Game-Making Blog

March 15, 2011:  Elaborating Ideas

Today a friend of mine asked several of his creative friends if having ideas felt like something that just happened to them or like something they actively DID.  My answer:  both. :-)

Ideas just come to me, and those feel like something that just happens to me, not something that I do.

Making the idea implementable requires thinking about it, combining it with other ideas, pondering the various possible permutations, and so on. That all feels like something I do.

I find that the elaboration of an idea tends to produce more ideas, and something small can snowball.

One example: The Witcher takes place in a moderately grim world, and the developers of the game did a good job of making the game look appropriately dirty and medieval. The problem with that was that nearly everything was grey or brown, and I felt starved for color by the end of the game. So, when I went to begin "Medical Problems" (henceforth "MP"), I decided that it would be set in a village of dye-makers, so that things could be colorful while still making sense and being relatively realistic.

This grew to be a bigger deal than I had planned. At first, I just recolored the buildings and costumes to be colorful. But then I needed a side quest where Geralt would kill some monsters to provide monster parts for a townsperson who needed some. (Since Geralt is a professional monster slayer, the plot actually demands that he have a couple of FedEx quests per town. :-) ) But why does anybody WANT monster parts? The main game already had characters asking for monster parts to use in alchemy, to cook with, to plant, and to prove that certain noxious beasts were dead. I wanted a NEW reason, but what was left?

The background for the story to MP requires that all of the bushes, grasses, and herbs around town have been burned and trampled by a recent battle, so I remembered 1) that red dye is sometimes made out of a type of insect and 2) that there were some giant insects as monsters in the game, monsters I hadn't used for anything yet. So I had the head of the dye-makers ask for some giant bug parts to make red dye with, until the berries they usually use to make red dye grow back.

Then I needed a red herring for a mystery. Someone who will seem mysterious and vaguely sinister, someone who will seem capable of being the person who was poisoning the town's well, but who will turn out to be innocuous. Ideally, this person should be an outsider, someone not from the village. But who would be visiting, and what possible motive could they have for doing away with the entire town? Hmmm. So I decided that this wasn't just a dye-makers' village; it was the village that made the best dye in the nation, and someone from another village that also made dye was in town to try to wrest the secret of their dye from them. She made a good red herring; most players thought it was her. :-)

Then I needed a split ending, where one possible ending has the enemy capturing Geralt and throwing him in a cell and the other possible ending has Geralt getting to where he's going with little trouble. But what decision could I have the player make that might make such a big difference in the outcome? It needs to hinge on a player decision, not just be random luck. What could make the difference between capture and slipping past the enemy's spies? Hmm. Well, Geralt has white hair, and that's one of his most identifiable features at a distance. And here we are in this dye-makers' village...

The dye-makers' village, which I had intended to put into the game just to have an excuse for a little color, turned out to be the answer to three different questions I had while making the game. Doing it that way wove the game together more tightly and made it all seem nicely interconnected. But it didn't start out that way! It started out only with my wanting more color. :-) Elaborating that initial idea and taking things to their logical conclusions turned out to work really well. It turns out that time spent elaborating an idea is rarely wasted.

So that's the moral of this little story:  T
ime spent elaborating an idea is rarely wasted. :-)