You have come up with this amazing game idea, so where do you go from here? Before you dive into years of development you need to start with a prototype.
A prototype is a working model of the game idea that is used to test feasibility. The key here is that a prototype is not the finished product it is simply a working example of the minimum viable product.
In the case of game development, a game prototype should allow the game design team to test a small set of game mechanics and or features. Each prototype of the game should answer the following questions:
- Is it functional?
- Is it necessary?
- Is it fun?
- Is it technically or financially feasible?
Minimum Viable Product
The minimum viable product (MVP) is the absolute minimum required to needed to produce a product which will provide the development team with the maximum amount of viable feedback from the costumers (players) to progress in the development.
Henrik Kniberg, an agile development coach and Minecraft developer, created the following illustration (see figure 1) to illustrate the best way to deliver your MVP using agile development.
Agile development approach allowed developers to move more quickly and essentially broke the project into smaller irritative processes.
The first row illustrates how the focus is on the product and not the project goal. In this example a client has asked for a car, so as a development team you start building a wheel and so forth until you have a car. The problem is during the feedback stages of the prototyping and development the client feels as if the project is going nowhere because in each iteration is still not a functional product. The development team also cannot fully test the functionality because there is not enough of the game developed to test.
In the second row how, the focus is on the goal. In this case while the client might have asked for a car, the goal is really to get from point A to B. So, the development team prototypes and develop the MVP of what is needed to achieve this goal and end up with a skateboard. In this agile method of development, the client has a working product from the first prototype and while it is not what they asked for they can see the project moving forward as well as provide helpful feedback to what other “features” they want included in the product. For the development team they can right away test functionality and through each iteration determine what feature are absolutely necessary and which are just nice to haves.
Game development works the same way, especially during the prototyping phase. You just want to focus on the goal.
A few years ago, the educational YouTube channel Extra Credits shared an excellent example of MVP in game design using Super Mario Bros as an example.
In the video they describe how the base goal of the game is to get Mario across the screen without falling into a pit. With that said the MVP for the game is a player character, a platform with some pits, and the ability to walk, run and jump. That is all, nothing else. Everything else is just a feature, not part of the core game mechanics, the rules and procedures required to make the game actually work.
Okay so a game prototype should focus on the MVP and provide direction towards development. With that said, what is rapid prototyping?
As the name implies rapid means fast! We all know that for most game development projects takes a long time. It may be months before that first MVP is shared with stakeholders.
Stake holders are all the individuals invested in the game project, this could include general investors, game publishers, and everyone working on the game development team
Rapid prototyping pushes the development team to create a working sample in order to get their idea out there and get everybody on board with the project. These projects often take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to complete.
Because of the tight turnaround time, these rapid prototypes, are often created with quick tools rather than the tools you would use in the development process.
Physical and Digital Prototyping
Many rapid prototypes of games are in fact physical prototypes. Simple pen and paper to illustrate how the game will function. Using cards, dice, and game board to test game balance, economies, and other mechanics.
Not all elements of a game can be tested in a physical prototype, and this is where game designers move into the digital prototypes. Since we are still talking about rapid prototyping before the development process, these preliminary digital prototypes are made with quick tools, such as drag and drop game builders, like Scratch or even simply modding an existing game.
Rapid game prototypes are an important phase of development, but game designers do not always go through this process as rapidly as they should. A typical scenario is one in which the developers start a quick prototype and because there is still so much time until the project even kicks off, they keep tweaking the prototype and tweaking it, with no set deadline. This eventually causes the whole concept of a rapid prototype to fail.
Strict deadlines are essential in the rapid prototyping phase of development and game designers with experience in rapid prototypes will excel.
How does an aspiring game designer build skill in rapid prototyping? The best way is by participating in game jams.
Game jams are events in which participants come together to build a game in a short period of time, typically 48-hours. The goal of the jam is for participants rapidly prototype game designs to explore new ideas and grow the game industry.
Besides developing your rapid prototyping skills, game jams are a great place to network and collaborate with other game designers at all skill levels. Game jams typically do not require any set skills, so professional, novice and hobbyist game designers are all welcomed to join and participate.
There are countless game jams that are hosted around the world in-person and online, that can provide you with a great learning experience. The most widely known game jam is the Global Game Jam that takes place internationally usually during the last week of January.