Your Game Doesn’t Have a Theme? It’s Game Over for You
In my quest to becoming a game designer I started reading blogs, forums and even books (I am not much of a book reader so that is a big deal for me). It soon became clear to me that good games, successful games, are all about creating essential experiences for the player. An experience that has to be new and yet familiar at the same time. A relatable experience that creates joy and amusement.
In order to create these experiences not only do you have to focus on the 4 Elements of Game Design but you also need a Theme. Yeah, you learned in fifth grade, what a theme is and how it is implemented in story telling. But did you know when it comes to game design having a theme can makes those essential experiences truly unique and powerful? Just follow these simple steps.
First – Pick a Theme
Choosing a theme might be hard at first. You might have an idea for a game that you believe to be the next hit due to its unique and innovative approach to game mechanics. Heck, you might even have the story and technology (you have read the 4 Elements to Game Design right?) in place to create this masterpiece. But, what is its theme? For that matter, What is the theme of any game?
In short “The theme is what your game is about.” (Jesse Schell)
It is the single most important idea you can ever come up as a game designer for your game. It brings all the elements together, it forms your game, from beginning to the end. It is the idea that you work so hard to support using all the game deign elements. And if you don’t have a theme or don’t know what your theme is, chances are, you have failed and it is game over for you as a game designer.
Okay, you don’t have a theme yet? And that is fine, don’t go pulling your hair out. You want to know why?
Because as you start developing your game and putting the pieces together, you will come across the theme that is going implode your mind and give life to your baby. But remember this, the sooner you pick your theme the easier your life is going to be. Having a theme in place would allow for you to implement the concepts that are true to your theme. And anything else that doesn’t fit in with your theme is garbage and gets tossed.
Having this freedom to pick all the concepts that add life and reinforce your theme will allow for you to focus all your resources on the matching concepts and not waste energy designing a game that is B to the O-ring. Which brings me to the second step.
Second Step – Reinforce by any means necessarily
Thats right, reinforce your theme by any means necessarily. Reinforce the theme as much as you can, from the beginning to the end, every chapter, every mission, every corner, every character, every enemy, every little dialogue, every icon, spell, weapon or piece of armor. And when you think you are done, guess what? You have got some reinforcing to do. The more reinforce your theme in your game the better the experience it will create for the player.
Think about your favorite game for a second. Can you clearly identify its theme? Chances are if it is your favorite game, it is addictive and has created a wonderful experience for you. Therefore identifying its theme should be very easy, because they did their job right. Is you favorite game “Call of Duty”? Is it “The Sims”? Or maybe you are like me and you are loving “Little Big Planet”. Every little detail in the game seems to support the theme, doesn’t it?
What is the best kind of the theme for game design?
The best kind of themes are the themes that are relatable by everyone, kids, adults, men and women. A theme that we hold dear to our hearts and against all odds wish it to be true. A relatable theme can truly move us and affect us deeply.
Ever wonder why comic books and superheros are so popular? What are their themes? Lets be honest, we all secretly or openly wish to be superheros, we wish to triumph over evil and above all, we wish to kick ass. Then we got the ever so cliche “Love triumphs all” sort of theme that has been beaten to death in just about every movie ever made. To refresh your memory on this theme, just think about the “Titanic” and “The Notebook”. The simple fact that people want to believe “Love is all you need”, creates a superb and emotional experience for the audience.
These are two examples of the hundreds of thousands of relatable themes out there that can help form the essential experiences of your game. But keep in mind you gotta innovate and bring a fresh perspective to the table or else a very familiar theme can actually backfire and turn people away from your game.
A theme can transform your game from a craft and a hobby to a piece of art. Use it early, use it always. (Source: Farshid Palad)