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Why game constraints make you a better game designer

Published:05 Apr 2023Author:HomaRead Time:6 min read

Mobile game design is a complex process. As game designers we’re all striving to create engaging and entertaining experiences for our players.

Often, when starting out a project, setting certain game design constraints can force you into action and get your brain thinking in a different way.

These constraints will set limitations or requirements imposed on you, the game designer, to overcome and help shape the direction and scope of the game.

Design constraints can provide a framework that forces you to work within a defined set of parameters. This framework can actually foster creativity and innovation by providing a structure to work with.

When forcing yourself to work within these specific constraints, you begin to challenge yourself to come up with creative solutions to problems you may not have encountered. It’s a curious and powerful exercise.

Now, it’s important to stress that this is no way meant to hinder any progress at the cost of efficiency, however, it can often lead to unique and exciting gameplay mechanics and features that were never even remotely on your radar.

Working under game design constraints, especially in hybridcasual, hypercasual or casual mobile games, can be a challenging and highly effective way to build up your inventiveness.

We all have our different ways and methods for our game ideation process, and there's really no "one size fits all" or "gold standard approach".

Inside the Homa Academy, we have a vast section of our favourite techniques to assist you in game ideation and how to come up with fresh and unique game ideas.

Game Design Constraints to boost Creativity

To begin, let’s think about what happens when it’s time to start making a new game. Once you have that seed of a new game idea, if you challenge yourself and establish some game design constraints right from the outset, it can have some incredible and powerful “out the box” results.

Remember, treat this as a mindset experiment shift to challenge yourself to think "what if I/we..."

  • Design a game around a specific theme.
  • Enter a Game Jam or set a structured time limit
  • Limit your assets or artwork to only primitive shapes
  • Reduce your colour palette to only 2 or 3 colours

To illustrate the concept, imagine the following as examples to get your creative juices following:

  • Build a game using pirates
  • Build a prototype game in just 48 hours.
  • Build a game using only 2 colours.
  • Build a game using only triangles.

Time limit or specific theme

Game Jams are a great way to encompass these self imposed design constraints. Game Jams were historically set over a 48 or 72 hour period and immediately enforces the timescale you’re able to complete your "bare bones" 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 mobile game developers, especially if you’re making your game as a side hustle, you don’t have any fixed deadlines, it just takes as long as it takes. Right?

This is a sure fire way that most likely your game or prototype 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.

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

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.

Restrictive artwork or assets:

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

The use of primitive shapes is certainly not particularly unusual in mobile game development due to enhanced performance, however, can you push the limits even further to create something truly unique and stylistic?

This typically works best when it comes to your games environment. Whilst we always want to ensure your game remains relatable, there's definitely some room for artistic license here.

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

– Jeff Bezos ( Amazon Founder ).

Limited colour palette

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

The use of colour is always an important factor when it comes to building games as it sets the mood, tone and overall feel alongside re-enforcing your games rules.

In hybridcasual and hypercasual games, high contrasting colours play a vital role not only for your games CPI videos, but also often influences the gameplay itself.

It's important not to stray too far for the sake of constraints, however, it's still a powerful exercise to explore interesting and often unusual outcomes.

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

Perhaps you have a boss level that could benefit from an alternative colour palette to emphasise the distinction?

Final Thoughts

Game design constraints can not only help with ideation, game features and mechanics, but also improve the focus and scope of your game.

As a game designer, too much freedom can often be overwhelming. With unlimited options to explore can sometimes lead to a misdirection and focus from the game's core development.

By providing specific constraints, there is a clear path to follow, allowing you to hone your efforts on the most critical aspects of the game.

It can also save time and resources during the development process when you have a clear set of constraints to work within.

Finally, game design constraints can force innovation by pushing you to think outside the box.

When faced with limitations, you're compelled to find new and creative ways to approach challenges that often lead to innovations and ultimately a better and more engaging game for players to enjoy.

How far you go with the constraints you set yourself is of course, entirely subjective and just another tool to use when developing and designing your hybridcasual, hypercasual or casual mobile game.

Join us inside the Homa Academy!

If you're a mobile game developer interested in Hypercasual, Arcade Idle and Hybridcasual games and would like to take your game building to a whole new level, then join us inside the Homa Academy.

Inside you'll discover our extensive library of training videos, resources and market insights to turbo charge your game development.

Don't forget to head on over to the Homa Academy Community Discord Server for all the latest games to hit the stores, industry insights, game feedback and support for your games.

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