Paper Protoypes

3 09 2008

Game Career Guide posted a truly excellent article yesterday, on teaching game design without computers. This kind of thing seems an ideal activity to do at secondary level. In fact, prototyping our own boardgames and RPGs was exactly what me and a bunch of mates did in our early teens, beginning with Space Crusade mods and also making up rules for an Advanced Heroquest set we got hold of sans rulebook. We quickly moved on to building our own dungeon crawlers, boardgames and RPGs.

There’s a lot to be said for paper renditions of game assets and prototypes. Several studios I know of cover their walls with printed versions of stuff to keep developers focused on what they’re making, finding in the past that just committing things to a server meant things disappeared into a kind of digital void. This would lead to a state where not many on the team had much idea of the scale of the project, what had been completed, and what remained to be done. Protoyping, it seems, can suffer in a similar way:

Students tend to identify “games” with AAA titles, rather than simpler casual games or games of 20 years ago (Tetris, Space Invaders). These AAA games are often terrifically complex, but they represent the kind of game most students want to produce. However, as a practical matter, most of them actually won’t go on to work for companies producing AAA console games; nor in an educational setting can they make such complex games requiring dozens of work years of professional effort.

All this complexity obscures the actual game design in the games. That obscuring complexity rarely exists in non-electronic games; furthermore, the students aren’t likely to design complex non-electronic games because they cannot expect the computer to take care of the details. Gameplay is a much more obvious element of non-electronic games than it is of video games. The result is that the student is forced to concentrate on the most important part

The article states that video-game prototyping tends to lead students into either story-telling or game production, resulting in the waste of a great deal of time on non-game design practice. It seems the lack of a representation of everything on a project can lead to a profound lack of focus. Typically, only producers have such a representation, but all can benefit from it. Non-electronic protoyping can create the right focus for designers.

Lego and components nicked from other board games are great resources for prototyping, as recommended in the also excellent Siren Song of The Paper Cutter (The article above links it, but the link is broken). Siren song indeed, it’s made me quite nostalgic for cattle abduction strategy boardgames.

Both articles are well worth the time needed to read them. At a time when game development skills have mostly become so complex they require a Graduate or Master’s degree as well as additional years of vocational training at a studio, paper prototyping offers a very accessible way for students at nearly all stages of education to get into and start discussing game design.

(CC image: Portal papercraft by a440. Bet that game would be difficult to prototype with paper).

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