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September 13, 2011 / Abe Pralle

Effective Solo Brainstorming

I’ve recently become a lot better at solo brainstorming.  It’s always been fun to brainstorm with other people and bounce ideas off each other (“oh, it’d be cool if XYZ!”) but for a while there I hadn’t had the opportunity to do that and so I’d just kinda stopped brainstorming in any productive way.  It took me a while to realize that fact, but once I did I also realized I needed to figure out some way to become a more effective solo brainstormer

Rubber Ducky Debugging

I took a cue from the Rubber Ducky Debugging technique.  The trick behind RDD is to explain your programming problems to an inanimate object (say, a rubber ducky).  While it can be hard spot the logic error when your thoughts are just swirling around in your head, once you’ve laid out the problem in black and white – as if explaining it to someone – you’ll usually spot the solution yourself.  It totally works!  I’ve used it many a time – though often it’s been “Instant Messenger To An Away Friend Debugging”, where I’ll type out my problem to a friend who’s AFK and then I’ll figure out the problem before they get a chance to say anything back.


So here’s the trick: for effective solo brainstorming just open up a text editor or word processor and have a conversation with yourself.  Start rambling on about your game.  Type out questions and blurt out ideas and responses.  Fragments are fine, don’t worry too much about syntax and clarity.  Type one idea after another in a loose, informal outline and don’t hesitate to skip around as the ideas come.  The most important thing is to not worry about making a polished document because as soon as you start doing that you start killing the creative fount by suppressing the thoughts as they come in order to organize and format what you have so far.

For myself I have a Git repository called “design” and in that I have a bunch of TXT files.  The main one is “ideas.txt” and I’ll just go through jotting down whatever rough concepts I have.  As soon as a particular game idea starts taking on a life of its own – with me writing down more and more bullet points – I’ll spin it off as a new text file.  Currently I have a fair number of these text files for semi-fleshed out games and I’ll brainstorm on all of them at once, at first just focusing on whichever one sounds the most interesting at the moment and then I’ll invariably jump around to my different documents and add an idea here and an idea there.

The advantage of using actual text files instead of notebooks or paper napkins is that the text files are much easier to keep organized.  My notebook brainstorming might revisit a particular game on pages 3, 8, 10, and 19, whereas on my computer I’ll just type in the notes into the appropriate document.  Transferring ideas from napkins and notebook to your design files later would certainly work as well.

Here’s an example of how one of my design files might evolve.  I’ll sometimes use asterisks (***) to mark an idea I’m really keen on in the middle of my session.  Note: I was going to just do an example on the fly – but it turned into a really cool idea I want to keep close to the vest for now!  I’m just going to retrofit our existing game “Fish Hunter” to the rambling design file as if we’d used that system instead of brainstorming amongst ourselves.

Need quick, simple game for Palm OS
Hunting games (shooting) are really popular with casual players
Fishing games are really popular
Make a shooting+fishing game
Redneck in boat, shooting fish and dropping dynamite in the water
Drinks beer?
Have to shoot a target number of fish before the time runs out
– then go to next level

Control scheme?
– Could just tap on fish to shoot at them
– BUT don’t want to make it too easy
– Maybe virtual joystick
– OR Drag finger on screen to change aim to that spot.  Tap to shoot.

– Dynamite, rapid-fire, three-way shot
– How to get?
– Maybe power-ups in the water that you shoot

There’s no danger… time just runs out.
Water danger = sharks
***Sharks come straight for you, game over when they get to you.
No levels – just get as high a score as you can.
Lives?  Nah…

Palm doesn’t support dragging [or something like this, I forget exactly]
Maybe just tap to shoot fish overall
Maybe fish are a little faster, bullets are a little slower than I was thinking

What determines score?
– Small fish vs big fish
– Hits in a row
*** power-up idea: like Modern Warfare 2 – the longer your killstreak the better a powerup you get.  When your killstreak is broken you still have whatever powerup you were able to get to



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