Despite the poor pun leading this article, this post will have very little content in the way of a comical stylings representing that of either Groucho Marx or any form of joke-telling couch you may have come across. This article is all about the word ‘Couch’ and how it’s played a role in my Design Partner (Dave) and I’s exercise for coming up with game ideas.
First of all this couch thing needs to be explained, a long time ago I ran an indie team that spanned from Indonesia to Canada, which is a fancy way of saying I worked with an Indonesian & Canadian pair on a Ludum Dare game. We attempted to make 1 game a month which lead us to the site of the exact same name, this site gives out a keyword every month and you can try to develop a game around that word or idea. This month’s word was ‘Couch’.
When I found out the keyword it was about 11.30PM, relatively late you might say for a brainstorming exercise, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt is that you can always push yourself, even when tired you can still come up with great ideas. We were both in a rather lethargic state, which again many might consider a bad thing, “you need to be ready, energised, firing on all cylinders to have a really productive brainstorming session”, I respectfully disagree, I think it can be done anytime any place.
Originally Dave didn’t know what was happening when I found out the keyword to the month, I just asked him for some word association with the word ‘Couch’. He came up with rooms in a house you might find one, materials it might be made of, accoutrement for the couch itself, words to describe the couch, activities performed upon the couch etc. I then asked him to describe walking into a room with a couch, what did he see, what was there, what did it look like? Again he came up with some key phrases that we were to later utilise.
At this point I came clean about what I was doing and informed him of the exercise and that I wanted us to brainstorm a game idea about ‘Couch’, and then reeled off all the words he’d come up with so far. Silence. Perhaps 10s later I said “The first thing, and it’s dumb, that comes to mind is honestly a couch as a player…”, he agreed he’d thought of the same thing but it wasn’t close to a game. Dave then pitched a life simulator, where you’re sat on the couch and things occur to you that have to be dealt with and the couch is like ‘homebase’. Again we weren’t too happy with the idea, I then proceeded to tell him about a scene in a Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide book where Arthur Dent & Ford Prefect have to chase a couch that drafts away from them until then end up pushed through time to a cricket ground where the ashes are being played.
So far we were rather deflated with what we’d come up with so far, some very very minor pitches that maybe could be expanded out but we didn’t have the foggiest of how yet. At this point I said “What about, you’re watching TV, and depending on what you watch it feeds into this Neural Network type thing that then alters the world around you? So if you watch a horror movie, blood might start to splash across the window behind the TV? Or you watch cartoons and go outside and it’s like some sort of acid trip with vibrant colours?” This was different, we knew this was an interesting idea, we likened it to something along the lines of a ‘Stanley Parable’ type game, plenty of options and humour to be had and explored.
We added our first game that interested us to our list of game ideas and started trading ideas and nonsense back and forth in the hopes of inspiring the other to have the next epiphany. “What about” Dave began, “a sort of Downwell type game where you’re falling down the cushions of the couch picking up coins that have fallen behind there? Things like mites and dust could be enemies and debris?” I’ll admit I’ve never played Downwell, I’ll admit that for 99p I was willing to right that wrong (thank you steam sale). It was a nice idea, a great theme, a simple and clearly achievable game to be made and potential success if done right, but we both agreed it’s not an original mechanic we’d come up with, it was a good idea, just maybe not one we’d want to push forward with.
That idea lead to my next idea which was like falling down the couch, much as Dave had pitched, but you fall between the cushions and fall into an Alice in Wonderland type scenario, everything is made up of pillow forts, lost items are given autonomy like keys, controls, wallets, phones etc. There wasn’t a mechanic, but it was a pitch that we both thought there was a potential depth to, it’s ‘Wonderland’ after all, we write the rules and can make the bizarre appear normal.
We were at 6 ideas so far but we weren’t done yet, we still managed to come up with 2 more titles both for mobile. One was based on the idea of pets tearing up couches as they are often to do, you’d swipe your screen and that’d count as a scratch, you have to try destroy as many couches in a certain time frame and any coins hidden in the cushions could be used to upgrade your claws/pet/anything really. It was simple but one we both figured would probably succeed as an effective ‘time-killer’ on a mobile platform.
Finally we came up with another mobile title based on the phrase ‘Couch Potato’, but it was going to be the reverse of actually being a couch potato, instead this was going to be a habit tracker, you could assign tasks that keep you active or learning. Things like the gym, reading, cooking and so on could be created and you’d gain XP every time you did one, you could even assign speciality tasks that would be used when you were pushing at something, maybe learning a brand new skill or improving an existing one. Again, it was a very simple idea but one we both thought if done well, it could easily be quite well off.
In the end we’d come up with 8 titles, 5 of which were plausible products if not fully fleshed out, but we wanted to flesh them out. As of now we’ve picked 2 titles we want to build upon and just see where our minds take us, we are unlikely to make it, it may be a pipe-dream for some time until we decide “that actually was a good idea”.
This article more than anything, wasn’t to just recount events that occurred one late night, it’s to hopefully show that even when you throw out the worst ideas at first, you can still end up with something interesting at the end. Even the word ‘Couch’ can inspire some interesting game ideas.
Now I love brainstorming ideas, it’s a great part of any creative process, getting to really mold something to a primitive shape and then little by little give it form. I’m not sure what I want to do with these types of articles, but I’m thinking of recording Dave and I’s brainstorming sessions and putting them on soundcloud and linking them here, so you can get an idea of what it’s like to bounce ideas around and give them shape and listen to our process.
Until next time thank you for reading, have an awesome day and keep designing!