It seems like ideas are the game industry's least valuable commodity. Anyone who plays games has what they think is a great idea for a game of their own. Look on any gaming forum and you'll see plenty. GameSpot even has a yearly 'pitch your game idea' contest. Everybody has their dream game floating around in their head.

It makes it kind of... embarassing, then? to have game ideas of your own. Maybe you think an MMO set in the Looney Tunes universe would be awesome. Maybe you think the only thing missing from the field of gaming is a futuristic version of rugby where the players are cyborgs. Maybe you've written out elaborate notes on your ideas for a Civilization/Battlefield/Populace hybrid that lets you control every aspect of a culture, down to jumping into the driver's seat of a jeep on the frontlines of the great clash between the Scottish and the Portugese. Well, okay then, you're no different than anyone else who calls themself a 'gamer.'

Despite the whole practice being tainted with an air of juvenile wish fulfillment, I still keep a game design notebook. Ideas come to me, usually regarding how some player interface or system design thing might work, or maybe the overall mechanics of a potential game concept, or whatever, and I write it down. It could be anything from how a novel RPG skill would work, to a broad approach one might take to a genre game. So I've got these notebooks stacked up, all full of these ideas, and who knows for what reason? I'm not entering a GameSpot contest with them or anything.

Well, I do have reasons. One is that writing out ideas helps you work all the way through the thought, as you wouldn't if you just kept it in your head. Having ideas written down helps to develop them over time, as you can go back, read over an idea you've written down, and maybe rethink it after leaving it for a while. Another, I guess, is for personal posterity, sort of. I feel like someday it might come in handy to have this stockpile of ideas to draw from. That's the optimistic viewpoint.

I have a couple guidelines. I try to keep my notes concrete, directly addressing how specific systems would work. Some broader "design philosophy" items can be good to, just as a way of grounding your approach. And if I have a nice "wouldn't it be cool if..." idea, I won't bar myself from writing it down. But my main goal is to keep the content within the realm of game design, as opposed to Cool Game Ideas.

The practice came about when I noticed the majority of the notes in my general writing/concept idea journal turning into game-related ideas. It grew naturally out of my process of keeping a sketchbook and a writing notebook, and it's something I guess I do for personal satisfaction, but I started to wonder if real game designers did this, or if it was common in the industry, or what. Not long ago I read an interview with the creator of Diablo, and he mentioned that he keeps a game design notebook, and described it (briefly) as essentially the same as mine. That was heartening. I do still wonder just how many designers keep something like this. It would be really interesting to page through a prominent designer's game notebook. I enjoy seeing and collecting artists' sketchbooks and preparatory work, and I have a feeling a writer would find the notebooks of an accomplished novelist or poet to be fascinating. I bet filmmakers keep something like this. I've seen storyboards drawn by some prominent directors, and they're really interesting.

Well, now I'm just daydreaming. Keep a notebook, it's good for the soul.

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