What makes a good theme?

Posted by
December 14th, 2011 2:46 pm

How do you expect democracy to work when everyone’s opinions are so much worse than mine? I mean, it’s like you guys don’t even realize it. Let me just tell you how to vote.


First of all, you should be able to derive a game mechanic from a theme. The point of a theme is to inspire participants as to what kind of a game they should make, as well as narrow down the game mechanics so that games can actually be compared in the voting process. “Escape” as a theme was very vague last time, a lot of people just seemed to make random games and then lazily explain what the player was escaping from.

And themes like “moon”, “dinosaurs” or “beards” describe art styles more than mechanics. Is a moon a game mechanic? Not on my watch. Participants are informed there’s something going on on a moon, but they still don’t get any ideas for the actual gameplay, so there’s not much point in having such a theme in the first place.

How about doing it the other way around, giving participants the core concept of the game, and letting them decide what context they’re applying it to?

I agree, let’s do that.

But there’s a fine line to walk between guidance and freedom. “Self-replication” describes a mechanic alright, but it’s restrictive rather than inspirational. You’re basically going to see the same game over and over again: that puzzle game where the player clones themselves to clear obstacles.

For the record, “kittens”, “evolution” and “territory” are some of my favorites out of the current ones. They help the creative process instead of leaving you unsure. I can come up with many games utilizing those themes creatively, interestingly, even unexpectedly.



(So, to sum it up, vote for Ron Paul.)


11 Responses to “What makes a good theme?”

  1. fydo says:

    This is exactly what I’ve been trying to tell people! Themes like Kittens and Crocodile are absolutely the best kinds of themes you can vote for.

    Big thumbs up to you, Jiggawatt!

  2. hamster_mk_4 says:

    There are other contests that have more refined rule systems like Speedhack: http://www.speedhack.allegro.cc/

    My Ludum Dare voting criteria is as follows:
    Can I make a game closely linked to this theme?
    Can I think of a totally different game that would still be closely linked to this theme?
    Would I want to make a game based on this theme?

  3. Darkhogg says:

    Conclusion: Evolution must win. IT MUST. Eventually…
    And just a prophecy: If it ever wins, I won’t be able to participate.

    Also, the description of “the same game” with Self-replication you just gave is THE ONLY idea that DIDN’T come to my mind when I read that theme. Just saying.

  4. mes says:

    you want everyone’s game to have similar game mechanics so they can be compared more easily? that sounds terrible!

  5. SonnyBone says:

    I would much prefer a theme that defines how a game will work rather than how a game will LOOK or where the game takes place. Settings, characters, and other similar themes don’t really do much for me.

    The ISLANDS and CAVE themes come to mind.

    You can make anything from a platformer to a rhythm based trivia game with those themes. I’m all for individuality and uniqueness, but those kinds of themes make it feel like the theme isn’t even important.

    IMO, that is.

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