Habits are a serious danger in many industries. In manufacturing it can even lead to death. When a worker gets used to their job they start to feel safe even in extremely dangerous situations. In the industry of game design we don't have to worry about molten steel being poured over us, but habits can be the death of creativity, and very destructive to our profession.
In order to generate new ideas I like to take apart systems we consider normal, especially if there are players that complain about them. Why is it normal? What problem is it trying to remedy? What happens when you burn it to the ground? Going against our habits takes us out of our comfort zone, and that's exactly where new ideas get found.
Here are some habitual features I destroyed in my search for something better:
Destroyed Habit #1: In any RPG I can think of, there is big boss armor, fancy PvP reward armor, and crappy starter gear that can vary extremely in their usefulness. A common complaint being that crafted gear is so much worse than dropped gear that crafting feels pointless, or that only people that grind for months are ever able to get the "best" gear. In order to prioritize crafted equipment some games will remove dropped gear entirely, asking players to seek out powerful recipes and components instead. Both systems are the same mechanism: there is always a "best" recipe, a "best" sword, a "best" bow, and with patches they get pushed higher and higher to keep end game players engaged.
New Idea #1: What I did instead was to give each recipe the potential to be any level, and to be tailored for any class, using fully customizable recipes. Every weapon does the same base damage, and every piece of armor provides the same base protection. What separates one weapon recipe from another is it's visuals, damage or protection type, and how a player chooses to craft it. This let's players choose equipment based on preference rather than trying to get the same "best" equipment thousands of other people are using. Again, the base math for all recipes is the same, sounds crazy right, but the final product is affected by many different player choices, including: level, rank, materials, passive skills, crafting facilities, color, and above all enchants.
Destroyed Habit #2: As a game world gets bigger and bigger, travel often becomes a concern from a design perspective. Commonly this is partially alleviated using ferries between important locations. The next step is almost always to give higher level players super fast mounts that let them whiz back and forth to wherever they're adventuring. Unfortunately a huge amount of danger is instantly lost as players dart past monsters uninterestingly, and the game world no longer gets much attention as we blur from here to there.
New Idea #2: No mounts, no ferries, ever. Instead, players can build and connect their own fast travel network, but only at places they've reached themselves. Building a teleporter requires light, a currency rewarded for the banishing of evil, so we can't built one every ten steps. We can however create our own points of interest when we find a cave entrance we want to explore, a lavafall deep underground we like, or a town with quests that we're interested in completing, providing a permanent connection to our home base or bases. Maybe we started with a cabin in the woods, and now want to build a castle in the mountains. Getting to the mountains will take some time, will no doubt get us into some fights, and will bring us across many smaller points of interest, secret areas, skill locked rewards, area based quests, etc. Once we find a place we like, we can build a teleporter, and travel freely back and forth between our cabin and our castle. We don't lose the fun and rewards of exploration, nor are we forced to walk back and forth between the same locations over and over.
Destroyed Habit #3: When leveling up a warrior you are expected to get stronger, when leveling up a wizard you are expected to get smarter. Some wizards use ice, some use fire, but none of them use crossbows. This is because classes are preconceived, built with expectations, and attempt to reward players for their chosen limitations with stronger and stronger attacks. A class may have several paths to choose from, but only a few. In the long run every level fifty character will have thousands if not millions of other characters built exactly the same as they are, destroying uniqueness and any sense of personalization.
New Idea #3: Open classes in Solace Crafting means that you don't choose a class to start out as, but are free to increase the abilities of any or all classes. The more you spend in a class the further it grows. That's not necessarily new, but I've taken this feature further still. For one, each and every skill has no hard level cap. Flame, Fireball, Fire Storm, and Meteor, like recipes, can all be leveled up without end and all use very similar math so that no one spell is the "best," though some are certainly more situational than others. Furthermore, players can mix and enhance their skills with passive abilities such as a chance to stun, or reduced mana cost. This allows players to mix skills from any tree creating the possibility for millions of combinations. It's still a young and evolving system, but I hope more than anything people will have fun with it.
I don't have a staff of hundreds, nor millions of dollars to throw around, yet, so spending my time on fancy AAA graphics just doesn't make sense. I also believe that's not how fun games are made. Looking back at games that have endured the past two decades it's quite obvious that players don't go back to them just to watch the cut scenes for a sixteenth time, they go back because they are fun, because they are engaging. As a solo developer I aim to create a fun and engaging game not through money and manpower, but through ideas.
Sometimes it takes years to work the kinks out, but when a good idea gets noticed, word spreads fast. Here's hoping people outside my head like some of my ideas as much as I do!