The Digital Lightbulb: the creative process and gaming’s greatest minds

There’s nothing more interesting in all of entertainment than the creative process of brilliant, talented individuals. The origins of the creative spark, the proverbial “lightbulb moment” was the focus of a recent Unwinnable feature on the inspiration that guided Stan Lee, Guillermo del Toro, and other big-name creative’s behind some of our cultural landscape’s most evocative imagery.

We need more stories like this from gamemakers!

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It also contains a bunch of cool one-off stories about the creation of several iconic screen monsters:

“The animal kingdom has also provided a wealth of ideas for sci-fi creators. The embryonic idea for Alien emerged when screenwriter Dan O’Bannon stumbled on a factoid about real-life predations of spider wasps. These flying insects paralyze larger spiders with their stings, lay their eggs inside their victims, which are doomed to die a horrible death once the larva hatch and eat their way out from the inside. Sound familiar? Inspiration can strike anywhere, at any time.”

And this gem:

“Del Toro carries around a sketchbook around wherever he goes, doodling ideas. Some come to nothing; others will eventually be honed into fully-formed nightmares for moviegoers. Take his signature creation from Pan’s Labyrinth. ‘For the Pale Man, I wanted to be a sort of perversion where you have a guy who’s so thin and emaciated in front of such a lavish banquet – like a spider web because he only feeds on the children.’”

While the games press is positively lousy with previews and interviews that go into fetishistic detail about things like gun design and back-of-the-box specs, it’s rare that we get a real peek into the minds of our most brilliant creators like this. We almost never get the real story behind the crazier imagery, or the progression by which a weird little kernel of an idea became something incredible.

One rare (but excellent) example involves the concept for BioShock’s world, and its iconic Big Daddies and Little Sisters. The big guys evolved (much like the game itself) from weird sea creatures to diving-bell suited freaks, and the original sketches for the Little Sister included such sympathy-inspiring figures as the infamous “dog in a wheelchair” and “frog with a funnel in its anus”. A few other solid examples live out there – like the Metal Gear Solid 2 Design Document – but so much of the good stuff is either buried under NDAs or the material itself was never coherently collected outside of the game – early assets that live on some artist’s computer, or story pitches that never made it out of the meeting room. 

I would love to know what Ken Levine or Jenova Chen or Anna Anthropy carry around in their notebooks, for example. Or how they draw ideas from the infinite pool of possible influences in our world. That creative spark is the most precious thing in the world of entertainment – and we can do a better job in the game press by shining a light on it.