You Can Design, But Can you Edit Edit Edit?
One of the most fun but also difficult things about games like PONGS and BREAKSOUT is that they very specifically require me to do that thing all those very smart and established game designers are always saying: “have lots of ideas” “ideas are a dime a dozen” “ideas ideas ideas”. So while holidaying in Malta I had a bunch of ideas for versions of BREAKOUT and wrote them in my notebook.
But the other sad thing about having lots of ideas is that you have to edit them, because, between you and me, they aren’t all gold. Thus, out of about 40 versions of BREAKOUT I had in the notebook I had to drop around 15-20 of them and come up with new ideas to build back up to 36 (my magical number for this game).
It’s kind of painful admitting to yourself that a design idea (even a tiny little one like the BREAKSOUT games) is kind of terrible or, even worse, just mediocre. Working on BREAKSOUT means having that feeling many, many times in quick succession. So, for example, I dropped things like GHOST BREAKOUT because it was just a derivative idea from PONGS (being derivative of myself no less!), dropped NARRATIVE BREAKOUT because it sucked and was boring, dropped REAL PHYSICS BREAKOUT 2 because I don’t know what the hell I meant by it, and so on and so forth. Painful admissions all.
But in all cases I usually came up with something better. Or sometimes came up with something slightly better, then edited that one out as well, then came up with something actually better. So it works out – that magical number 36 means you have no choice but to turn the crank handle until all your ideas are strong. (Where ‘strong’ means simply that I find them successfully amusing.)
The happiest story in all this was actually GHOST BREAKOUT. The original idea was just the same as in PONGS: you start playing with a semi-transparent paddle and it turns out the paddle is a ‘ghost’ and the ball goes right through it. Hilarity ensues. I realised I could replace this with… GHOST BREAKOUT, in which Unchained Melody starts playing and an invisible and loving force helps to guide your paddle to the right place.
All of this is called game design.