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“Other systems in a game are fantastic at diverting you from what’s important, so make sure what ever is the most important thing is shining before you leave the prototype stage.”
- Slime Rancher lead developer Nick Popovich shares advice on how to effectively prototype a game.
Speaking during a recent Gamasutra Twitch stream, Slime Rancher lead developer Nick Popovich shared how the team at Monomi Park went about prototyping Slime Rancher and elaborated on how a productive prototyping process can be a vital tool to nail down exactly what makes a game fun to play.
The key, he says, is boiling a game down to its most basic elements and using the prototyping stage to make sure those core concepts function well without the support of miscellaneous mechanics and features.
“Anyone who’s making a game, if you’re really honest, there’s one [series of things] that a player is doing every two minutes for 90 percent of the experience.” While Popovich notes that there are a few exceptions to that rule, he affirms that most games contain this core loop.
“In Slime Rancher, you’re running around and you’re 'vaccing' stuff, you’re putting it back in a corral, and you’re sorting things. You’re sort of managing chaos in that environment," he explains. "That was like the first thing that we ironed out. We made sure that felt good. The rest of the game was just built around that foundation.”
Popovich says that this concept is what the team kept in mind as they progressed through the prototyping stage. He says they built the prototype as a ‘whole game’, complete with a mock game world, that locked down that core loop and added just enough polish.
The team handed out that prototype to friends first, asking them to treat it like a final product, and later to strangers with the light fib that the prototype was actually a final product just to solicit feedback on that core, two-minute loop.
What they found was that testers enjoyed playing the game in that secretly early state, despite having complaints about the rough art and lack of polish.
“I think if you’re making a prototype for your game and your feedback from your testers is that [it] isn’t quite there, and you have to tell them ‘well please just imagine that [there are] also these other systems that will inform what it is that you’re doing, and there’ll be this part to it, and crafting, and all this other stuff’ then it's not working," says Popovich.
“Either make those things and prove it first, before you actually start developing the game, or keep stripping that game down until you’re truly honest with yourself and all you're left with is that two-minute loop. Every game has one.”
Whether that two-minute loop is Mario jumping from platform to platform, or jumping through portals in Portal, Popovich maintains that good prototype can be the key to perfecting the core mechanic of a game. The clip above captures more of his prototyping experience and game development advice. Meanwhile, the full livestreamed Slime Rancher interview (as well as a ton of other developer chats) can be found over on the Gamasutra Twitch channel.