Game Design Constraints – Why constraints makes you a better game designer

This week on the Podcast

Working under game design constraints, especially in mobile games, can be a challenging but highly effective way to build up your inventiveness.

Often when starting out a project, setting some kind of constraint can force you into action and get your brain thinking in a different way.

So let’s think about what happens when it’s time to start making a new game. Whether you have a new game idea in mind or not, if you challenge yourself and set some game design constraints right from the outset, it can have some incredible and “out the box” results.

Imagine the following as an example

  • “Build a game with only 2 colours”.
  • “Build a game in 48 hours”.
  • “Build a game with only Triangles.

By starting with some constraints in place, whatever they may be, can be a hugely powerful jump point to get those creative juices flowing.

One story sprung to mind as we started discussing the topic today.

Supposedly Ernest Hemingway had a bet some friends that he could write an entire story in just six words. Impossible you may say and this seems like quite a dumb idea.

However, here’s how Hemingway did it:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn

How long it took him to choose those six words is anyone’s guess, but this does demonstrate that often seemingly impossible briefs can get you thinking outside of the box and force you to flex your creative muscles.

When it comes to designing games, constraints are often a fantastic way to generate unique ideas and push beyond boundaries. You need to be a problem solver and stretch the normal, which typically can end up with extraordinary results.

Here’s 4 examples of game design constraints you can try for your next project:

Setting a Time Limit or Specific Theme?

Game Jams are a great way encompass these constraints. Game Jams are usually set over a 48/72 hour period and that immediately enforces the time you’re able to complete the bare prototype.

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

– Parkinson’s Law.

It’s amazing how much you can actually accomplish when you work to deadlines. Often as indie game developers, especially if you’re making your game as a side hustle, we don’t have any fixed deadlines, it just takes as long as it takes.

This is a sure fire way that most likely your game will take way too long or worse still, never get finished at all.

By enrolling in a game jam and taking it seriously, the condensed time frame forces you to take action and think sharp. Even if you’re never going to make a masterpiece in this amount of time, the exercise alone is well worth doing.

Fun Fact:
Chameleon Run ( Apple Design Winner 2017 ) was born in a game jam ( Ludum Dare #26 ).

The game designer, Ján Ilavský, could only use one working hand during the game jam after breaking his arm in a kickbike accident shortly before. Ján is also colour blind and relied on his wife, who went on to pick the pink and yellow look of the game.

Game Jam Entry

Official Release Trailer

A good game jam theme is generally a concept that can be interpreted in many ways be it mechanics, design, game theme.

It should be open to allow ultimate creativity. If you’ve never considered entering one we’d highly recommend it to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Restrictive Artwork or Assets: Shapes

Setting yourself boundaries in terms of graphics is also a great exercise. Limiting the shapes you use to construct your games can really push your creative muscles.

The first few worlds of our game Impossible Caves ( Worldwide Apple Feature ) consisted of just 3 triangles! This has now become somewhat of a meme between myself and Jilly, however, the level design ideas that came from that was just awesome.

One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.

– Jeff Bezos ( Amazon Founder ).

Restrictive Artwork or Assets: Colours

Restricting your colour palette can also be a challenging and surprisingly fun process when it comes to game design constraints.

2 bit maybe?

The use of colour is always a super important factor when it comes to building games as it sets the mood, tone and overall feel. Try it and you’ll be surprised how much influence the colour actually has on your game design!

Often we use colour almost without thinking, it’s an easy way to define areas, show baddies and re-enforce win aspects.

Limiting your options visually here can spawn interesting ideas and create unique design challenges.

I hope that gives you a few ideas to try and build up your creative intelligence, let us know!

Constraints Breed Creativity.

4 Game Design Constraints to boost Creativity

  • Setting a Time Limit or Specific Theme.
  • Enter a Game Jam for structured constraints
  • Limit your assets or artwork to only primitive shapes
  • Reduce your colour palette to only 2 or 3 colours or shades

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