Building a paper prototype.
Pretty much every indie game developer starts their journey without any investors, funding and little experience. At this stage its crucial to be able to manage your expenses wisely while maximizing the return on your invested time and resources.
Often to test and validate the game mechanics requires you to build a flexible prototype which can be easily modified and customized while you continue to polish the details. One option is to invest time (aka. Money) and develop a fully functional digital prototype. If you are working with a team, that becomes expensive and requires high collaboration, attention to detail, perhaps several meetings, and re-work which adds additional expenses. This becomes even a larger issue if your team is not co-located, causing you to lose hours, days and sometimes weeks. There is another option – a paper prototype – this approach is widely used in the game industry and we wanted to share our experience as we recently went through this exercise.
- Inexpensive (Paper, a pencil, and eraser, markers or color pens)
- Easy to make drastic changes quickly
- A quick and a dirty way to test game mechanics
- You don’t need to write any code
- Usually takes minutes to create
- May not look presentable (if you are seeking an investment)
- More difficult to compute data, if you have complex logic or formulas
The initial gameplay was very casual and required very little input from the player. Think a typical “clicker” /” tapping” game, but MUCH simpler. After we spent a few weeks playing the game things became less and less fun, since most of the time you spent watching what was happening on the screen. We held a short meeting to discuss the challenge and we decided to revamp our fighting experience completely turning the game into a competitive turn-based strategy game. After a high-level discussion, we built a paper prototype.
We borrowed plastic figures from another board game and we borrowed black and white marbles from a game called “Go”. The last piece of the prototype was dice, we turned to a free iPhone app for that.
We started with basics to help us validate the foundational actions while trying to keep the process simple at first. In our case, we limited ourselves to four basic actions: step forward, step back, attack and defend. Each action costs one or multiple action points. The more points you spend on an action the more that action is enhanced.
After a few games, we quickly realized that the first fighter who is starting the first round has an upper hand. We ended up giving the first fighter an extra action point to help balance the first round.
After a few more games, we were able to polish our concept how much each action should be enhanced by spending extra action points.
This is where the gameplay became VERY competitive, challenging and fun and we decided to take it to the next level and we started to add other game mechanics we shelved for the first go-round.
We added “rage bar” and a passive ability which fills a portion of the bar every turn. When the bar is full the fighter can do massive damage to the opponent.
A few more games later, we decided to add a new action “Taunt” and we also extended the scope of rage bar to all actions. This change enabled the fighters to be more versatile and turn the fight around when all hope seemed to be lost.
After several more hours of gameplay, a few beers, and very interesting debates and discussions we finalized our approach and started to work on the user interface.
Overall we invested about 3 to 4 hours to design, test, polish and validate the prototype using tools that are commonly available in every household. The only exception … we had to buy beer 😉