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How to Prototype a Game in Under 7 Days
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How to Prototype a Game in Under 7 Days

October 26, 2005 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

4. General Gameplay: Sensual Lessons in Juicy Fun

In addition to learning the hard way about rapid prototyping, we also stumbled over some general gameplay guidelines. The following are a collection of some that significantly add to that “fun” experience.

Complexity is Not Necessary for Fun

If mankind can entertain itself for literally thousands of years with variations on the theme of “ball and a flat surface”, we might be trying too hard with some of this new-fangled video game stuff. It's entirely possible to have fun with basic primitives, think Tetris, Pac-Man, and any classic arcade game. Like the Romeo and Juliet love story archetype, these games had mechanics so good we're still reusing them again and again decades later. Lens flares, bump mapping, camera bloom, and other amazing new technologies are nice, but won't make your game more fun. Prove to yourself that your core mechanic is worthwhile with a simple prototype. Once you're convinced, then you can make it pretty.

A rubber ball. Watch out, 3D technology!

Create a Sense of Ownership to Keep 'em Crawling Back for More

We discovered quite accidentally that the games with the greatest replay value were the ones that had some sort of creation or customization aspect. For instance, “make a creepy tree out of hands and umbrellas”, or “draw your own house”, or “build your own tower”, or “evolve your own race of mutated creatures”. Apparently this is a well-known phenomenon and has something to do with all those create-a-face features common in many recent games, and customizable cell-phone ring tones, and those “be different, express yourself like everyone else” advertising campaigns. So jump on the bandwagon! Create a sense of ownership to keep ‘em crawling back for more.

"Darwin Hill" - everyone unique in their own special way.

"Experimental" Does Not Mean "Complex"

Early in the project, many of the games we made were far more complicated then they should have been. Not only was the UI confusing, but the ways in which keys mapped to actions were not natural or intuitive. Unless we could minimize the confusion time before the “oh I get it” moment, we knew we risked that players would get frustrated and never play the game again and possibly never come back to our site. Luckily, we found it was possible to be “experimental”, and still be easy to understand.

Mr. Shodhan: “My first round game "Spaceball Munch" was a 3D version of the old "Gorillas" game where you specify an angle and a velocity at which one gorilla throws a banana at another. Not only were you now in 3D, but there was arc ball camera rotation and the game was on a spherical field. So there were two angles and a velocity to worry about. Oh, and it was no longer a discrete turn-based game but you controlled a continuous stream of particles and had to hit all these moving objects. Here is a screen shot of the gratuitous variable wastage.”

"Spaceball Munch" - How can we know?!

Build Toward a Well Defined Goal

A well defined goal was embarrassingly easy to forget about. Without a gameplay goal, a prototype is just a toy – not a game. For some reason, people seem to enjoy having the opportunity to fail. A goal can be anything – like “collect x number widgets in a x amount of time,” or “keep the system stable,” or “traverse a space without touching anything bad,” but it was difficult finding a goal that didn't feel a little tacked on, (like anything involving a “time limit”). The best goals, we found, were an innate part of the gameplay like in "Tower of Goo," where the implicit goal was to simply “build up”.

"Tower of Goo" - building toward a goal... and beyond!

Make it Juicy!

“Juice” was our wet little term for constant and bountiful user feedback. A juicy game element will bounce and wiggle and squirt and make a little noise when you touch it. A juicy game feels alive and responds to everything you do – tons of cascading action and response for minimal user input. It makes the player feel powerful and in control of the world, and it coaches them through the rules of the game by constantly letting them know on a per-interaction basis how they are doing.

Some juicy examples you may have experienced might include:

  • Alien Hominid – enemies exploding and flinging blood to an almost unjustified extent
  • Mario Bros. – bouncing through a room full of coins, blinging with satisfaction
  • Pachinko - a never-ending gush of balls all under your control
  • Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo – animation and sprites abound on multiple chains

Juice feels great! You can't keep your hands out of it.

Final Thoughts

The Experimental Gameplay Project team was a thrill to work with. We hope that the next time you try something new or a little crazy these tips and tricks come in useful for you. Who knows, that little idea you had this morning could be the next big thing. Pull some friends together, or go solo, but try and prototype it! You might surprise yourself.

Our objective advisor kindly pointed out, “Rapid prototyping can be a lot like conceiving a child. No one expects a winner every time, but you always walk away having learned something new, and it's usually a lot of fun!”

Happy prototyping!

Handy Cut-Out List!

Setup: Rapid is a State of Mind

  • Embrace the Possibility of Failure - it Encourages Creative Risk Taking
  • Enforce Short Development Cycles (More Time != More Quality)
  • Constrain Creativity to Make You Want it Even More
  • Gather a Kickass Team and an Objective Advisor – Mindset is as Important as Talent
  • Develop in Parallel for Maximum Splatter

Design: Creativity and the Myth of Brainstorming

  • Formal Brainstorming Has a 0% Success Rate
  • Gather Concept Art and Music to Create an Emotional Target
  • Simulate in Your Head – Pre-Prototype the Prototype

Development: Nobody Knows How You Made it, and Nobody Cares

  • Build the Toy First
  • If You Can Get Away With it, Fake it
  • Cut Your Losses and "Learn When to Shoot Your Baby in the Crib"
  • Heavy Theming Will Not Salvage Bad Design (or "You Can't Polish a Turd")
  • But Overall Aesthetic Matters! Apply a Healthy Spread of Art, Sound, and Music
  • Nobody Cares About Your Great Engineering

General Gameplay: Sensual Lessons in Juicy Fun

  • Complexity is Not Necessary for Fun
  • Create a Sense of Ownership to Keep 'em Crawling Back for More
  • "Experimental" Does Not Mean "Complex"
  • Build Toward a Well Defined Goal
  • Make it Juicy!


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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