With the huge number of games now available on the market, there’s a lot of work that goes into coming up with a unique game design. We heard from the independent game developer, Garrett Williams, about how he uses MindMeister and G Suite to generate his designs and plan out his game development.
Building a Game with Mind Maps
We’ve spoken a few times on this blog before about the proven role of mind mapping in sparking creativity, but it’s always great to hear from users about how they’re putting this creativity into action. We spoke with Garrett Williams, owner of Tons of Hun Studios, about how he’s doing just that.
Thanks for joining us Garrett! Could you start by giving us an overview of your work as a game developer?
Sure, in short, I’m an indie game developer. That means that I’m the sole developer and owner of my company, Tons of Hun Studios. I do all of the aspects of game development on my own, from the art and design work to the programming and the sound effects. This gives me the creative freedom to design and build my own games entirely from scratch, which I love.
What’s your favorite type of game to play and design?
My favorite games to play and develop are creative games. Right now, I’d say my top game is Overwatch. The complex design of the characters, gameplay, maps, and storyline make it a lot more than just a game, it’s another world. I aim to make games that are creative in similar ways. I either put the gameplay mechanics in a different environment or put a new spin on the genre.
One of my favorite games I’ve made is Teddy Bears Vs. Bed Buds. I’m a big fan of tower defense games, so I wanted to make one that was slightly different. I decided on a game that’s set on top of a bed, where you build stuffed animals to attack the enemy bed bugs from getting to the sleeping child.
What are the stages you go through to design a game?
Well, the first step is getting my concept for the game. I was laying in my bed (fortunately without the bed bugs) when I came up with the Teddy Bears Vs. Bed Bugs concept.
Once I’ve come up with a concept, the next step is the organization and planning of development stage. I write down all the ideas I have in a mind map and choose the best concepts, which fit together nicely, from there. This stage of only choosing the best parts is a stage that lots of developers find difficult. In game design, we have something called “Scope Creep”, where you essentially keep adding layer upon layer to your game and never end up finishing. This is the first stage where I find using a mind map particularly useful.
Within MindMeister, I can have all of my ideas in one place, so I can see what links together most sensibly and cut down on the rest. The aim is to limit your ideas to only the stuff that’s essential for release. Afterall, you can always add stuff later within further updates. I begin my mind map with the following template:
To use the template mind map, simply sign into MindMeister (or sign up free) and maximize the map via the ‘map actions’ icon. Once maximized, click again on the ‘map actions’ icon and choose to clone the map. From there, edit or embellish the topics to make the map suitable for your project.
How do you remain focused during the planning stage?
Before I found MindMeister, I’d put all of my ideas on paper or into online documents. This worked okay but as I’m a very visual person, so I found this unorganized and difficult to follow. I decided to look for something that would allow me to not only track all of my ideas but organize them in an appealing way. That’s where I found MindMeister.
Mind maps are a great way for me to visualize all of my ideas and organize them into categories, like gameplay, artwork, and sound. I can organize these even further into subcategories, such as UI, 3D Models, and background music. MindMeister gives me the freedom to organize it as I like, while providing the necessary features to express my ideas. Below you can see how a plan, in this case, an upcoming game on bees, begins to develop.
MindMeister has made the whole planning process of my games a lot easier and more fun. No one really wants to spend hours planning their game, when they could be making it. However, because MindMeister is so intuitive and its features are so visual, planning a game is now more exciting. After I’ve finished my mind map, I get a much better idea of what my game will actually be like and it remains as a resource to return to during the development stage.
Do any particular features or integrations help?
For storage and collaboration, I love using G Suite, particularly Google Drive, so the integration with MindMeister is great. Not only is it easy for me to store files, such as concept art, references or documents, but I also have access to them from mobile and desktop platforms. It’s very convenient to be able to access these directly from the mind map. It also leaves me rest-assured that my work is auto-saved via the MindMeister servers, as well as on Google Drive, so I won’t lose anything. I hope to start collaborating with a team in the future and I think Google Drive will be perfect for that too, allowing the easy sharing and co-editing of files.
Although I haven’t used it extensively, I also think MeisterTask is a great tool for game development teams. Being able to take your MindMeister project and in just a few clicks, share all of the tasks at hand with your team, is very convenient. This way everyone is on the same page and can see the real progress of the game.
I really like the ability to add images to my ideas. Even mind maps are still a bunch of text, and having the ability to embed pictures, like concept artwork and inspiration, into the ideas, makes it much easier to look at and get a good overview of development, at a glance. It also makes it easier to find things, as I can quickly locate my ideas on environments, characters, and UI design. In addition, all of this can be done either via my desktop or via my mobile device. Below, for example, is how the above mind map looks on my Android device:
Once the game is all planned out, how do you go about building it?
After your game is planned out, it’s time to build it! If you’re making a game that is completely new with no existing similar concept, it’s best to prototype the idea first, to check that it’s actually fun. Prototyping is essentially testing the most basic version of your game, to test whether the concept is good. It’s not worth pursuing a game idea when the most basic gameplay isn’t actually fun.
When prototyping, you make a game that represents your core idea. If I was prototyping Mario, for example, I would make a game with a character that can move and jump, and could kill enemies if it landed on them. I wouldn’t even include art or music in the prototyping stage, because you may find that certain mechanics aren’t functional, which means you may never use those assets. Once the prototype is coded, it’s time to test and evaluate the validity of the idea.
Normally, I get all of the coding and mechanics done first as I like to see my game work as early as possible. I work with the Unity game engine, coding in C#. I find that Unity has a lot of useful features to make implementing mechanics easier (especially 2D). C# is a solid language that not only works well with Unity but has other capabilities, like Desktop Application development. After I program the gameplay and have tested to see whether it’s fun to play, I move onto the artwork, the design, and the polish. Since I consider myself a programmer by trade, this part usually takes me a while, but I still enjoy it.
After all of this is done, I play and test the game a lot, trying to find and eliminate any bugs. Finally, at this point, I’m ready to release my game!
Once your games are ready, how do you get the word out about them?
As of right now, all my games are available to play for free on web game sites like Kongregate and Game Jolt. I make a little bit of money each time an ad plays before the game loads.
However, promotion is arguably the most difficult part of development. You can make a great game, but if you don’t market it right, no one will know. On these websites, typically you get a boost at release from the new games category, but it normally declines from that point. That’s why I find it’s important to market your game on social media, like Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and by blogging.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up that we should look out for?
Some of the pictures you’ve seen above are of the mind map for my next game, currently named “Project: Bee Tycoon”. It’s similar to web games like Corporation Inc. and Theme Hotel, except themed around bees. I’m still at the very early stages of development, but if you want more info, be sure to follow my Twitter and Instagram.
A big thanks to Garrett for sharing his workflow with us. You can check out more of his work via his blog, Tons of Hun Studios.