Pondering on Prototypes

Welcome Assassins to my second blog! As I have just sent off the designs to be printed for the first reviewer copy of Temp Worker Assassins, I thought I would write a bit about the lessons and pitfalls I have learned in creating prototypes.

The game has come a long way from its first iteration:-

When creating a prototype I find myself facing a choice between two difficult decisions, make it look pretty or not. By making it pretty I mean creating game templates with example art, flavour text, printed off copies rather than hand writing them etc. The way a game looks has such an impact on the enjoyment of a game, I doubt that there would be many games that would be as popular if they were just text and stick man drawings.

However a rough and ready version is easier to put together and may iron out a few of the initial issues. There are pros and cons for each type:-

Making a prototype look pretty

Pros

  • It feels more like a real game and can give play testers an impression of how the final version will look.

  • If done right it can fill in some of the gaps in explaining theme and make play more intuitive.

  • Makes playing a nicer experience and so more people are more likely to want to play and more importantly play again.

  • Mechanics, balancing, average game length are all important things that can be learned from play testing however an important thing to test is feeling on theme. Did the players really feel like they were assassins in an office. Did they believe that they were throwing pencils at a Payroll Pirate?

Cons

  • Very time consuming finding art that fits your theme.

  • Extra printing costs as most likely it will be in colour.

  • Hard to make tweaks without either needing a full reprint or impacting the image of the template.

  • Due to the above cons I found myself sometimes not wanting to make changes to a prototype and making do (obviously not great for the testing process).

  • If done incorrectly instructions could be hard to read. All text should be on a clear background and fonts should be simple and easy to read (anyone who played the first version of the game will remember the cursive text on colour backgrounds which made it next to impossible for new players to understand what was going on).

An example of a mistake I made early on in testing was with the target cards from where I created a 'pretty' prototype. I know that compared to an actual game this isn't that pretty but it helped with giving the game some character. During testing it became apparent that killing a target was too easy and for the reward provided the defence of each targets needed to be increased.

Rather than simply making the defence numbers higher I changed the rule of the game to “players need to beat (not just equal) the defence of targets to assassinate them”.

This was completely the wrong way to go about testing. The prototype should always be an example of the game not the other way around.

Making a rough and ready prototype

Pros

  • The first step! One of the hardest things to do when creating anything is simply starting. Once you have put pen to paper you have a game and should be proud that you have created something.

  • Quick to put together and easy to amend.

  • Time and energy is spent on creating a game not just a prototype.

Cons

  • It doesn't look very nice!

  • You will test how the game plays but not feels.

  • Less likely to get buy-in from testers (both short and long term).

As there are benefits to both types of prototypes my recommendation is have a go at each. I found what best worked for me was to have a mixture of both. The final prototype I used had a combination of hand written and finalised cards. This allowed me to demonstrate how the game would look when completed and I had flexibility in making amendments on the go.

I hope this was of some interest to you and thank you for taking the time to read this. I would also like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped test this game, without your support, feedback and patience this game would not be what it is today.

David,

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