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So I Have To Make A Game In 9 Weeks...
Here's the story. There's a competition this summer called Dare to be Digital. The idea is that teams of 5 students without much industry experience pitch an idea and a dev plan for a new game. Then if the organisers like it and think you can actually make it, they fund your accommodation and pay you a fair bit to go to sunny Dundee, Scotland and work on it full time for 9 weeks.

I've got a team together and we're wondering what game to make. I think they're looking for original ideas, unique gameplay, and a realistic scope of project. I don't think they're really interested in a generic shooter, even if it was very well executed.

One previous winner was Ragnarok, a 3rd person game where you control a character using a guitar hero controller, and when you encounter monsters you have to beat them by copying the notes they play and out-soloing them. Very cool. Another winner was a game called Climbactic, a 2-player cell shaded game where you control characters trying to climb up terrain with cliffs and boulders blocking their path. You have a rope and have to use physics effectively to get up, it's a very clean simple idea.

I've got a few questions:

1. We're looking into affordable engine licenses for whatever game we decide to make. The budget is only �200, so we can't use the Unreal 3 engine. Does anyone have experience with the open-source/cheap engines such as Instinct Studio (actually a complete dev platform), Torque, or Ogre, and if so what would you recommend?

2. For those in the know, what would be your advice on pitching a game in a presentation? Should we, say, focus 50% of the time on the game itself, 25% on the marketability, and 25% on the schedule and plan to develop it? What will the game execs listening to our presentation be looking for?

3. Any general tips for when you're trying to develop and decide on game ideas? It's a little messy at the moment. It seems like everyone and their dad has a "killer game idea" they've always wanted to make, but it's usually either completely unfeasible in the time, or just plain bad. Any tips for inspiration? I'm thinking mainly gameplay/game ideas here, the plot/style is secondary I think.

Finally, if anyone has any gameplay ideas they'd like to share, I'd love to hear them. I especially like games that use time/physics/gravity in a way that hasn't been done before. Thanks!
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A Few Gameplay/physics Ideas I;ve Been Thinking On... 
Just to start the ball rolling, here's a couple of things i've been thinking about, although they're pretty embryonic right now:

- What would it be like if you expanded the cursor 10 concept to a full FPS setting? You could launch multiple times into the same level (like racing game 'ghost cars') and your previous versions could be pressing buttons and shooting targets for you. Enemies with a.i are a problem though.

- A game where you have no offensive weapons, only gravity/magnetic effects guns could be interesting. That way you'd have to kill the enemies only by throwing them into the void/into a trap.

Could use something simple like an air gun to push some monsters out, but maybe metal bad guys would only be affected by the electromagnet gun. One gun I had in my head was the 'Planet-Shrinker' which would launch a small ball into mid-air, and everything but you in it's near proximity would start to orbit it. Maybe on it's own it would only buy you time, but launch it next to a 'black hole' and the planet is sucked into nothingness, taking it's satellites with it.

- Another variation on this is having guns that are affected by magnetic fields clearly indicated in the environment. So, you can see there's some sort of magnet thing going on, and it means that if you shoot forward, it's going to arc to the right, so you have to start compensating. This would be pretty satisfying, like having to hit targets only with ricochets

- I don't know where I'm going at all with this brain-fart, but since the whole bullet-time thing has been pretty overdone, has anyone considered situations where speeding up time could be a useful game mechanic? Maybe only useful if the game was about how rocks erode or something. Hmm.

I'll probably think of some more later, that's enough for now. 
What about the Q3 engine? It's GPL and creating content is relatively easy.

Planet-Shrinker: jump puzzle? Grab some item to orbit the ball yourself, then speed up time until you've gained enough momentum and release to be catapulted over an obstacle? 
The Q3 engine would suit pretty well, I think.

Exec's want to see high quality artwork, even if its concepts that won't be seen in the finished game. They don't care so much about a clever piece of programming or design, they want to look at pretty pictures. Knowing your work that shouldn't be taxing.

