How to Prototype Video Games?
Video games, like any creative endeavor, start out as an idea. This idea should be developed and then given a specific form. Innovative projects should be tested first to check whether their assumptions are actually as interesting as we think and whether they can be implemented at all. It is for this purpose that prototypes are made before the actual game development.
From this article you will learn:
What Is a Video Game Prototype?
A prototype is the first version of something from which other forms are made. It's not other in the video game industry. A video game prototype is a very simplified part of the game focusing on a specific mechanic or other elements. Its goal is to create a game piece as quickly as possible to give the idea a tangible form, check the fun and mood the game gives, and see if there is any point in developing it further.
It's an important part of video game development, that cannot be overlooked. Sometimes prototypes act as a "proof of concept", and sometimes they are more complex. You can find paper prototypes of games as well as those made digitally. It all depends on what works best for the particular team and the particular game. Currently, paper prototyping is rarely used.
Prototypes cover more than just mechanics: they are also created for locations, cutscenes, or characters and sounds to test the composition, estimate the length of individual animations, or simply check if what we hear matches what we see. It's useful not only for the programming team but also sound and art departments. It saves time and effort at the later stages of game design and development.
Prototyping is a crucial part of the development process and creating successful games, so it's better to know some tricks on how to do it fast and efficiently.
What Are the Prototypes for in Game Development?
There are two main goals of prototypes: to check the idea's playability and assess the risk. In other words, assessing whether the potential game element will be interesting and whether it can be done technically with the resources at the developer's disposal. It's not easy to deliver a final product but a proper prototype makes this process smoother.
If a single mechanic causes problems at this stage, it will only get worse after adding more gameplay elements. In addition, prototyping often allows you to indicate potential issues and things that need to be considered before any serious money is spent by the developer. If key features do not work as planned, it's a good time to change them or change the course of the game development.
In addition to the game engine and programs for writing code and preparing graphics, it is important to properly write down the core concepts and design decisions for the game. It's basically the very beginning of your game design document and is what you should start with. Prototyping it's a core thing you need to take care of before you go on with game design.
For this purpose, we can use the entire mass of available tools, such as:
What to Consider When Prototyping a Video Game?
When you develop a video game, communicating your ideas with the others developers in the team is crucial. A prototype is a very basic implementation of an idea. It is part of the pre-production process, which is primarily about checking various concepts quickly and at a low cost and choosing the best from them. It's a convenient way for a developer to check what is working and what's not.
Here are some good practices to consider when prototyping:
Create Various Versions of the Same Idea
Sticking to one vision makes us blind to others, potentially much better solutions. It's the last chance to quickly try new ideas before the game development process moves into a more serious stage.
Involve the Whole Team of Developers
The more people create their own prototypes, the more diverse points of view and ideas you will get. Do not forget about the art team, do not limit yourself only to programmers. Game design benefits from teamwork!
Unlimited creative freedom is, paradoxically, the most significant restriction. Working with constraints, such as selecting a specific theme, is one of the best ways to unleash creativity and get ideas you wouldn't usually come up with.
These are the principles of various Game Jams—the first versions of some cult productions, such as Hollow Knight, Superhot, or Mini Metro, were created on such events.
You don't need to create detailed models or a final title for a prototype. As long as it is clear what the object in the game represents, you can even use stickmen and basic shapes. Have some assets from bundles you bought or from previous productions? Even better!
A non-functional wireframe will work perfectly fine when you want to capture an essence of a feature or a mechanic you want to implement in your video game.
Analyze Your Mistakes
Just because an idea doesn't work, it doesn't mean it should end up in the bin right away. First, consider why it is not working.
Can we fix it relatively quickly in the next iteration?
Maybe swinging a sword is not satisfying because the animation is a bit too slow?
Or perhaps it is difficult to judge the range of the blow because the camera angle is weird?
The same goes for working ideas! Understanding why something works can often make it easier to pinpoint why something else is not working. It is the knowledge that can be used for future projects.
What to Avoid While Prototyping Video Games?
There are a few common mistakes you should avoid to go through the game prototyping process as smoothly as possible. It's a great help in the creative process but there are a few traps that you need to be aware of. It's not as complicated as it may look like!
Spending Too Much Time on a Single Prototype
Prototyping shouldn't take more than a week. Adding unnecessary details—the prototype is supposed to work, not look like an almost finished product. During game development, there's no need to spend too much time on prototyping. Your primary goal is to visualize your ideas to other developers.
Optimizing Code and Graphical Assets
There will come a time to develop better solutions later in the game development process—when you start building the core game. The placeholders and makeshift code are perfectly fine at this stage. Perfectionism should be put on hold during this stage, although you can take notes if you come up with an interesting idea you want to develop later.
"Imagine That ..."
Although the visuals should be very simplified in prototypes, it should still be clear what is happening on the screen. Sometimes it's hard to find a way around it, especially in the case of animations. Think of smarter, not more complicated solutions.
Still, we shouldn't build a level using just cubes and demand anyone to figure out that one of them is a loot box and not a trash can, for example. Sometimes a simple change is enough, such as giving our "box" a different color.
Making One Mega Prototype Instead of Several Separate Ones
It's easy to try new solutions on already existing files and scripts. Unfortunately, this approach very quickly leads to clutter and the mixing up of lines of code. So if we test a completely different approach to the same problem, let's avoid building up what we already have.
How to Prototype a Video Game?
There is no one pre-set recipe for a good prototype. It all depends on the project we are creating and what aspect we want to test. Just as there is no universal recipe for creating the perfect game, picture, or movie, you just have to combine and check different ideas like a scientist.
Nevertheless, by following these few simple tips, you will be able to brainstorm much more efficiently! This way, you can extract the maximum amount of knowledge that will help you create even better games! :)
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