortunately, there are a few thought exercises that can help – especially in coming up with an idea for a great game.
One of the easiest things to do whenever inspiration fades is to take a thought trip through history. Oftentimes in interviews, musicians will refer to the bands that they grew up listening to as the inspiration for their music. This same affect applies to games. Think back to those games that you enjoyed most as a youth. Now consider which games that you would like to play again, but with a few improvements. And thus it is soon born – an idea that you can be passionate about that you may actually be able to create.
Certainly there’s more than just creating nostalgia games and that is not what is being suggested. Sure there are those that have taken a game such as Q~Bert and added a few new features and changed the graphics. Rude Rabbit is one such game. It was created because the developer wanted to play Q~Bert but wanted something a little different.
What if you didn’t grow up during the golden age of arcade games? Then what? That does not mean that your inspiration is lacking. It means that your inspiration may be more complex, somewhat like the difference between a musician influenced by songs such as “My Adidas” by Run DMC versus someone influenced more by songs such as “Rachmaninoff’s Prelude.” The end results may be different, but the passion may be similar.
The original creator of Flappy Birds created that game based on limitations. It was obvious that artwork was not his strong suit. The game looked very similar to Super Mario, which leads us to speculate that he was inspired by Super Mario. Flappy Birds was unique and interesting when it was first released because it was so unusual, yet it had a familiar feel to it thanks to the artwork. On the other hand, try playing a Flappy Birds clone and in many, not all but many, cases it just feels boring or like it was done just to prove it could be done.
The creator of Crossy Road was obviously inspired by the classic game Frogger. But, instead of just reskinning Frogger, he changed it to an isometric perspective and changed the artwork to look similar to another game that likely inspired him – MineCraft. By taking those passions, he created a game that was unique at the time and interesting.
Of course inspiration does not have to come just from the games that you may have played years ago but it can also come from something as simple as a board game or a television game show. The board game Mouse Trap has most likely influenced a few developers to create games with a Rube Goldberg feel. Surely there are developers that built bridges with their Erector sets or Tinkertoy sets and used that as inspiration for some impressive bridge building games.
The 1970’s game show Concentration used a classic theme of having players find the matching cards. The matching items game mechanic has been used in many mobile games. But Concentration also had a game mechanic that was a little unusual – the rebus.
The rebus was the image hidden beneath the cards that represented a word or phrase. The player may have been able to guess all of the matched cards, leaving the rebus exposed, but if he was unable to identify what the rebus represented then the player lost.
Just recently a game named “Flipt – a spatial memory game” appeared on the Google Play Store. The name of the game is certainly lengthy but the game itself is quite simple, and it was clearly inspired by the game show Concentration. However, unlike Concentration, it is an abstract image that is used rather than a rebus. A rebus is a puzzle in which words are represented by images or letters. Coincidentally, there doesn’t seem to be any games on the Google Play Store that are rebus based although such an idea may inspire a great game.
Unlike Concentration, the image is not exposed by finding matching cards. Instead, “Flipt – a spatial memory game” is played by showing the player the abstract image first. The player is given a number of seconds to memorize the image and then must recreate the image by flipping cubes to match their original arrangement. Clearly there was also inspiration from the Chinese game Tangram as well. However, “Flipt – a spatial memory game” is not a replica of Tangram or Concentration. It is simply inspired by those elements.
By looking back at favorite video games, favorite game shows, favorite board games, and other things that were favorites in our lives, we can find inspiration to create. Naturally no one knows if the inspiration will lead to something magnificent, but it just might. Even if it does not, when the project is complete, you will have something that you wanted, that you can be proud of, and that you enjoy playing.
This article was contributed by Jess Lewis.