Concepts are also good, but only alongside the aforementioned good artwork. A well drawn character throwing a box at another and killing him in storyboard form would work well because it shows a solved problem in a visually complete way.

I'd be wary of "additional ideas" penciled into margins because they'll assume you're not happy with the main idea, or that you haven't thought it through enough.

As to what game concept to make, it's a competition based on concept so you don't have to follow the industry standard of "copy game X" you have to have a great concept. I'd avoid FPS's because they've been done alot and for them to function now, to an exec, it means years and years of dev ie. a massive risk.

I'd suggest something third person based around a single strong idea which is based within an integral part of the gameplay. Keep it as basic as you can - it'll get complex faster than you can blink.

A rough idea might be - battle chess where you fight in an arena when two pieces meet, armed with close combat attacks.

That sounds like a simple idea but that's enough to keep a ten strong team busy for a good dev cycle, depending of course on how much they limit themselves - only 2D, cellshaded 3D etc.

Hope that helps. 
What's Your Team Like? 
You don't have much time so go with something that makes good use of your team's strengths.

Don't spend/waste too much time thinking, pitch the ideas you have now to each other and pick the most promising, have the others improve those ideas. If not entirely unrealistic make quick prototypes of the top ideas and then focus on the one showing most promise. Iterate.

Hmm now that I re-read your post was the idea to just have a game concept after five weeks and nothing playable?

In any case I do believe in the iterative natural selection approach of ideas and prototypes instead of spending lots of time on polishing your first turd of a game design. 
Re: Bear 
Thanks for the feedback. To answer your questions, our team is three 3rd year computer science students, one guy doing physics/computer science and computer graphics student. So 4 out of 5 can code, one guy is especially interested in getting some cool physics on the go, and 2 of us (me and the graphics guy) have previous experience in graphic design and 2d/3d artwork.

I think I didn't explain the time frame very clearly... when the competition starts, we would have 9 weeks to make the game, but we have to come up with concepts and pitch the idea first, and then go through the interview/pitch phase where we'd show the execs our concept/plan. We don't even have to get the application form in until the 15th of April, so we've actually got a lot of time to come up with concepts and ideas.

I like your idea of the evolutionary process. We were currently going for something similar: the plan right now is for each of us to come up with 20 rough game ideas each, nothing too thought through or fancy, and in 2 weeks we'll collect them all together, giving us 100 ideas to think about. The next step in the plan is to look at all the ideas and try mashing the best ones together, and see if we get anything we like. Then take the best ones from that and develop them all a bit. Is that similar to what you were suggesting? 
Re: Ijed (and Neg|ke) 
The Q3 engine is definitely worth thinking about, thanks for the suggestion. We'll have to give everything a try out soon to decide what works best for us. Also, neg|ke, I like the Planet-Shrinker idea, cool stuff.

Ijed, thanks for all the pitching tips, I'm definitely taking all that on board. I'm glad you think execs actually care about the artwork in the pitch, because I love that stuff, comic strip panels to explain the gameplay, maybe an animation or two, concept art, logos etc.

I liked the specific advice such as that 3rd person games are a good way to go, especially those with one original idea that affects the gameplay, one idea to really focus on. I'd never really thought about how focusing on too many ideas would dilute the impact of the concept, and it's good to bear that in mind.

Point taken on not picking too wide a scope too. That's something they apparently really worry about and actively mention on their site: the likelihood that you can actually make your concept. I like the idea of coming up with a simple original idea and just making a small sized game around it, making sure it's really polished and coherent and plays well. Same with the looks as well, I feel like we should be going for something polished and stylised, but nothing overly detailed or complex.

I'm actually quite hyped up already, as you can probably tell... 
How About 
the whole game happening on a huge planet that is shrinking constantly and you have to battle for survival space?

It might be shooter or even RTS style... Or multiplayer? Q3 might be useful.

Some math and physics there for the sphere mapping and gravity too.

