What Is Rapid Prototyping, and Why Should I Care?
Let’s say you’re planning a huge dinner party. You must serve a hundred guests an incredible entrée they’ll never forget. What do you do?
First, consider what you want to make. So, say you decide on a fish dish. You could start your recipe and immediately buy hundreds of dollars of ingredients. Then, spend all day prepping, cooking, and trying your best to taste as you go.
However, what if you’re nearly done cooking when you realize your Gatorade-braised salmon might not taste as good as you expected? There’s not much you can do to make up for your losses.
Why would you make the entire portion right away? The better way is to create a scale model of the recipe – a small meal! Then each time you cook the recipe, it takes a fraction of the time, money, and effort. Plus, you can change course as soon as you realize something’s not working.
That’s Rapid Prototyping!
Nail Your Core Mechanics
All of our favorite games have something extraordinary at their center – when you strip away the art, music, and narrative, you’re left with a satisfying core gameplay mechanic.
With rapid prototyping in game development, you can create a prototype for a core mechanic in a few days, then test and iterate to find out what does and doesn’t work. By doing this, you can quickly turn a vague idea into something that’s proven to be fun.
The usefulness of rapid prototyping doesn’t stop at gameplay mechanics – game designers can use it to explore different visual styles, test user interfaces, and encourage detailed feedback from players. The sky’s the limit!
Build Up Hype
While rapid prototyping is a great way to improve product quality, there’s another area where it can be helpful – marketing.
Even a top-notch game idea alone rarely wins over players and investors. If they can see the concept in action – or play it themselves – they’ll understand the value of your idea and trust that you can deliver on it.
Where Do I Begin?
In the early stages, decide what you precisely want to prototype. Be very specific about your goals, and write them down. Don’t be too ambitious – focus on getting your core idea up and running.
By keeping the scope of your prototype manageable, you’ll be able to determine what’s vital to your game and iterate on that quickly.
As an example, consider the game Splatoon. The game has many features – a PvP mode, co-op, story mode, and more. But when the development team was prototyping the game, they focused on these core design ideas:
- It’s a team-based third-person shooter.
- Your character shoots paint with your team’s color.
- Your team wins by covering the map with more paint than the other team.
That’s it! Before planning out any other features, or even the game’s iconic visual style, the team had to ensure that the core gameplay was fun.
In fact, the characters were all represented by gray cubes during prototyping. By stripping out unnecessary elements like character visuals, they could focus on the most essential parts of the game.
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Time To Prototype
Once you’ve figured out your core ideas, it’s time to start prototyping. When it comes to the work itself, the best approach depends heavily on what type of game you want to make and your existing skill sets.
If you want to make a board game, you can even prototype your game on paper! Just draw out your board, cards, pieces, and so on, and play mock games with your friends.
You’ll need to do a little programming to make your prototype for an idea that won't work on paper. Don’t worry; it’s not as scary as it sounds, even if you have no programming experience!
Game development is the easiest it’s ever been, with learning tools and resources available for free. You can use tools like Scratch to build out a 2D prototype with no programming knowledge. Game engines like Unity and Unreal are free for personal use, and while there’s a bit of a learning curve, plenty of videos and tutorials are available to build out a prototype in 2D or 3D over a short period.
It’s a good idea to start searching for tutorials on the format of your game – is it a 3D first-person shooter? A 2D mobile puzzle game? Finding a specific tutorial can save you a lot of time.
For lightning-speed game prototyping, you can try to find an open-source game project similar to your idea, clone the project, and modify it to suit your needs! Just make sure to check the code’s license before you use it.
Now comes the tricky part, the work! While you create your prototype, keep your list of core gameplay elements close at hand. Remember, it doesn’t have to look pretty or be bug-free, but it should give you a good idea of how your game idea plays.
It’s Time To Iterate
Once you’ve got everything on your list done, you can begin testing and iterating! You can turn your rough idea into something unique and fun at this stage.
Play your game and take notes – lots of notes.
- What’s fun about it?
- What’s not so fun?
- Is there anything that you could improve?
Be detailed and critical – now is the best time to make changes! Even if you’re unsure about a change, this stage is a great place to experiment and try new things. You might be surprised at what works.
Make sure to test your prototype with your friends and get their feedback. Other people can look at your game with fresh eyes and see things you might overlook. External feedback is incredibly valuable!
When Do I Stop Prototyping?
At this point, it’s about testing, taking notes, and changing things. Repeat those steps frequently until your core prototype is solid and can only be improved with additional features. After that, you can move on to prototyping those features!
You can apply prototyping to any stage of the development process. It’s never a bad idea to test out features before they’re fully implemented, so make sure to prototype early and often!