Concepting: More Than Just Brainstorming - Making VR

So, you’ve come up with a new idea for an amazing app or a great video game. You’ve taken up your pen and feverishly started jotting all your ideas down. You want the game to be fun, you want it to challenge the conventional norms of similar games of that genre, and you want it to look amazing! Once you have your basic game design down, where will you go from here? A lot of small developers start concepting straight away, and make some initial sketches of their user interface, level design or even main characters. But, there’s something that many developers forget to do first. Many developers forget to research what current gamers are already familiar with, and what they want to see in future games. Before you can create the next Raw Data, Clash of Clans or Skyrim, you need to have a clear vision of what you want your game to look and feel like, and whether that’s something that will be well received by gamers.

Let’s look at a recent example. Put yourself in the shoes of gamers who loved the Harvest Moon franchise but wanted something different.

Gamers had become used to the cute and fun visuals of the Harvest Moon series and had also become accustomed to the game mechanics and the endearing story. But, gamers wanted something different after playing this series, and that’s when ConcernedApe took that game idea and transformed it into something that captured the attention of over 20 million players – Stardew Valley.

Stardew Valley Image 1 Stardew Valley 2

Taking the risk of creating a pixel graphics game that aimed at fulfilling what a 3D game was envisioned to achieve is huge. Stardew Valley borrows some of the concepts from other games such as Animal Crossing to allow players to customize their houses and the ability to navigate mines in search of resources like in Rune Factory. By borrowing these elements, Stardew Valley becomes its own game while on the surface seems like another Harvest Moon game. As great as this game turned out to be, not every game will see the same commercial success.

One of the hardest development choices is figuring out how you want your game to look and feel. Is your game a steampunk-themed tower defense or is it a futuristic first-person shooter? Heck, it could be a zombie cupcake eating game. Talking to your potential audience and getting feedback is crucial in helping you flesh out that idea of design choice. Design choices become even more complicated if you start to throw the issue of VR into the mix. As we discussed in a previous post, simulator sickness can negatively impact the entire user experience, and getting frame rates to work well is another issue entirely. So, developers need to make a choice when it comes to concepting. Should your game focus more on being hyper-realistic, or should you go for a much lower poly experience to boost frame rates and reduce simulator sickness? Ultimately, either way is fine, but whatever choice you make needs to be balanced with other techniques.

Now, we’re digressing a bit. Here are some great tips on things that can help with ensuring that you are on the right track for your game concept.

  1. Consider the narrative or purpose of the game.
  2. Draw inspiration from themes that are similar to what you are hoping to create.
  3. Keep all iterations of your artwork! (This is important for future marketing!)
  4. Create a concepting plan and process that can be easily replicated for each asset you plan to make.
  5. Never be too rigid with design decisions that prevent you from being flexible in the future.
  6. Get people’s opinions on whether it’s something they would like to play or not!

That last point is quintessential to ensuring that your game will go somewhere. Remember, if no one likes your game concept then you may have to refine it so that it can do well. When we decided that we wanted to create a superhero game in VR, we asked people if that seemed like a worthwhile pursuit. Many of the responses were overwhelmingly positive! Looking at the story elements of First Impact: Rise of a Hero helped us to define what the game should look and play like. We wanted to tap into players’ nostalgia of reading comic books, in a story sense. This is what made the difference in deciding whether to go for a more realistic art style over a cartoony one (well, among other things).

Overall, concepting is one the biggest aspects of the game design process because it really lays out the foundation for where your game will go. Besides these 6 tips that we’ve shared, the last pieces of advice we want to give out is to have fun. Since concepting is done at the preliminary stage of development, feel free to explore those crazy and wonky ideas, as you never know what might come of them. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this week’s blog post and don’t forget to subscribe to learn more!