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Paper Prototyping

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by frosted, Dec 14, 2015.

  1. frosted

    frosted

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    Anyone have any experience with this kind of thing? I'm hoping to rework a turn based combat system, but I don't want to have to code everything out since this one is very experimental, and I have never made a system like this before. I'm hoping that it's reasonable to iterate in like hours or a day max, and wondering if anyone has any suggestions on how to keep track of stats and hp and stuff - i can imagine this can actually get surprisingly time consuming and cumbersome.
     
  2. Master-Frog

    Master-Frog

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    Since this is the sort of task computers were designed to help automate, I would say you wouls be better served not using paper, but maybe a console program or a really shetchy looking app using one of microsoft's visual tools and the language of your choosing.
     
  3. Kiwasi

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    Paper and pen is great. Use tokens/beads/buttons to record things like damage.

    Stats that don't change much can just be recorded on a piece of paper.

    If you want you can actually produce the stats in an excel spreadsheet or similar and print out the pages. It just depends on if you prefer writing or typing.
     
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  4. frosted

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    I'm basically thinking of something like this:

    - Scale of combat would probably be like 10 on 10 - this would be an RPG battle system.
    - Moving a character costs a command point, each player gets 3 command points per turn (conditionally it may cost more).
    - Combat attacks occur before movement (giving defender the first attack).
    - After movement, the unit can be given conditional orders that can trigger out of turn. Orders would be stuff like "overwatch", "ambush" (melee overwatch), "assist" (join combat with near by friendly who has been engaged), "shadow" (follow passing enemy), etc.

    Since character actions can be triggered out of turn, I'm hoping that the combat feels less "static" than it does in most turn based games (without going real time or 'we go' simultaneous turn execution).

    I thought of paper prototyping, because a lot of these rules feel more like I remember old board / table top games than they do most computer games, so I figured testing it on a table would make sense.
     
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  5. tedthebug

    tedthebug

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    Man, I was thinking about 5 mins ago that I would post about my experience with paper prototyping.

    A friend & I were brainstorming a casual strategy board game style game so I typed up rules & tried playing with bits of paper. Complete failure. The bits moved & blew away so we played using an excel sheet on the PC. At home I found some grid paper, stuck it to cardboard, found some flat glass beads & played a few games with family. I played it in class with friends & my daughter is now taking it to school to play with her friends so I can get more feedback. I'd count this as a successful way to test as I didn't need to code anything, especially an AI. Based on feedback I've quickly experimented with board size & card ratios.

    I'm now working on a paper prototype of a word game. This one is tougher, I've bought thousands of those beads that have letters on them because despite the letter weighting 'E' seems to be the least supplied letter in those packets. I've spent about 5hrs sorting them so I can make up a random bag containing the standard mix of balance letters to be randomly drawn out. Hopefully tomorrow I can start actual testing & iterating. My main concern is finding a way to accurately reflect real time without using a stopwatch, I'll probably test the core mechanic by counting the number of letters played instead.

    I've tested an rts combat game using paper & counters, blue tack, home made action cards & after we got our head around defining the order of action for each card during a phase (3 phases to a turn) it worked quite well. It wasn't an accurate reflection of how the game would play but it let us test the main mechanic.

    Turn based strategy is quite easy to test on paper, just look at things like d&d, champions, call of Cthulhu & heaps of others that I can't remember now. Each character will need a sheet for stat tracking then you will need a board for them to be playing on, some way to measure distance for movement & any limited range attacks, & any dice for things like hit chance, random damage etc. if line of sight is important an extendable pointer or laser pointer are a big help. Or you could consider a card game version since many collectible card games allow actions out of turn.

    For those interested that don't have a good game shop nearby (like me) Amazon sell boxes of about 500 blank playing cards plus counters, dice, art supplies etc. those cards are the best thing I've bought & im about to order another box.
     
  6. tedthebug

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    I should've added that if you write the rules out so that others can pick them up & play your game without asking questions, making mistakes or without you jumping in & correcting or explaining then they are not only well written but you should be able to give them to a programmer who will be able to make sense of them to code easily as you will have basically done a step by step list of what happens at each stage. That should make their life a lot easier.
     
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  7. TonyLi

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    I can't think of a single type of game that doesn't benefit from a first round of paper prototyping. It's so much faster than prototyping in code! This lets you iterate more quickly to improve on your ideas.

