A Day in the Life - Irina, Game Designer at Elephant Games

Hi everyone! My name is Irina, and I’m a game designer. Today let’s talk about one of the most important steps in making games - coming up with ideas! Why do I say ‘important'? ‘Cause the idea is going to become the first stepping stone in the whole development process. Sounds pretty significant, right?

I, personally, like scribbling any ideas I have on the go. Who knows when a new idea hits you? So I try to write down everything before the idea slips my mind. I feel like the most amazing things come to me when I’m having a walk. Favorite music playing in the headphones, eyes wandering around the surrounding areas and people - this helps with relaxing my mind, so it can start thinking fresh. The point here is not to try hard and think of something, but to just let your thoughts wander on their own. Let them and they might surprise you ;)

But of course, it’s not the only way ideas are born. Inspiration may come in different forms and from various things. It can come from watching a movie, reading a book, playing a game or simply looking at some beautiful art. There’s a great book that I like referencing, it's called 'Steal Like An Artist' by Austin Kleon, and it talks about how one can use the work of others to come up with their own ideas. I reckon anyone whose work involves creating something new can learn a few things from this book.

This all sounds pretty easy, but what is there to do if none of it works? Yes, I’m talking about the thing all writers (and game designers as well) fear the most - the writer's block. Sometimes you just can’t come up with anything no matter how hard you try, but the deadlines are waiting for no one, inspiration included. So, what can you do then? I have a couple of ways that help me get through hard times. First, looking at art helps. I just search the key words to describe the setting I need and look at tons of pictures. Yes, it might take a while, but at one point there’s gonna be a picture that’ll spark an idea into a blank mind. The second way of overcoming a block that works for me is locking up my inner critic for a while. In this case I start writing down everything that comes to mind without giving it too much thought or pushing it through a filter. The point here is to write as many things as you can, and yes, most of them won’t be viable, but a few of them will definitely have potential.

When working on a next game in the series that already has an established storyline and characters, I also like to just take the characters and put them into various situations (some of them might be quite weird I must say) and see if it works. Thus I can see what situations can actually happen in the game and be appealing to the players. By the way, I always use pen and paper in the process of scribbling my ideas down as it seems more personal and gives words an actual life. The list I have by the end of the process always looks chaotic with lots of circled words and arrows, but I feel like any creative process is chaotic by nature.

So, what happens next? The next step is to give your words shape. Now I have to not only connect all the dots and make the skeleton of a game’s story, but to think of the gameplay elements as well. That’s the main difference between writing a book and a game - in a game players take action, so I must think of what these actions are gonna be and how I can motivate our players to take them. And there are a lot of things to consider here so the gameplay elements will support the story narrative. At this stage I like letting other team members take part in the creative process. I go to the artists and ask if there are things they wish to draw (they usually do), then I might go to the level designers and ask if there are some game mechanics they wish to implement and so on. And if their ideas work for the game, then I’m putting them there.

After I have the full draft of the game, we have to send it to our publisher for approval and discuss any points that need to be reworked or thought out more. This process helps get a new perspective and tie any loose ends that were left in the story. When the discussion is over, here I have it - a full concept document that contains the description of the main story points and gameplay elements. And now the fun part starts - the development of the actual game! And I’m sure any game designer can agree to this, that seeing your words become alive in the form of graphics, sounds and game mechanics is a great feeling that is worth everything that you had to overcome to get to this point.