On The Pure Innovation Challenge

January 9, 2015

In this year’s Games Galore, I put forward several design challenges. The one I think that is most atypical is Pure Innovation. This challenge is to explore design space past the familiar and into new territory. This can seem like an unhelpful constraint or an overly difficult one. But at the same time, design innovation is something I see as vital to design better games moving forward and to better understand how games work. These are the experiments that open our horizons. And in an environment where the standard advice is to iteratively tweak and recombine existing games, I think it is valuable to remind designers that open exploration is a real option.

So how do you do it?

There is more than one way to venture into uncharted spaces, just as there are many ways to build from existing games. One that has worked for me well is an approach I described years ago as holistic design.

Start with a seed, either a particular fictional situation or nuance you haven’t seen well represented or a mechanic or structure you haven’t seen used in a game before. Then take your mechanical or fictional idea and reflect it into the other side. If you have a mechanic ask yourself what this mechanics reflects or could represent in fiction. If you have a fictional idea find a mechanic that describes your idea reflecting its dynamics and depth. Then repeat this process, stitching together the fiction and the system until you have something complete enough to playtest.

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