Developing a Style

I’ve had a profound conversation while talking to a fledgling game developer this Game Developers Conference (GDC) that made me look back at my philosophy in game development. When Lindsay Grace was pointing out that one should have a long term objective such as Seemingly Pointless‘s goal in making a 100 games in one year, it made me reflect why I was developing one game every month. I’ve come to a conclusion that if one wants to make an impact to the gaming industry, one should strive to find and refine their own style that is both honest about oneself, and distinguishable from others.

Style, of course, comes in many forms. This can include mechanical styles, such as Vlambeer‘s simple-but-hyper-polished games, or Keita Takahashi‘s bizarre and chaotic experiences. Visual and narrative styles works great as well. As an example, Edmund McMillen has a distinct visual style that is often coupled with unnerving stories. Meanwhile, Molleindustria‘s political games helps them create experiences like no other. Even audio is a wonderful device to stylize. Who can possibly forget the first time they’ve successfully surpassed a series of obstacles in Bit.Trip Runner, creating a procedural generated music throughout the whole level? By having a clear style, each of these experiences become memorable and distinct from other common games.

So how does one go about developing their own style in games? Here’s a method I found that works: first figure out what your objectives are. For example, I wanted to contribute to the gaming community such that others would be motivated to make games that challenges common game genres like I was when I first played Katamari Damacy. Next, carefully analyze what you and your team are capable of. If your team hasn’t finished their game yet, this is a good time to attend game jams. In doing so, you’ll learn very quickly what you can and cannot do under a deadline. Once analyzed, find the overlap between your team’s objective and skill set. It’s worth noting that it is possible to have a non-overlapping goal and skill set. For example, making millions is an objective that is too broad to have overlap with any skill set. Similarly, making the next blockbuster is an objective so narrow, a large, expensive team is necessary to achieve it. In these cases, I recommend revising the objective so that it stands within your team’s skill set.

Finally, practice! I personally used #OneGameAMonth to polish my ability to create games with unique and solid game mechanics. Much of my time has been spent on understanding the mechanics I’ve created, and figure out how to enforce it with clever puzzles and situations. I also encourage others to make quick prototypes as regularly as possible. By developing your team’s skill set, and revising your own objectives to what works best with your team, you’ll slowly develop a successful style that feels like no other.

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