Where Do Ideas Come From?

I don't think I've made it much of a secret that I've been struggling to come up with a good game idea as of late. Truth be told, I think it's remarkable that my output in 2020 was as large as it was, given that most other years that I've been actively making games, I've only had one or two games release. While I've had a number of ideas, very few of them actually begin development, and a fraction of those actually end up seeing release. Given this creative rut that I'm currently in, I think now would be a good to reflect on where some of those ideas came form.

Tumble Temple was the first original Atari 2600 game (as in not a port of an existing game) that I released, which was back in January 2019. Initially, the game was conceived as a port of the flash game Avalanche; however, the 2600's limited RAM would have made a straight port of the game impractical without additional hardware in the cartridge. Instead, the basic idea of "climb up a bunch of falling blocks" was combined with the mechanic of blocks being removed when you jumped off of them. This idea allowed for interesting, dynamic gameplay to take place.

The limited hardware capabilities of the Atari 2600 work nicely as a constraint for which your ideas need to fit. Later that year, I would release the first version of what would become Cannonhead Clash. This game was inspired by a Minecraft minigame in which you threw TNT at another team's island. Interestingly, it wasn't an idea I was totally enthused about at first; I wasn't a very big fan of the aforementioned minigame, but felt that I needed to work on a new game that summer. However, the limitations of the 2600 helped shape it into a fun and interesting game; for instance, holding the fire button to charge your shot came out of necessity, due to the limited controls of the 2600's controller. This allowed for a method of shooting that was unique, yet still engaging.

I think I've frequently fallen into the trap of trying to continue work on ideas I don't care much for because Cannonhead Clash turned out so well. Over the past few months I've made it a decent way through a project, only to drop it because it felt like something was missing. Is it the lack of limits? Maybe. Perhaps introducing constraints on what your next game can be is a good option, even if they aren't required by the hardware. For instance, Bounce Canyon was born out of a desire to create a vertically scrolling platformer game that could be controlled with a mouse.

Alternatively, sometimes just programming random stuff can lead to a different idea down the line. Glide originally started out as a programming exercise to create a series of hills, similar to Tiny Wings. Eventually, this led to me thinking of other ways that I could utilize these hills in a game. The "up and down" motion of the hills led to me creating the central gliding mechanic. Perhaps that's a sign that I need to be prototyping more, not less.

Given my lack of ideas at the moment, I've turned to updating Glide with a local multiplayer mode. It's not the most creative thing, but I like to keep busy, especially during the summer months when I don't have school. Even so, it is giving me some other project ideas, even if most of them will never see fruition...