Designer Doldrums – And how to get out!

What do you do when the wind stops blowing?

It’s usually this time of the year that I don’t put much effort into game design. Between Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas each about a month apart there’s always something to be looking forward to during these months. And that also typically means I travel more than normal to make sure I visit family.

So I find myself in the designer doldrums. A place no designer wants to be, yet I’m guessing we all find our way here at one point or another. My visit to the doldrums is aided by the upcoming Kickstarter campaign for Scoville. There’s been a lot going on behind the scenes and it has captured my attention like going on a first date. Never-the-less, I am adrift in the game design ocean and the wind has stopped blowing.

Today’s self-help article is all about how to get inspired and out of the doldrums. I am presenting 5 ways to get back in the game. So when you find yourself without inspiration or desire to design, try out these five things:

Play New Games

This one is a fairly obvious option. By playing games that are new to you you can get inside the mind of other designers. New games often have new quirks to mechanics that you may not have seen before. Those quirks might inspire you to try out a new mechanic of your own.

Read a Book

Often when you enter into someone’s creative world you can pick up little things that might inspire you. By reading a book you may find that you love the story and could be inspired to design a game that fits the theme. The other benefit of reading a book is that you get whisked away from everything else on your mind. You can get lost in the world inside the story. It’s often these moments of escape where you brain gets inspired!

Watch a Documentary

For inspiration I prefer documentaries over normal movies. Documentaries often share the nitty gritty of some topic that you otherwise might not find interesting. And often it is the nitty gritty that can give you inspiration. My first hand example is with my design for Brooklyn Bridge. I was watching a BBC documentary about it and the whole idea of sending workers into a caisson while risking caisson’s disease was really inspiring. It seemed to be something that could be a fun game mechanic. So find an interesting documentary and see if it reveals any interesting game mechanics!

Visit a National Park

One of my favorite ways to get inspired is to simply get outdoors. Despite the cold weather moving in, if you can get to a park and let your mind relax and forget about all the other stuff that makes your life busy, then you might be able to get inspired. While nature itself isn’t necessarily the thing that I look to for game mechanics, it is the place I can go to do some clear thinking about game mechanics. Plus, who doesn’t like to smell the fresh air and get away from things for a while?

Clean Your Workspace

This last one isn’t nearly as fun as the first four, but I find it can be just as inspiring. My workbench and design area often fills up with clutter, game components, tools, and more. The result is that it becomes a non-useable space. The clutter ends up hindering my design abilities. So every once in a while I like to spend an afternoon and completely overhaul the space and get it cleaned up. Once that workspace is pristine I find that I can sit there and really think about game design. If your workspace is cluttered, then perhaps your brain is cluttered too. Clean up your desk and your mind will be able to work better.


Those are some of the ways that I like to break out of the designer doldrums. Where do you turn for inspiration and ambition?


Posted on November 14, 2013, in Game Design, The Boards and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great post Ed. I too think that documentaries are a great source of design inspiration. Another one to add might be “historical places” – I was greatly inspired by a visit to Hoover Dam last spring. Going to go back again this winter with my dad to gather more info for a design I’ve gotten “stuck” on….

    • Historical Places fit nicely with this article! Thanks for the comment. Knowing your gaming style I really hope you can get your game design “unstuck” because I’m sure it would be an interesting game!

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