Making games should be easy. Everyone knows how to have fum, you just need to put that stuff into a game and wait for the cash to roll in. It's the same for comedians too, everyone knows how to laugh so a comedians job should be simple. I mean the streets are clogged with great comedians, can't catch a bus without hearing a hilarious one liner.
But things aren't quite so simple, damn it.
Designing is about a ideas, a vision, an understanding of how to pin those two things down and some luck. I'm pretty sure that applies to all design not just games design.
So lots of you have played games and know what you like, and currently what you'd like is some more of the games that you enjoy the most. So maybe games design is as simple as grabbing the best games dismantling them and then rebuilding them 'better'. It's an analysts job.
The truth is that if you canabalise games and never reach beyond that, you just dig yourself into a hole. You'll keep the most hardcore of your fans but they will decrease over time as they realise that they are just buying the same thing time after time.
That said it's hard to ignore the way games are put together, and the way that they solve problems. A designer would be a fool to ignore well thought out solutions to common issues. It'd be like inventing a cart and deciding on square wheels because all the other vehicles have round wheels. Although I admit it's not always easy to see whether something is a timeless classic or a incredibly fashionable fad, without a few years of hindsight.
So where should games designers get their inspiration from? To be honest it doesn't matter but I'd strongly suggest other games shouldn't be the first port of call. As an example consider the phenomenom of Guitar Hero. The genesis of that game was a love of music and a desire to let the player feel as if they were playing their favourite rock songs. The designers identified the joy in the experience of playing a guitar and translated it into something that could be played and enjoyed by a wider audience.
Since i started making games for a living i can't stop looking at what people enjoy, try to prise it apart to find out what aspects of it makes it enjoyable and then see if I can impose a set of rules that might make the good experience into a compelling game idea.
On top of this unnatural habit of trying to pick 'fun' apart there are some people who inspire. These people are creative to the point where they change their chosen field forever, and more importantly cause ripples in the wider culture beyond their field.
My first is Alan Moore.
If you don't know who Alan Moore is I'd recommend you go look him up on wikipedia.
He is an inspiration to me because his work is always the highest quality. His work is important beyond the realm of comics where he is one of the legendary creators. He continues to work pushing the boundaries of comics as well and shunning the commercial side of his work in favour of trying something new. He recalls the comics from his childhood but he brought something more. He wasn't content to re-create what he loved, he pushed it further had the vision to see there was more to comics refused to believe that comics had stopped evolving. His work is powerful, it has integrity and it is still popular with a wide audience. This is a rare and incredible thing and I feel lucky to be around at the same time as Mr Moore, seeing what he will create next, as, it, happens.
My second is the Beatles.
Possibly the most successful band of all time. Obviously their music captured the hearts and minds of several generations. But that success could be a lucky break, or a set a of freak conditions that may never happen again. What makes the Beatles special for me is that they made brilliant records all through their career. What they didn't do was stand still. they didn't make the same records over and over again, they revelled in a huge variety of musical styles and they were given space to experiment and develop. They kept bringing new sounds to the public and the public went on a whirlwind ride of waves of new music for 9 years. It's something that wouldn't be allowed these days. Such a big commercial concern is controlled by the people who fund the business. they don't want risks they want to invest and guarantee a return (even in human entertainment, which is as unpredictable and fickle as a feather in a hurricane). The Beatles has touched western culture and has survived the test of time. their songs are as powerful a symbol of human endeavor as the Great Pyramids.
Went a long way from games there but I think my point is:
If we believe that all that games have to offer already exists then we may as well finish now and find something else to keep us amused. If however we are at the beginning of games as culture then lets find our Alan Moores and Beatles and give them what they need to create something significant and enduring.