From nothing came everything
When approaching Project Explore originally I had this grand vision of a huge world with a variety of terrain and weather for players to experience. This idea was originally inspired by Minecraft but later as I played more sandbox games such as Rust, Space Engineers, and Grand Theft Auto V; I realized that there was a lot more I could create and take inspiration from. Games like Arma 3 have massive landscapes that feel alive due to the ambience and various wild life within them.
It is hard to create a world when all you see is a black void. Where does it take place? Who is the player? Why are they there? When is this happening? Start answering each of those questions individually and you'll slowly piece together some fragmented garbage heap of a world. Now start making it originally. Add your own twist to things. I have a particularly soft and gentle tone to my work. I'm never overly masculine or feminine and as a result produce what I'd like to compare to baby laughter. Without sounding stuck up I think a lot of what I create is very digestible. Not particularly good or even slightly entertaining. Just digestible. You will have to find your own unique touch and utilize as much as possible to create an original world for your games.
Imagine the world
I'd like to think that I am relatively creative but despite that I have a hard time creating just about anything. An excellent bit of advice I'd suggest to others like myself is to imagine the games world. Put yourself in the game. Walk around, hunt for food, build a home... Play your game and see what foes you face and what kind of loot they drop. It is best to avoid imagining the world as you would if it were another game. For example don't think of your game in the world of Dark Souls if it isn't Dark Souls.
Taking a big budget design down to an indie capable project
Since Project Explore has always kept performance as a top priority I had to make sure everything worked within the scope of the game. This means that all the items in the game should be compiled onto the same texture page if possible and loaded when the game is launched. In terms of budget keeping the project small was simply not an option in my mind so instead of settling for less, I settled for more of less. Terrain tiles are only 128x128 (pixels), items are 32x32, and all players/NPCs only move in four directions. The idea is that you can get a lot out of very little.
Design by writing
A mistake too often made is that developers will design their game as they continue to create it. Imagine writing a novel from start to finish without any backtracking! It would be an absolute nightmare and likely not a good read through. It is crucial that you write out your ideas and finalize them as much as possible before programming or creating art for them. This will save you both time and sanity.
Don't go beyond your limits
An overly ambitious project is bound to flop or at least not be executed well. Keep your idea small enough to fit into your budget and work schedule. If you have a month to push out a game then don't build a game that needs a year. It's a simple concept that is often overlooked by excited and inspired developers. Keeping yourself within your scope will not only improve your game but it will also save you a lot of time and energy.