When starting out with designing games (as with any art), the tendency is to think that you should make the best game possible. At first, this is a fairly narrow spectrum of possibilities when the hard skills required to make art assets, write cohesive stories, and code game logic limit the scope and complexity of your work. The thought may be that the most pertinent thing to do then for game designers beginning their careers is to increase their skills and network with potential collaborators with a similar vision. But in a fast-moving world with an ever-expanding list of democratized tools available for anyone with an internet connection, it seems that technical skills become less relevant as technology itself improves. AI, game engine developments, new software/SaaS, cloud computing, and things like Visual Programming Languages remove the barrier of entry for anyone to get into creating games, in addition to providing efficient collaborative workflows. Additionally, you inevitably improve your skills over time until you reach a point where you could theoretically do anything. In both situations, the options increase and yet it becomes harder to narrow down a good starting point for the next project - I’ve certainly experienced this a little bit in my pursuits in music. So after all that, what’s left? I would like to propose a different focus, one that fundamentally fleshes out the word ‘best’ in a way that makes that label irrelevant: self-investigation.
When discussing the ‘best’ game design, the criteria often used are engagement (fun) over time, appeal/aesthetics, originality, and intuitiveness. From the various roles responsible for the game design’s various components, one could make the argument that any of the elements are integral to the final piece. UX designers will probably say the most important thing is the player’s experience in the game. Writers may say the most important thing is a meaningful story. Artists may say that visual cohesion and appeal is the most important thing, and programmers may argue that functional code is the key element. I think that this line of thinking limits the ability to think innovatively, and perhaps asks the wrong question. One can spend a lifetime on any one of these crafts, but the true crucible of your ability is what you produce, NOT what you CAN produce. As such, idealized understandings of the ‘best’ game are almost irrelevant at this point given that they have not yet been brought into reality.
So what do you do? If not working on your skills, and if not paying attention to the criteria with which games are often judged, what else is left? This is going to sound super corny, but as many wise people have said before, the thing you do best is you. Deconstructing yourself is, in my opinion, the best way forward, as you analyze the types of things you like or dislike (or the curation process) and begin to ascertain the limits of your taste or style. As you begin to internalize and synthesize your inspirations, the different origins realign to something uniquely your own (which differentiates plagiarism from inspiration), but perhaps still feel like a pool of disconnected pieces you like. Looking within towards your personal journey and story can help a lot with respect to understanding your opinions and your angle.
The benefit of multidisciplinary art practice is you begin to draw parallels in all the different arts you learn. In my time as a musician, dancer, artist/animator, and writer, the thing everyone asks themselves throughout their careers is: what is my unique voice? Vocalists and writers certainly understand this struggle. Many songwriters start by writing songs about things external to them, but that can feel shallow and to a songwriter, emotional impact is the critical differentiator. They then begin to unravel the realms within to search for more meaning, and hopefully, more potency in their work. As a game designer, you can become someone who can do everything, but in a world full of people who can do everything, what separates you from the rest? What message or angle do you have that adds something fresh to the conversation? That is fundamentally a question of style - which relates to the criterion of originality. The other piece of this is the personal story - what experiences have shaped you and your philosophies today? What are your philosophies on games? What skills do you uniquely do best, and what styles define your spirit?
Now I did not write this article to bash on technical skills or disciplines, nor to criticize the well-thought out criteria often used to evaluate games and game design. The truth is that to make the ideal ‘best’ game, you need to consider all of these things and improve your working design through multiple iterations. However, I think that taste and style are a little overlooked sometimes in broader discussions of how to make a good game, and that this takes a lot of work over a lot of time to figure out. I encourage all ambitious game designers to look within for their own story and synthesize that with the skills they can currently contribute to create the ideal intersection of originality and function. This is what I believe to be the answer to the question of how to make the best game: simply make a game that only you could.