GameDev Thoughts: How To Train Yourself To Think Outside The Box In Game Development

Being an indie game developer is one of the most challenging professions you could ever choose from. Why? Because you are constantly coming up with new ideas and finding new ways to solve problems. Also, because there are no guarantees of success. You’re probably just winging it on a day to day basis. But really, think about how many problems we face and deal with on our day to day life. But how many times do we go out of our way to either solve these problems for ourselves and for others? Seldomly. The most influential people took a common problem and found a better solution to said problem. That is why as a game developers need to be constantly pushing yourself to think outside the norm and to find solutions, not only for yourself, but for your peers. I’m always trying to share as much information as possible for this very reason. For example, let’s say during the process of development you come up with a truly amazing procedural terrain generator. Don’t just keep that to yourself. Show the world!

Remember, to think outside of the box, you must constantly feed the analytical and creative side of your brain. This can be done passively as you listen to intellectual podcasts on your drive or bike ride to work (if you have a day job), or it can be more active like taking apart common household items and putting them back together. Whatever you are doing to fuel that analytical or creative part of your brain make sure you are doing it on a routine basis. If you wake up at 6am every day make sure to flip on that podcast before you go out on that run. Think of the brain as a muscle that constantly needs to be worked on in order to improve. Always seek to find differing opinions from other people as well. Steer clear from people who always agree with your ideas — the biggest quantum leaps in growth for me personally have been contentions from other people. Solve puzzles and word problems. To push your game development abilities to the next level, you can easily turn mental exercises into a hobby. Set a goal for yourself to beat a certain number of levels in a puzzle game every day — perhaps even right before you start coding.

Challenge yourself as a game developer to do something you would not normally do in order to broaden your scope of knowledge. Have you tried painting, sampling music, or voice acting? Each of these professions works at solving problems on a day to day basis. As a painter you need the right tools, what instruments work with which medium, and what is the inspiration for your next piece. Without all of this and an artistic hand, you are doomed to fail as a painter. As a person who samples music you need the right equipment, you need to understand what music sounds right together and how to piece music together the right way. And lastly, as someone who does voice acting you need to understand the tonal inflections and phrases of people of different races, genders, and nationalities. Your range of voices should be diverse and you will need to understand how different people sound when exhibiting different emotions. Each of these professions takes skill, but most importantly, they take practice.

As a game developer your work will not be that much different than if you were actually a painter. You will need to know how to transform tools into technology. How to make software do what you want it to and when you want it to on command. You are a creator and an innovator that can manipulate your environment using code. To think outside the box as a game developer, you need to constantly be teaching yourself how to think. You will need to glean from thought leaders in your industry new perspectives and not be afraid to take risks with unconventional pathways or methods.

Pushing yourself as a game developer is simply not thinking about new ways to slice an onion. It is thinking about ways to substitute that onion for something else, ways to get that onion to slice itself, and to elevate your idea of the word “slice”. Once you think that you have come up with every idea possible, it is time to enhance that idea even more and to consider the practicality of that idea. Thinking outside the box means creating something both novel and comprehensible. Remember that the best game ideas are the ones that actually work well when it gets past the idea phase.

Important Takeaways: As a game developer, you need to expand your way of thinking in order to grow. Listen to podcasts, solve puzzles on a daily basis, and most importantly, try to do something out of your comfort zone every day. Finding new ways to solve a particular problem is the heart of a good game developer. Being open to new ideas and willing to test new methods is what separates mediocre game developers from great ones.