I have to say Mario Galaxies (?) influenced this idea a bit though. There the boss fights happen on a sphere that has a diameter about ten times the player height and you can run around it any way you want.

You could have bodies of water with waves and floods and volcanoes shaping the landscape too.

Of course, all that is not very simple. :( 
How About 
A sims-like game, where instead of people or a city or a nation, you have to build and manage a galaxy? Set up clusters of dust in strategic spots of certain elements to fuel your galaxy, protect them from asteroids sent from other galaxies/part of space, manage your planet orbits/mass to balance gravitational pulls, ignite gaseous stars to create suns and give life to your galaxy.

Or not. What the fuck do I know. 
Games Industry Vet In Da House! 
1. We're looking into affordable engine licenses for whatever game we decide to make. The budget is only �200, so we can't use the Unreal 3 engine. Does anyone have experience with the open-source/cheap engines such as Instinct Studio (actually a complete dev platform), Torque, or Ogre, and if so what would you recommend?

Best Advice: Decide the game you're making first, then decide on an engine. An engine is a tool toward creating a game, a means to an end, so you should consider what you want to make, and then find which is the best tool for the job. I would honestly avoid Quake3 or Ogre engine unless you're planning to build a 3d action/shooter type game.

As for recommendations, I've fooled around a bit with Construct, which is a decent little development studio. This would be great for creating a simple prototype to help demonstrate or test ideas.

I've also played with the XNA Framework, which is more likely to be of use for a fully featured game. Some nice strengths are that it's designed specifically for Windows / Xbox360 and there is a ton of documentation.

2. For those in the know, what would be your advice on pitching a game in a presentation? Should we, say, focus 50% of the time on the game itself, 25% on the marketability, and 25% on the schedule and plan to develop it? What will the game execs listening to our presentation be looking for?

Presenting your idea is not presenting your design doc. Your entire goal is to convince them that the project you will be doing will be profitable when completed and completable within your timeframe.

So you'll actually want to spend only about 15% of your time actually explaining the mechanics of the game, just enough so it's understood what it is you're making. The rest of the time, you spend on explaining the 'hooks' of the game, it's unique selling points which will draw consumers toward your product. You will want to spend time explaining how it fits in the marketplace and what competition you'd face, and how your product will be superior. Spend some time also to explain what sort of plan you have to create your game, and any risks that would be present as well as your plans to mitigate such risk.

You'll notice I referred to your game as a 'product'. Get used to it. At the end of the day, this is what these execs are looking at, what product they will be shipping and what sortt of return they'd get on their money. This isn't to say that you shouldn't be passionate about how fun the game will be or it's creative aspects, but that's not the focus here.

3. Any general tips for when you're trying to develop and decide on game ideas? It's a little messy at the moment. It seems like everyone and their dad has a "killer game idea" they've always wanted to make, but it's usually either completely unfeasible in the time, or just plain bad. Any tips for inspiration? I'm thinking mainly gameplay/game ideas here, the plot/style is secondary I think.

The other day on the way to lunch, Lunaran was talking about taking the fundimental gameplay of classic games (like astroids, or whatever), and doing that gameplay in a new way so that it's not specifically noticible that you lifted the gameplay. This is the standard approach in the game's industry, due to it's advantage of being easy to see the marketibility of such games.

My own thoughts for becoming inspired for creating games is to look at the world around you, and think of how normal situations could be fun. The example of that climbing game is a great example of this.

A thought I have for a game revolves around helping a blind man walking down the street. You don't directly control the man, but you play the 'hand of god', and move objects and etc other such things so the man avoids deadly disasters. Open Manhole cover? Throw a trampoline down it so he bounces back up. Or place a peice of wood on it. or tie a pillow to a nearby wreaking ball and swing it so it knocks the old man over the hole. The game would be kinda like Mr. Magoo :) 
Oh, I Also Wanted To Mention: 
I recommend the book 'Chris Crawford on Game Design'. Chris is an old school designer from back in the Atari days, and was the founder of the GDC. He covers alot of the questions you ask, and shares a ton of his personal stories from the games he made. 
Good idea! I like it, but as you say it might be difficult to execute. Definitely something to think about throwing in the mix.

