We're Brainstorming Not Barnstorming

Courtesy of  Locate Productions

Courtesy of Locate Productions

Or are we… we do like to fly high and fast after all.

Brainstorming seems like it should be simple. Just think up an idea. A new idea at that. A better idea than any you’ve already had. And do it quick. What could be hard about that?

Quite a bit actually. Which is why we recently had our storyteller Greg lead us in a brainstorming session for what could potentially be our next game. And will definitely be the idea we pitch for a granted offered by Business Finland. It’s an accelerator for Finnish businesses that also assists in companies going international.

So we have to come up with a new game idea. In essence we’ve got clear skies and can go anywhere. But that’s not good or helpful to getting some place, even if the destination is as nebulous as “a game design”. What we needed to do was put some constraints on our imaginations, and since it was a team effort, get everyone flying in the same direction.

How’d we do it?

Post-It Notes. Lots of post-it notes.

Oh, and Greg didn’t have the team jump straight into brainstorming. Rather, we set out to share all of the games we found inspirational. Those ran the gamut from Firewatch, to Kingdom Hearts, to Portal, to Ori and the Blind Forest. They crossed genres, art styles, systems and platforms. On first impression it would be hard to find any connective tissue between those games, but it was there.

Next, everyone had to provide additional things they turn to for inspiration. That included some things like cooking, music, board games, nature, other artists, etc. Nothing really surprising there. But it was a good team building moment as we got to learn a little more about everyone else and what drives them.

The next step, and probably the hardest for everyone, involved writing down things they’d like to see or experience in games. This could include scenes, themes, mechanics, characters, locations, etc. Really any aspect of a game one cares to mention. Of course, what has to be emphasized here is that there are and were no wrong answers.

The final thing for everyone to do was list things they didn’t want to occur in the game. Unlike the previous step, this one resulted in answers almost unanimously focused on mechanics such as shooting, loot boxes, and more. Really the only caveat the team had was that they couldn’t or shouldn’t limit themselves by platform.


We got a plan, now what?

It may not sound like a plan. But we had a bearing. And with that everyone’s imagination was allowed to take flight.

Everyone, with pen and paper in hand, was allowed the time to think of as many or as few ideas as they wanted. They could write a sentence or a story to describe the game they came up with. The only direction, or constraints as Greg likes to call them, were the post-it notes decorating the walls.

It may seem like a lot of information, but everyone was allowed to pick and choose the elements that worked for them. The idea being that everyone had contributed to the direction we were going.

So where does the barn come in?

The barn is the grant application. It’s what we need to hit, but also not crash and burn over. So we need to design a game, and we’re doing that based on the ideas everyone has come up with. Of course, this is just a prototype the grant would be funding so we don’t have to build anything just yet. But by getting us all contributing to and excited by the idea of this game, we’ll be chasing chickens out of the barn at high speed. Or some such metaphor for the efforts we’ve made as a team.

The grant application is due soon. And of course we can’t guarantee we’ll receive it. But should that happen, we’ll be sure to share our prototyping process in future updates.