The Benefits of Travel in Game Design

I’m writing this post from Austin, TX, about three hours out from my home city of Dallas. You can tell I’m from Texas, because I measure distances in time, rather than distance.

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Seriously, crossing the state of Texas longways takes 11 hours

Now, there are quite a few reasons I enjoy working on game design in Austin. There are, of course, Austin’s numerous and wonderful coffee shops, many of which are open 24 hours, and all of which already feature a dozen creatives also trying to pour their heart into something. (If you’re looking for recommendations, I highly recommend Summermoon, on 1st Street).

However, I have more reasons for lugging my notebook and laptop down here than just good coffee. I thoroughly believe that travel leads to better, and more interesting designs.

Game design is a study which, I believe, benefits from a knowledge of all things. The history of games, and the history of fiction even, is lined by people compiling things they’ve discovered and creating something out of them. Tolkien took what he knew about European folklore and linguistics, and turned them into The Lord of the Rings, which in turn became Dungeons and DragonsMass Effect over the series has been equal parts Star WarsSeven Samurai, and Lovecraftian horror.

The point I’m trying to hammer home is that travel exposes you to new ideas, new cultures that are different in ways you wouldn’t have even thought. Even relatively short trips, like mine from Dallas to Austin, can provide this. Dallas is a city of skyscrapers, of men in suits on the phone walking fast to their next meeting, and of big companies doing…big company stuff. Austin, however, moves at a slower pace. It has skyscrapers, sure, and big companies abound, but you’re likely to gaze at those skyscrapers from the patio of a coffee shop, or a locally-sourced restaurant, in the company of hundreds of artists all trying to bring their vision to life. Dallas and Austin are both cities driven by passion, but Dallas is driven towards success, while Austin is driven towards creating something new.

By taking a trip every once in a while, and learning about a different culture, or even just seeing some different sights, can trigger different parts in your subconscious and cause you to write or code or draw or whatever with, just, a different flair. Even I’ve noticed that while I’ve been in Austin, my writing, and even the comments in my code, have gotten a little bit, I dunno, friendlier?

Furthermore, travel just gives you an opportunity to learn and find out about new things, and who knows what might stick to make an interesting game. I found that the idea of the Voodoo Veve resonated with me, and I’ll probably end up including it in a game someday, and I found out about that on a walking tour of New Orleans. Furthermore, the tale of Marie Laveau, or the concept of a gris-gris, seem ripe for inclusion in games. I have a photo album of uniforms, stories, and simple objects that I found in Austin’s Bullock Texas State History Museum which inspire me. I was scribbling notes about tales of Italian civil war when I accidentally went to Rome on the anniversary of Italian unification.

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I thought I had a picture of the wreath I found commemorating the anniversary, but I don’t, so instead, here’s a bust that kinda looked like Voldemort.

Travel, by its very definition, exposes you to new ideas and cultures. By exploring museums, tours, or even just walking around, you can find and discover brand-new stuff which you never would have thought of before, and you can integrate that into your game.

There’s no better time to travel, too. Gas prices are pretty cheap right now, so road trips aren’t too terribly pricey (in my Chevy truck, I made the three-hour journey to Austin with about fifteen bucks’ worth of gas). Furthermore, airbnb, the hospitality service where individuals open up their spaces for rent, has slashed the cost of room and board by quite a bit. In fact, I’m comfortable saying that, through airbnb, you can probably spend a night in any city on Earth for less than a hundred bucks a night, and get your own bedroom too.

Travel is a wonderful thing, I don’t think anyone will deny that. However, travel also provides that sort of shift in perspective that a creative field such as ours really benefits from. It exposes you to new types of stories, new types of people, new situations which you wouldn’t have even thought of otherwise. These new ideas have the potential to become amazing new games. And, with how cheap travel is nowadays, I’d highly recommend even just taking a weekend and going somewhere new.

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