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Okay so strap in for a thread because this is literally my favourite piece of advice and I have strong opinions about this. It boils down to "kill your darlings but also save them for later," but here goes.
Point one: There is no perfect idea. Yes, there are ideas that are more interesting than others. But whether a game ends up being good has so, so, so much to do with the execution. And that comes with production, not pre-production.
The first problem student projects that haven't quiiite learned this yet face is that they spend way, way more on their idea generation and refinement process than they should, brainstorming and talking about brainstorming and holding on for "a better one", or a better version.
And the truth is that, no matter how good and groundbreaking your idea is, if you spend a third of the development time trying to make it better by talking about it without making anything you're acting on speculation AND cutting into the actual development time.
Not to mention that, if it's your first project, or one of the first, it's just... so much harder to realize what makes an idea good. You haven't had the first hand experience of trying out what works and what doesn't. You don't have that pattern recognition trained yet.
Even if you've been playing games for your entire life, you will not be able to cut and prune and perfect an idea before it hits the material world. The ramifications of every design decision are a bit too many for you to realize at the planning stage.
Every experienced game developer I've met tells everyone similar advice: The first rule of gamedev is prototype early and playtest as soon as humanly possible. The uglier the better. Because you can't predict the dynamics of your game from the idea. We'll come back to this later.
Point two: I'm going to paraphrase @miguelsicart here. He said this during our first game dev class at @ITUkbh ever: "Like 80% of the games you ever make are going to be shit. The goal of this education is to help you get maybe 20 or 30 of those out before you start working."
Because it's true, you're gonna be making shit games by the truckload, ESPECIALLY at the beginning. The more of that percentage that you get out in education, the fewer percentage of shit games you'll make later. And they're VERY, VERY front-loaded.
By making shit games you're going to learn a lot, you're going to figure out what doesn't work. And that's what they're for, failures should teach you something. If you fail, fail spectacularly AND do a Gamasutra-worthy post-mortem. A boring fail doesn't get you anything.
So, turning this point around, you get this: The first games you make are going to suck. Just like an artist's first drawings are going to suck, just like a professional golfer starts out with handicap 36 (in Spain). You GET BETTER, which means at the beginning you're BAD.
This is obviously natural and to be expected, but it just... escapes so many people. So many people think that they can make EXACTLY the game they have in their head on the first try. We'll get to what ends up happening when they do this later.
And not gonna lie, a big part of why everyone seems to have that misconception is because the pushback against a naturally overwhelming industry (so many moving parts) is the attempt to make game dev tools accessible for first-timers, and tell them it's SO EASY!!
And then everyone sees what LOOKS like the lightning-in-a-bottle "my first game ever" like Undertale. And their thought isn't "I want to get good enough to do that," but rather "OH I CAN DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT ON MY FIRST TRY." And survivorship bias is one HELL of a skew.
Not to mention that Toby already had SOME experience under his belt making Earthbound ROM hacks, and anyone trying to go for his galaxy brain level of leitmotifs in music has to realize just how MUCH music he's made before. But that never makes it into the public consciousness.
OBVIOUSLY, democratizing that kind of production is what we want. But people gotta understand that even if they learn Unreal / Unity and even if there are AMAZING survivorship-biased first-games out there, their first game has a 99.9% chance of sucking ASS.
So the conclusion to this second point is: if you pick your FAVOURITE idea, the idea that's got you jumping up and down, the one that you want to show off to people, and do that for your first game ever, it is going to SUCK. And you'll be dissatisfied with your FAVOURITE BABY.
If you release it, there's a good likelihood it'll be a thorn in your side, and you'll want to remake it again. Better. Now that you know what pitfalls you fell into. If you're a little too eager with that, you'll do that right away. Your second game will suck too, by the way.
Point three: If you don't release it or abandon it once you realize you're not managing to meet expectations, you'll NEVER release it. And you might end up getting stuck on that project and not making anything else or have it be, again, a thorn in your side.
This video has @FoldableHuman explaining it so much better that I could on a Twitter thread, so I'm going to just have that be the third point by itself.
Basically: If you have a baby idea, that you want to make RIGHT, that you want to be GOOD, that you want everyone to look at and go "that was a great IDEA that turned into a great game," kill it KILL IT WITH FIRE. Because you'll never finish it. It won't even be showable.
Point four: This loops back to the prototyping thing I mentioned earlier: If you don't prototype and show people the ugliest version of your idea, if you're like "well it's still bad but here you go," "I just have to refine it a little and then it'll be ready for playtesting"...
Your game will be bad. Period. PERIOD. You'll never show it to anyone because it'll never be "ready" for playtesting, it'll never be at a point where you can show it in your head.
And if you do manage to show it to someone, late in the production, suddenly... they won't like it. They won't be "playing it right." They won't see the stuff you see in it. Because you haven't been playtesting from the beginning, you had NO IDEA if the game was going to work.
You had no idea if it communicated its ideas clearly enough. You didn't even know if the core mechanic was anywhere near engaging enough. Play happens when someone picks up your game, not within the game itself, and if you don't playtest you can't course-correct.
Once again, a bleak prospect for your one game idea that you wanted to blow everyone's minds with. So what can you do to avoid all of the doomsday scenarios I've described?
Solution one: Don't be too attached to your ideas. Chances are, if you're in a team, they'll mangle your pretty little idea and it'll end up unrecognizable, and you HAVE to be okay with that.
Solution two: Have an entire BUCKET of ideas. When a jam starts, or any other gamedev process, you won't be as attached to whichever one you end up picking. Especially because there's this sense that you have a lot of others for the future. You don't have to be perfect this time.
Solution three: Do what @FoldableHuman and the screenshot at the beginning of this thread recommend. Just finish it, be done with it, move on. It's done. You're free. It might not be as good as you wanted but the next one will be better.
Solution four: Remember the "save them for later" part at the beginnin of this thread? Save your darlings. Don't make them as the first thing in. When you've got some chops, you'll be able to do them justice much better, and it'll feel AMAZING.
A final disclaimer: All of this is meant to be framed, just like the screenshot at the beginning of the thread, as advice for BEGINNER game devs. If you're already making games and you have a method that works out wonderfully for you that is the opposite, keep doing that.
But if we want to get people into this industry we gotta give them tricks to reduce the chance that they'll get disillusioned with their first project, and "just make something and FINISH IT and walk away and then make the next thing" is, in my opinion, the best trick to give.
That was about all I wanted to say on this! I'm sorry for the unsolicited rebuttal if it feels that way, but I've been thinking about this for a long time and you game me the perfect excuse to write it down.
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