    I like to use post-it notes -- on a big sheet of easel paper if I don't have a whiteboard handy. For map-based games, draw the map on the whiteboard, draw the units on post-it notes and place them on the whiteboard, and maybe stick smaller post-its on the units to keep track of miscellaneous information. Like BoredMormon, I keep tokens handy, too, as well as some dice. You can do this with RTSes, cover-based shooters, platformers, etc.

    For decision-based games (e.g., CYOA or branching dialogue), I draw big rectangles to encompass topic groups and then arrange post-its in each topic, drawing lines between post-its and between topic rectangles as appropriate.

    It's also really helpful to invite over friends to playtest the paper prototype. They'll poke holes in your design that you never imagined and offer all kinds of interesting ideas. Another advantage is that it doesn't matter if they don't play video games, as long as they like gaming in general.
     
  8. Master-Frog

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    ......... huh?
     
  9. Gigiwoo

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    Paper prototypes for the win! I still use them. And they still work. Cheap, fast, flexible - watch a concept take shape.
    Gigi
     
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  10. PenguinEmporium

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    Paper and excel prototypes are the best way. Use them instead of making a full on prototype.
     
  11. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    I used to prototype on paper but then I levelled up and became a greybeard able to simulate it in his mind along with spouting hyperbole on forums.
     
  12. AndrewGrayGames

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    I can't help but think of Skyrim.

    hippocoder: MAEK...GAEM NAO!

    *The earth shudders, the sky rent. The sound of a million voices cry in ecstasy, terror, and surprise sound around the land, as it descends from the heavens: the prototype of @hippocoder's latest game.*

    In other words...hippocoder knows a Thu'um that functions the same as the "Make MMORPG button"...
     
  13. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    I've kept my stuff hidden from mere mortals for their own safety.

    Although joking aside, doing it on paper can't really tell you how well it plays. I really do play the game in my head, over and over, through the day, every day... I bet I am not alone!
     
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  14. TonyLi

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    Is that a question about my description of how I use paper prototypes? This is the kind of map-based prototype hapless nobeards like me use in game jams to quickly convey an idea and iterate on it with a group:



    Or to plan out conversation trees:



    In the time is takes to just boot up your computer and open Unity, you could sketch up a couple paper prototypes and play through them several times to tinker with the gameplay.


    In a recent local jam, our theme was something like "Ancient Hair Salon of the Dead." We sketched up a couple prototypes and refined them on paper. Our final game played very much like the paper prototype except it used graphics and gamepads instead of post-its moved by hand.
     
  15. tedthebug

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    I do that, but paper prototyping can reveal flaws in your logic & shine a brutal light that cuts through the imagined flawless gameplay.

    I run through it in my head over & over, amending rules etc before I then put it on paper. Thinking it means everything runs quickly & smoothly, paper makes me slow down & consider each element & how it impacts the other bits.
     
  16. Master-Frog

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    Reluctant like... only because of you use it for communicating the idea to other people, and aren't claiming it is more efficient than writing software to automate things like math, damage modifiers, stat points, etc.
     
  17. Master-Frog

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    Sounds like a life goal worth working toward.
     
  18. TonyLi

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    I agree with you 100%. Save the number-crunching for software. But game design isn't about numbers; it's about flow (ask @Gigiwoo) and space and the player's experience. Paper prototypes can capture that, at least, if not the numbers. And, like you said, it's a fast way to communicate ideas to other people and manipulate them (the ideas, not the people ;)) quickly.
     
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  19. frosted

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    I think this is one of the big shifts in mindset going from being a gamer to being a game developer. As a gamer, you're really focused on stuff like the stats - when you shift around to developer - it's really about flow and how all the different subsystems work together to create a great experience.
     
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  20. Kiwasi

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    This

    Getting the numbers right is a late stage balancing activity. All the number crunching in the world won't help if the underlying game and its systems don't work.
     
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  21. Prototypetheta

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    So far I'm mostly drafting my level designs out on paper, and pretty much every sprite I draw starts out as a paper sketch.
     
