Ah, Paper Prototyping, or the art of trying a mechanic in a cheap and creative way that allows you to iterate on it with few resources in a very short time span. For last week I had an assignment to make a paper prototype for a game. Though the teacher said that we needed to make it according to our “buddy” or feedback partner, the course blog said that we just have to make a prototype so me and a group of people who organised ourselves to make a “creative session” decided to go for ideas we had in mind.
I myself have not played a good space sim in a while so I decided to go with that genre in mind. I had started from the idea of a military prototype, how would it be playing in such a situation? How would you use the environment to your advantage while avoiding and attacking different types of enemies? Then I wanted to do a commercial simulator to see how the player would do things: would he go for the item that grants him an end to the level or will he try to improve his craft? With these two ideas in mind I then thought about: “Why not combine them?” Why not make a prototype that is both commercial and military? With that idea in mind I rushed home and created the draft.
I made a map using paper that had math grids and placed a space station, the place where you buy your supplies, a couple of debris, for hiding, and then I proceeded to create the enemies, 6 types of them, all with different stats. Then I made three levels of difficulty which affect your stats, then I made the icons for all the enemies and then I made the items, each with its own price. The way you gain enough credits to buy the items is through killing the enemy and collecting the bounty off it’s head and each craft has it’s own price.
What was then left to do was to actually make the thing. Good thing I had cardboard from an Amazon package lying around in Analog so I had enough material to make the icons. The prototype would basically be a turn-based game where you control your own ship, destroy enemies out to get you and collect the money off their heads to get out of there.
And that’s where the first fail came. You can’t just not fail in this field. The problem was that I cut the unit blocks too small, so that they would be the exact size of one tile. Good from a size point of view, hard to move. Even when drawing the icons I realized how cool it is to have two pencils: one for holding the tile and another for drawing. Crude, but effective. I only realized that it is unplayable when I tried to playtest it. Seeing how it was a fail it was time to improve on it to make it playable. The solution: increase scale by 200%.
I decided to do it quickly and just alter the size of the units but not of the playfield, debris or asteroids. The result was that the game actually started to be playable, but it would take too long, even though my “lab rat” was playing on easy mode. What to do? Turbo mode Simply double all the stats except your health points. This would make a quick and fast game, though it did take about 2 hours. Nevertheless, he liked it so much he asked me: “Why not turn it digital?” Which does not sound bad at all. A turn based space sim where you battle your enemies and collect booty in order to get the right technology to get out of the sector. Sounds good, should do a prototype on this for sure.
I also had a photo of a prototype that belongs to my colleague, Ioana. She had envisioned a co-op or competitive game where on the co-op level, you had to either control a rabbit version of Mario or the tetris god and place the tiles so that the other player gets to the end, while the other player must not move too fast or he’ll die or something and on competitive play they have to achieve their goals: for the rabbit to get to the end and for the tetris god to place the wrong tiles to confuse the player. Cool game and I’ll post a link to her entry on it when she has it.
Another cool game was that of Emil’s. He managed to do a pretty interesting puzzle game that you can read more on HERE.
Sorry Emil for not detailing your game as much as I did Ioana’s but I didn’t get to test it
Anyway, Paper Prototyping. Simple, easy and it can give you great ideas. Just imagining the real-time part of it is quite hard. If you want to read more on the subject, Tracy Fullerton describes it quite well in her book: Game Design Workshop, 2nd Edition: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. Morgan Kaufmann, February 2008.