When you’re a designer, or especially a designer/programmer or a designer/artist working on your own games, then you need to be organized. Or at least I do. I have so many ideas running around my brain, most of them useless but some of them gold nuggets. The ones that are good I need to make sure that they get captured. And the ones that aren’t good? Well…we can write those down too in hope that they’ll eventually bring along their good-idea friends too.
When I was originally typing this article up, I had listed my 4 Rules for taking great notes. However I realized that they should really be guidelines, because although they work for me, something different or some variation may work for you. Nevertheless, here is how a pro game designer fills his notebooks.
Guideline #1: No idea is too small
Above is a picture of some different characters I’ve thought about having in a game I’m working on. It’s very freeform, I just kind of went where I was thinking, left, right, up and down. Whatever game to mind I sketched it up, took some notes, and threw it in.
You never know where big ideas are going to come from. Some ideas have hit me and I think, “Wow! That’s a big idea!” only to later wake up and, after breakfast, realize that meh, maybe it wasn’t such a big idea. Other ideas start small and are cultivated. I didn’t think much of them at first, but as I keep thinking about it they grow to drive an entire month’s worth of work.
So to make sure that I’m not missing out on anything, I try to make at least a small note about everything that could remotely be interesting. My recent play experience in Mario Galaxy and what I thought was wrong with it. How I want the intro to my game to be like my lunch at In-N-Out Burger. An idea that I got while reading Dracula that I think could work into my current project. Anything goes!
The key is that there is plenty of time to look at ideas, develop, and discard them. But there is only a moment to capture them at first. Drawings, illustrations, quotes, thoughts. Any one of them could be the diamond in the rough, so dig it up now to polish and take a look later.
Guideline #2: Information that is recorded is only useful if you can find it
That is a picture of the table of contents of my notebook. Yes, I have a table of contents. If you plan out all you levels, write all your crazy promotion ideas, and scatter around character write ups, then it’s going to be long. So when you need to remember whether or not you decided that Jovi was going to be the 3rd boss or the 4th boss, you need to be able to find his page.
I got my note organization strategy from author Tim Ferriss, and it works really well. The process is:
- Dedicate the first and second pages of each notebook to being a table of contents
- Assign a general theme or idea to each page
- On a corner of each right-hand page, write 1, 2, 3, etc
- On the corner of each left hand page, write 1.5, 2.5, 3.5 to correspond with its other side
- Write the theme or idea at the top of each page
With some luck, each of my notebooks ends up with a really useful directory structure so I can find what I need when I need it.
Guideline #3: Designer’s Notebooks are fun. Have fun with it!
I’m a big fan of opening a blank page and letting my ideas run wild. I try to be liberal with paper and grab a new page when I feel like I have a jumping off point that’s different enough. There’s just something about going at a project with all your creative juices that makes it an entralling experience, where you feel like anything is possible.
So don’t limit yourself. I try not to label my notebooks or put a title on each page until after they’re filled, because I don’t want to box my mind in. The creative part of your brain doesn’t work in a logical fashion. So don’t stifle it by insisting that everything be in the right order, in nice lists, or anything like that.
Here are some of the things I’ve written up in my current notebook:
- Character ideas
- World ideas
- Platform and distribution ideas
- Base Mechanics
- Aesthetic Layout ideas
- Random drawings
- Quotes and inspiration
- Intro Experience concepts
- Whatever else I think might be useful
And what order are they in? None whatsoever. But that’s what the table of contents is for.
Guideline #4: Right brain creativity must turn into left brain action at some point
While drawing pictures and brainstorming is fun, it’s always only the first 20% or so of a game project or design. At some point action needs to be taken. That idea, that drawing, that concept needs to be made before anyone will care about it or pat you on the back. No one, not even designers in the game industry, get paid for just coming up with ideas.
So when I know that an idea, a page, or a concept is finalized and it is definitely the way to go, I write something like the following:
Next Steps: Get prototype up and running by 12/15
Or something along those lines. The point is to turn the idea into action and hold myself accountable. By setting a simple goal I make sure that the game is going to be made and that I’ll be able to share my idea with more people than happen to pick up my notebook.
If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving a comment below!
What note taking or creative guidelines do you use during your brainstorm stage?