That idea sounds like it would be good for a multitouch screen system... throwing dust here or there, aligning orbits, moving stars... I imagine a really cool particle system behind it and not many on screen menus or instructions, just really minimalistic. There's no restrictions on what controller we use, people have used the keyboard, xbox controllers and guitar hero controllers before. Maybe something could be done with the wiimote.

Thanks for the in-depth replies dude, they are very much appreciated.

I take your point on deciding on the game before choosing the engine. The Construct development studio looks really good for prototyping stuff, maybe we could make a video using that which we could show in our presentation too. I looked up the XNA framework and I'm still a little unclear about what it has in it... I like that it can export either a PC game or an Xbox game pretty easily and that it has same good content management stuff in it, but I can't tell if it has it's own rendering engine? I saw a couple of engines like Suva3d and TorqueX which apparently run on XNA, but it didn't look too good.

I'm beginning to finally understand what the pitching process is all about, and it makes sense. So basically, we should explain the basics of how the game plays, explain the hooks - the unique selling points, then go into where it fits in the market, and why it would sell very well. Is it a good idea to step back and come up with game ideas by looking at the market first? How do you go about finding what would sell? Is it as simple as looking through the charts and the magazines, or are there shelves stacked high with pie-charts and graphs everyone looks at?

Your game idea reminds me of one of the previous winners in the competition actually, a game called Bear Go Home. The idea is that there's an adorable bear you have to control, but you can't move him directly, you actually control a firefly thingy that can pull down on the bear's head to make him squashed, let go to make him jump, you can ping his tail to make him run forward, you can pull on his mouth to open it, and so on. Also you can move things in the world to help him, like move an umbrella over his head and so on.

I see where Lunaran is coming from... actually one thing I've been looking at a lot is flash games, because they often have more simple and unique gameplay than most stuff that gets a commercial release, and it's good inspiration. In particular, I've thought about extending the Tower Defense format to a full game setting, maybe combining it with a bit of the survival-horror genre, if you can imagine that. The market is undeniable, TD 1.5 is the highest rated game on Kongregate, and just on that site it's got 16,000 ratings and has been played almost 2 million times. Anyway, cheers again. 
Scampie's Idea Is Mighty Cool 
it'd take a huge amount of assets though since elaborate tracks and events would have to be created and lots of buildings and characters, with animations and textures...

Unless you could somehow reuse assets from somewhere like the sims? I don't know...

If your game is more geometric in style and idea then it's possible you don't need so much assets... The same money for much less investment! 
oh dear 
you know I'm a fan of puzzle maps/games. fps without monsters and lots of puzzles/physics was my dream until Portal came out. for now I'm thinking of haunted house game idea where no monsters exist to affect the gameplay but the entire house is alive and scares and tries to kill the player. this should be kinda atmospheric horror game with lots of sounds/effects/physics/dynamic lighting to scare the player instead of monsters. another feature of such game is different types of sight or even movement in different location (rooms). complete chaos everywhere. some time tricks also possible.
that's my idea 
Like the haunted hotel in Vampire: The Masquerade? 
something likу that but even more weird and much longer 
Scampie's Idea Rocks. 
That would be a great game -- you'd have the core gameplay of guiding some Mr. Magoo-esque character, who is given to wandering into trouble, and could have all kinds of side characters and incidents. I'm speaking in general, not just in Starbuck's case. 
reminds me a bit of all those garrys mod videos and the chains of objects triggering each other (can't remember the term for it)... 
You Might Find This Interesting: 
James Salt from DICE talks a bit about their design process for battlefield heroes: 
I Didnt Read It 
"well we liked TF2, and we haven't made an original game since bf1942 so we figured we would just rip valve off totally"

Sorry, its been a long day :/ 
Well It's A Movie Clip 
and it's mostly general dev tips with heroes as an example. 
What happened to this project? 
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