Sledgehammer's Glen Schofield (Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Dead Space) gave a passionate speech on the opening day of at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas, where he discussed inspiration and idea formation in the game business.
Along the way, the vocal, impassioned New Jersey native pinpointed four key ways that he's worked on or created profoundly successful franchises and franchise iterations.
Keep an open mind
Inspiration can come from anywhere and anything. "Part of your talent is finding the best ideas" and putting them in the game, no matter where they came from," was Schofield's advice to the audience.
Constantly be in "research mode"
In researching a Somalia level for Modern Warfare 3, Schofield looked at the massive sandstorms in the area and realized they could be used as a level timer. "I actually think [research] is a competitive advantage."
See the world
The Modern Warfare team went on zero-G flights to help work out game mechanics, and worked very closely with many consultants and branches of the U.S. military, including work with the Blue Angels.
Take lots of pictures
...and record ambient sounds, too. Doing this as you research really helps build up possibilities for interesting and diverse scenarios, Schofield suggested. Even unexpected, out of content sounds and movies can be utilized. Schofield said that Visceral Games used the sound of the BART underground train going under the San Francisco Bay as a horror sound effect in Dead Space, for example.
Concluding, Schofield's success is "not about ego, but it's being able to let the right idea in." Inspiration doesn't always take a direct path, but once it hits, how do your communicate it? Having central game Wikis and living design documents for these large-budget titles really helps disseminate your idea company-wide - and may the best idea win.