Last November at the IGDA Leadership Forum, I gave a short talk on quick and dirty prototyping as a production method for small PC games. The topic was met with curiosity, as most producers were already comfortable with their existing waterfall or agile methodologies.
While our studio, Boomzap Entertainment, is agile in the simplest definition of the word ("can move fast, is flexible"), we don't follow Scrum, XP, or any of the popular frameworks. Instead, we've tweaked a process that works best for our indie studio for the past five years -- a process I like to call "quick and dirty prototyping", though no one else at Boomzap refers to it as such.
You can read a short summary of the presentation here. In this feature article, I'll expand on my original talk by discussing in depth how our studio does quick and dirty prototyping, the tools and tricks we use, and the benefits (and pitfalls) of using the method. I'll also be using examples from our latest game, Awakening: The Dreamless Castle, which was built through prototyping.
To give you some context on how we work: Boomzap Entertainment is a small indie casual games developer in Southeast Asia. We are a 100% virtual studio -- we are spread across Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, and the Philippines, all working from home, without any rented office space anywhere.
The Awakening team worked with each other entirely online, from meetings and documentation to asset and build processing. The only way for us to judge another person's abilities was to look at the work they've put into the build, making us conducive to prototyping (which, by its very nature, is all about results).
We are also a small company, with a total of 19 people. We have an average team size of four or five, which usually consists of one programmer, one designer, and a few artists. Awakening, at its peak, had seven people -- mostly artists -- because the game was art-intensive.
Since our team was small, there was no need for hierarchy or bureaucracy; anyone could suggest or comment on an idea, and we approved and vetoed each other equally. This also meant anyone could prototype something into the build quickly, without facing much resistance from the rest of the team.
This combination (a results-only virtual environment plus a small team size working on a casual game) made it easy for us to use quick and dirty prototyping. That's not to say that it wouldn't work for larger studios, projects, or teams -- your studio may already be doing something similar.
Quick and dirty prototyping involves three basic ideas:
1. We build working prototypes as fast as possible
2. We keep the assets ugly until the last possible second, and
3. We revise or scrap content until it's fun.
This method is entirely about speed and efficiency; daily builds, placeholder assets, and rapid iteration formed a routine for making all our projects, including Awakening.