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  22. Master-Frog

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    It still bothers me, this idea of prototyping a multimedia experience on a piece of paper. I feel like this would work for board and card games and p&p rpg's, would do alright for puzzle games, but for anything I would make (fast-paced, complicated) it is less than useless. I can kind of play in my head, but not an entire battle, and not any decent portion of the game... and I don't feel like I need to get it on paper. In the past, I would have done that. But in the past, I failed a lot at getting ideas to become reality. It seems to me that the imagination has to be developed into a simulator. The vision must be complete in the mind of the designer.
     
  23. PVisser

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    I'd say do whatever suits your style and is best for your work flow. I tend to over write things in digital documents and just drawing some of the ideas I have in mind out on paper is helpful. That's more in the doodling stage though and for the professional look I go back to photoshop for example.

    Some companies work with digital spreadsheets others use post it notes on a whiteboard, I mean again, use the tools that suit you. Whats the expression, multiple roads lead to Rome?
     
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  24. tedthebug

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    I know this thread is a bit old but a quick update.

    I prototyped a puzzle game on the weekend (made in <1hr), that would've taken quite a while to programme because of the Ai logic, & tested 4 variants for one of the pieces with the help of my daughter who was the player (I was the Ai) over the course of 2hrs gameplay. I still have to test a few more as we aren't quite there yet with the final design.

    Last night I also took another prototype that I worked on the previous fortnight that is close to final to a local gaming club & asked people to play it & provide feedback. Interest was high, people had fun, I managed to clear up some minor confusing bits in the rules & we even had someone provide us with information on how to make it into an actual physical game. The programmer was there (this was the first he had seen the game at this stage) & played it as well as watched others play it so he could see how the pieces interacted & start thinking about the maths behind balancing the pieces a bit better.

    Overall I'm pretty hooked on paper prototypes for these kinds of games, but their effectiveness will depend heavily on the type of game you are making.
     
  25. Gigiwoo

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    @tedthebug - Cool story - thanks for sharing.
    Gigi
     
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  26. bluefoxicy

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    I liked the roguelike idea better in that session.
     
  27. TonyLi

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    Me too. The nice thing about jams is that you can try something and fail quickly without a huge time investment. What we came up with could have been turned into something like a Burger Time knockoff, and given our constraints at least we made something playable, but I feel like a roguelike would have been more fun if we had more time to develop it.
     
  28. tedthebug

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    Update
    Our paper prototype 2-player strategy game now exists as 100 prototype sets that we recently got made in China. One publisher was interested but the rrp would've been too high so we turned it down, it is now under consideration by a large publisher with access to licensing deals (there is a popular franchise that would fit with the game) so we have our fingers crossed but our hopes aren't that high. We have, however, managed to sell 32 sets in 3 weeks at conventions we have been to.

    Last night I sent another paper prototype for a new game to a small publisher for feedback/consideration.

    The first game is in the early stages of being made into an app & will hopefully be done in time for when we share a booth at Pax Aus with other indie board game devs. The 2nd one will be done once we are finished with the first.

    Our Boardgame entry for the last GGJ will be the 3rd thing we polish up for a physical & digital game.

    Paper prototypes may not be perfect for every type of game but where they can be used they do allow rapid iteration (faster than I can ever code anyway) & can highlight games that can be marketed to 2 demographics, tabletop gamers & tabletop/app gamers.
     
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  29. Max_power1965

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    Here I found a good article with some nice and simple examples about how you can use paper prototyping to develop your games.
     
  30. tedthebug

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    I also found This good article
     
  31. orb

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    From time to time, the folks on BoardGameGeek discuss making apps as prototypes for their cardboard games. It's funny how backwards we can be over here ;)

    For hardcore paper prototypes, start here.
     
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  32. Martin_H

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    Is there a consensus on when it makes sense to do that?
     
  33. TonyLi

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    I imagine it would be useful for balancing numbers. You could quickly run through hundreds or thousands of automated play-throughs with AI players and gather stats.
     
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  34. Martin_H

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    That's what I hoped too in the past, however doing a tiny bit of research this stuff seemed way over my head and too much work to be practical for a game prototype that still has wildly changing mechanics.
     
  35. orb

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    I dunno. But the tools both sorts of designers use are a word processor, potentially a DTP program (both for documentation) and a spreadsheet to plan and look at number statistics. It can be useful to see what sort of damage curves you get with different numbers in a two-dimensional graph, for instance. Board game designers use it to plan dice mechanics, computer game designers use it for similar things plus creating basic stats. It's sometimes useful if you don't make custom editors.
     
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