A self-centered post about fingerprints... and wackiness.
In any kind of art, an artist develops a style. This is true of programming, painting, pro-skating, poetry, and many other words that don't even start with a "p". It also includes game design. Not just computer games, but real-world games as well.
I have a very distinct style. However, your style is typically only partly by choice, and the rest by necessity. My style is the same.
My games are typically fairly wacky, have end-of-the-world end conditions, and a rather silly power curve. This isn't because those are things I am aiming for, or even particularly like. It's because of the choices I make.
Most of my games are very big on letting the players make the decisions. This is more than half illusion, as I've mentioned earlier, but leaving the particulars to them insures that (A), I don't have to waste dozens of hours thinking this stuff up and (B), the stuff they invent will be exactly the sort of thing that pleases them.
However, this means that my games are always studies in controlled chaos. All of the grubby little paw-prints that people recognize as "Craig-game" marks are, in fact, resulting from this source, not a personal predisposition towards destroying the planet with mutant cabbages. (I prefer hampsters, personally.)
My games have to be wacky because serious games have serious players. And in a chaotic situation, things go wrong. And serious players crack when things go wrong in ways they do not approve of. They storm out of the room, angry. So it's easiest to gently push players into wackiness, and when things go wrong, it's more comedy than tragedy.
Similarly, the power curve is because I leave character progression up to the players. This results in players trying to grab as much power as possible, as fast as possible. The inevitable cracks in the rule set almost always allow people with more power to leverage that power to gain more power, faster.
I've learned a lot about players and game systems by letting the two interact pretty much unrestricted. But, in the process, a fingerprint is established that most people associate with me. And, of course, I've grown used to it, and they ask for it, so it's almost impossible to do something significantly different.
As you do things, you will also become known for having a particular style. Chances are, you probably already have one. A "fingerprint". No matter how you try to plan it, only one piece of your fingerprint will be under your control. The rest... will be indistinguishable from luck. You get stuck with what you get stuck with.
It's possible to change the piece you've chosen. I have friends who change genres, change game types, struggle to get out of what they consider to be a rut. But the rest of the fingerprint? The parts they didn't choose? Those remain the same. And they tell a hell of a lot about who you are.
I expect, as indie game dev grows, we'll be seeing a lot more clear fingerprints. I'm looking forward to it. They are fascinating to interpret.