Paper prototyping and fail faster
Within design as a whole, the act of prototyping is a common practice; in architectural design there is AutoCAD and blueprints, web design has mockups, artists sketch. It’s a universal language that is used for very good reason, so it’s no surprise that we’d see this as a common practice in many aspects of game development, but it’s a simple step that is forgotten about by even some experienced developers.
This idea of paper prototyping may not be exactly what you think it is. Generally you won’t be making origami versions of mario to jump around your platformer in mind. It’s creating the most basic form of your game concept and making it playable as quickly as possible. It does not need to be elegant, your main character may just be a square, it won’t matter. What does matter is getting your idea out in a way that someone, including yourself, can play the thing outside your head.
Now, why is it important to get this out? Well, when you think of a game concept, at one point or another you’ll have to make some important decisions, like how high does this character jump, how many enemies will be here, should the player be able to go both left and right? These are all things you could arbitrarily chose, but if you do, are you really making a decision? Is your game better? The truth is almost always no. Where these decisions are truly made is from seeing the game being played and hearing feedback from players. Be prepared to have an idea chewed out and ripped limb from limb, but remember that the process of making a game is not one voice, you need this if you want to be able to make the right decisions for the game that all of these players and you are trying to make.
While not everyone needs this step, some can develop levels and other aspects perfectly fine through entirely digital means, what paper prototyping can do is speed up a process that is key to making a truly fun game: fail faster. Fail faster is important for reasons that we mentioned in the previous paragraph: every criticism is a move forward that you cannot do on your own. This act of fail faster moves beyond this idea of paper prototyping; you’ll need to constantly hear feedback and have people play your game as often as you can from that point forward. From what you receive and figure will make things more fun, iterate on your prototype, make those decisions, and even above that, ask questions, would it be more fun for items to spawn around the player as time goes on, instead of hard setting them? Does the player stay in the air too long? Some of these questions might not get answered until you build digital versions, but being aware of these options are important to not get tunnel vision.
Anyway, with the amount being done on my other project this week, it’s been on my mind quite a bit. On good news, once I get enough tested I’ll be throwing more details on the project on here as soon as I can.