Hello, my name is Rory and I’m an Over-Prototyper.
(This is where you say hello back to me in unison)
I suppose thematically it makes sense that I would write about prototyping at the beginning of my blogging journey, but also since I’m building version 2 of my current game (literally I’ll be glueing some paper to card as soon as I finished writing this blog post) it also makes chronological sense too. Which is nice.
Now, I tend to make a bit too much of my prototypes; which as I’m told is a flaw common to many beginner designers. I try to justify it to myself by saying it will be worth it, and it will make the game more visceral when I play test it, or even that I’m doing most of the work during my lunch break. But truth be told, I’m just addicted to game frills.
I tried using sticky address labels and a deck or two of old playing cards, and it made me very sad. I tried using paper cut-out squares and it just wasn’t for me. When I figured out that I could use Microsoft Word’s table feature to perfectly duplicate the dimensions of
playing cards and that I could add colour and some graphics it was the end of moving a project forward, but I was blissful in my time wasting.
My experience so far, has been that most of my game ideas have only a certain level of what I’m calling “Enthusiasm Fuel”; that is, I only have so much time to turn an idea into something that I can put on the table before real life happens, another game idea comes along, or my Enthusiasm Fuel just runs out.
Case in point, I’m “working” on a Zoo building game, think Zoo Tycoon for the table top, with a deck building and worker placement mechanics and I went wa
y, way over the top on making the cards. (This photo is the first time I have even laid this game out). It was fun but futile. The game idea wasn’t bad, and at some point, I will go back to it, but I think there is (certainly for me) a real need to get the game out of my head and onto the table as quickly as possible. Doing this is very tricky when a lot of your time is taken up with getting the right shade of purple (I very real problem I had, and how daft does that sound), however; I have developed a process.
My process isn’t written in stone, it’s not a set of rules or steps, it’s a guideline, and, as Rufus, the thirteenth apostle says “It’s a very good idea”.
Very Good Idea 1. Stop. Just hold the dice and wait. Think through the game, think through the player turn. Really think about it – it is perfectly acceptable at this point to think “I’ll come back to that later”, in fact thinking that is great, it indicates that your game is layered; which is a good thing.
Very Good Idea 2. Write down (scraps of paper allowed) a list of components. This is like a shopping list of game parts – I do this so I can then figure out how much I’ve got to build, buy or borrow from existing games. Writing this down will also help focus your mind. Ask yourself what do you need to get the game skeleton (the most basic level of the game) on the table. If you can only get part of it to the table, just get that part down, the rest will come.
Very Good Idea 3. Build it (must restrain oneself from clichéd Field of Dreams quote). This will take some time, the less time you spend here the better because this step will be repeated over and over, like a monkey with a miniature cymbal. Remember the ABCC of building a prototype:
Audience – remember who you are building this for, to start with you’ll be playing against you, then friends and family, then strangers, then, if all goes well you’ll demo this to publishers or you’ll go down the Kickstarter route (to be discussed another time in another blog). Make your prototype fitting for your audience; you, your friends and family will be happy to play with the most basic level of the prototype. Simply turn the quality up a notch or two for each subsequent level of player.
“Bin-able” – your first pass at this will no doubt end up in the (recycling) bin. As too will version two, three and four. Do yourself a favour and don’t be precious about it.
Concise – just use the information required – fluff text and pictures take up too much time
Clear – your prototypes need to very understandable, chances are it will be pen on paper/card, all the same colour across everything, and when there are a lot of pieces on the table it will look quite unruly.
Very Good Idea 4. Play your game. Play it lots. Add to it, take stuff away, change it. It’s yours and you can do what you want to it, but you’ll only improve it by putting it through its paces, simply called playtesting, which is what I’ll be writing about next week after I’ve taken my latest game to friendly local gaming store to be tested by strangers (exciting!).
This is the first of my prototyping blog post, there will be more bite-sized prototyping blogs at a later date which will deal with specific issues (art and custom pieces for example) in more detail. Until then, it’s over to you.
Do you suffer from Over Prototyping Compulsion Disorder too? Is it just a phase every designer goes through? Is there anything you do during the prototyping phase that is different or extra? Let me know in the comments.
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Thanks for reading folks!