Writing and Design

Steve Ince, freelance writer and game designer, posts thoughts and comments on these two meaningful aspects of his life.

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Name: Steve Ince

Monday, February 20, 2006

Developing Thoughts 2

The second in my series that's reproducing the original column here on the blog.

A Penny for Your Thoughts

While thinking of a way to open this piece, I pondered on the number of times I’ve read of writers proclaiming that, on meeting readers, the first thing they are asked is, “where do you get your ideas”. Now this only happened to me for the first time recently, so it’s not something I particularly gave a lot of thought to, until now.

To be honest, I have no idea where my ideas originate, or why they pop into my head at the most inappropriate moments. For those who know me, the glazing over of my eyes mid-way through a conversation, is not because the subject holds no interest, but that an idea has suddenly given birth to itself and is demanding my time in its need to be fed and nurtured. Can I help if my little babies need all the love and attention I can lavish upon them? Would you expect me to cast them out into a cruel world at the height of the blizzard?

Of course, many of my ideas are weak or malformed. Even with the greatest will and attention, they will not survive much beyond the birth process. These are the ideas that no one sees; the ones I forget almost instantly. But for every ten of these poor creatures, there is one that’s worth making a mental note of, scribbling down on a piece of paper, or placing in the ideas file on my computer. These are thoughts deserving of serious consideration.

Yet, even then, not all of these ideas are great ones. If twenty percent of them turn out to have any genuine value, I would consider that to be a good result. It is much better to have twenty ideas and throw sixteen away, than to only have only four ideas to begin with. The likelihood of each of those four ideas being a winner is very small. By my twenty percent estimation, you’d be fortunate if one of those ideas bore fruit. Unless, of course, you happen to be a unique individual whose every idea is a gem.

The hardest thing in dealing with ideas is discarding them. There are times when a person has to accept that even the best idea won’t work and must push it to one side – the context may be wrong, or it conflicts with the style of the project. If it’s a genuinely good idea, they always keep it on file, hopefully to be used in another project. But a person should be prepared to discard the idea and move on – ignoring the pleadings of their babies.

Because the creation of games is built on originality, ideas are a valuable commodity, particularly to those who struggle to come up with ideas themselves. Where would the industry be without the people to originate the ideas? A game needs more than a single gameplay mechanic to succeed in the current market. A couple of one-dimensional characters are not enough to give a game depth. And if it hadn’t been for the wealth of technical ideas that have abounded over the years, we would not have the high standards we have come to expect from our games.

A penny? Thoughts appear highly under-valued.

© Steve Ince, 2004



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