[Updated: 13 Dec 2011 - Additional exercise examples from 2011.]
Each week in our Core team meeting, I give the team an exercise. I roughly target them to take between 5 and 15 minutes. I’ve found the process to be beneficial on the whole and a good bit of fun. Basically, at the end of our meeitng, I explain the exercise, then people group up (usually around 2-4 people), write down their answers and give them to me on their way out. I write up all the answers afterward and send them all out to the whole team. It’s a pretty simple process.
I think doing these kinds of exercises helps:
- To get different people to work together, if even just for a few minutes. People have a tendency to stick with the people they work with in their project groups. This gives everyone a small chance to interact with someone different and share thoughts and ideas.
- To exercise the brain and think about something different. A bit of something random helps break people out of whatever they’re stuck in and “cleanse the palette” a bit.
- And often, the exercises help to remind us that ultimately we are all Game Developers. We may focus on Engines or Tools or UI or Usability, but ultimately we make games. And it’s easy to narrow your focus over time and forget that.
Here are some of the exercises we’ve done recently:
- Name three ways that our model of the world is out-of-date and how is that reflected in what you do?
- Sketch a design of a 3D adventure-style game. Constraint: You have no collision intersection information.
- Sketch a design of a game that unique identifies each person in your group. i.e. We should be able to infer who the game is about from the description of the game (without mentioning them explicitly.)
- Sketch a design of a game based on making new friends on the internet. Constraints: Game happens in only one room and is playable in four combinations of: Same place, same time; Same place, different time; Different place, same time; Different place, different time.
- Sketch a design of a multiplayer game. Number of players is however many people in your group. Constraints: Each player must have opposing, but overlapping goals. The only (direct) inter-player communication allowed is a color change. Outline a possible winning strategy for each player.
- Sketch a design of a game specifically for the Core team to play. The catch? It has to be something that Mike Day and Al Hastings *specifically* would want play. [ed. Both members of the Core team.]
- Sketch a design of a game based on dividing the game industry into factions. (e.g. Casual and AAA; Artists, Programmers and Designers) Use a metaphor that represents the industry (but cannot literally be game industry.)
- Define three things that you would want to tax/challenge internally for these different departments: Design, Art, Gameplay and Animation. How could you reward that specifically?
- Sketch a design of a game that applies location-based games/entertainment to virtual spaces. Both inter-game and intra-game. E.g. Foursquare between games. Or Color within a game.
Here are some additional examples from 2011:
- Get into pairs. Talk about what you do. What would you do if that thing became commodity? (i.e. there was a cheap, ubiquitous solution available for it) How would you then raise the bar? Then what if *that* thing became commodity? Repeat until out of ideas.
- Pick something that people don’t understand well or that you find difficult. Sketch a game that teaches the concept. Examples: Discrete Fourier Transform or Architectural Composition.
- Game sketch. You have all the data from Wikipedia. But you cannot use any of the text from it in the game.
- Consider issues which you have hit in the last week or two. What metrics, if available on some kind of dashboard, would have significantly reduced the time to resolve them.
- Apply the lesson of Kindle highlighting to games and tools.
- No meetings, no email. (1) What problems do they solve? (2) What would be (practical) alternatives?
- Pre-mortem: (Imagine yourself a few months from now, what do you think could possibly happen…) Top Five – What went right? What went wrong?
- “What I learned this year that makes me better at my job every day…”
You may also be interested in checking out these books:
- Challenges for Game Designers by Brenda Brathwaite
- Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo
Every exercise doesn’t work for everyone. Some people like the more open-ended ones. Some people prefer puzzles with well-defined constraints. I don’t expect to find the “perfect set” of exercises. I’ll just keep adapting, taking feedback and have fun with it. But I don’t think a week has gone by where I haven’t learned or been surprised by something that came out of this.