K Station is the story of a young, bright lab assistant who watches the universe collapse around her, one room and character at a time. You might recognize the idea because I stole it from an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Remember Me”, where Dr. Crusher gets caught inside her son’s science experiment, and the universe diminishes around her.
Even though I ultimately stole my game idea, the title of this blog post is still a lie because I didn’t really “get” that idea — I arrived at it. So in case you’re wondering how games are born, here’s a little on the ambling process that led me to the plot of K Station.
The first idea
It’s not that you should never implement your first game idea, it’s more that you should force yourself to dream up a couple more, just so you have alternatives to consider.
I was always going to make an adventure game, but originally it was going to be called Maya’s Quest and it was going to be about a princess who gets flung forward through time and meets her descendants living various different lives — an office worker, a Prohibition-era bootlegger, a housewife, and the administrator of a colony on Mars.
You might recognize that idea as stolen from Chrono Trigger, where princess Marle gets flung back in time 400 years and mistaken for her missing ancestor.
So yes, I stole that idea too, but I still arrived at it. In my idea notes, the first line is an image, not a plot or reference point:
…So my initial inspiration was actually imagistic. You don’t know what a manifestation of an idea is going to be like, you just go with whatever yields a strong sensation of interest or vividness.
For a month I worked out stories and characters and worlds and mechanics for the game, and put them into a full design doc. In the game, you’d travel through different eras at will (somehow), and — here’s the best part — the puzzles would span different time eras, and would involve forming indirect connections between these other versions of yourself. I had some good story ideas.
When I got other exciting game ideas (beware the game idea fairy), I put them away in a separate doc and moved on. (My favorite alternative idea: “Link to the Past meets Kentucky Route Zero”.)
But I got a month in and the development lifeline of Maya’s Quest just didn’t feel strong anymore. I’d feel much better about the story if it grew in vivacity in my mind the more I detailed it.
Something wasn’t working, though. There was nothing unifying the puzzles or the story progression. If I tried to put my finger on it, I’d say that with a four-part world, with unrelated parts, the game didn’t feel coherent.
The second idea
I was doubtful, but I didn’t officially toss the game because it might’ve just been a transient feeling. I went back to my ideas doc and saw another vague, abstract line of inspiration:
There’s a quote about Tolstoy that goes: “In the long run what interested him as a thinker were Life and Death, and after all no artist can avoid treating these themes.” I think for me, the inevitable themes are the related Time and Memory.
I’m not exaggerating to say it was a quick leap from that vague notion to the idea for the game. Here are the next two lines in that doc:
That’s the end of the story only because the longer I worked on it, the more real it became. So by now I’m convinced that this story is, if not the best idea I could’ve come up with in those weeks, at least good enough. That’s all you need when it comes to ideas. I’ll save the hand-wringing for details.