What is Prototyping?
Prototyping is the creation of a working model of your
idea that allows you to test its feasibility and make
improvements to it.
Game prototypes, while playable, usually only include
a rough approximation of the artwork, sound, and
Their purpose is to allow you to focus on a small set
of the game’s mechanics and see how they function.
Types of Prototypes
A single project might require a number of
The Lens of Infinite Inspiration
To use this lens, stop looking at your game, and stop
looking at games like it. Instead, look everywhere
What is the experience I have had in my life that I
would like to share with others?
In what small way can I capture that experience
and put it in my game?
Jesse Schell, Lens #11
Many video game designers
started out as board game
designers, and many video
games are derived from board
The designers or programmers of
these games used the paper-based
originals to figure out what
would work electronically.
Extra Credits: A Case for Board Games
Physical prototypes are
the easiest type of
prototype for most game
designers to construct on
They are typically created
using slips of paper,
cardboard, and other
Benefits of Physical Prototypes
Allows you to focus on gameplay rather than
Making changes is faster, allowing for more
Allows for nontechnical team members to
participate in the design process at a very high
Allows for a broader and deeper
experimentation process simply because it can
be done without major cost or use of resources
How would you prototype the game
And, by the
way, this picture
is so wrong in
so many ways.
So, you might end up with
something like this:
how would you
Prototyping A First Person Shooter
Although a physical
prototype of an FPS can’t
help you understand the fluid
process of running, aiming
and shooting in a 3D
environment, it can help you
understand the tactical
issues of weapon balance,
territory control, etc.
Creating An Area Map
Use a large sheet of
Cut out a small chit of
paper and color it red
to use as a spawn
Put lines on the grid
to represent walls
Represent them with coins
or plastic army men or
other household units.
The unit needs to fit in one
The unit needs to show in
which direction it is aiming
Roll a die to determine the
order in which players
place their units in a
Moving and Shooting
One way to represent these actions is to give each
player cards for moving, turning, and shooting.
1. Build stack of 3 cards
2. Reveal top card
3. Resolve shoot cards
4. Resolve turn cards
5. Resolve move cards
6. Repeat steps 2-5 for second card
7. Repeat steps 2-5 for third card
If a unit is shot, it is removed from the grid, and the
player moves it to a spawn point
Add a scoring system
Include hit percentage
Provide hit pints
Drop in first aid
Add in ammo
Introduce other weapons
You can use the system to create capture the flag
games, cooperative play missions, and death matches.
You can keep adding, testing, and tweaking until you
come up with the right combination.
Board Game Prototyping
Board Game Prototyping: inexpensive technique
Core Gameplay Mechanic
The actions that a player repeats most often
while trying to achieve the game’s overall
While the meaning an consequences of
what a player does changes over the course
of a game, the core actions remain the
same from beginning to end.
The Lens of the Toy
Stop thinking about whether your game is fun to play,
and start thinking about whether it is fun to play with.
If my game had no goal, would it be fun at all? If
not, how can I change that?
When people see my game, do they want to start
interacting with it, even before they know what to
do? If not, how can I change that?
Jesse Schell, Lens #15
Core Gameplay Examples
Warcraft: Players build and move units on a map in
real time with the intent of destroying opposing units
Monopoly: Players buy and improve properties with
the goal of charging rent to other players who land on
them during the course of play
Diablo: Players battle monsters, seek treasure, and
explore dungeons in an attempt to amass wealth and
become more powerful
Super Mario Bros: A player controls Mario (or Luigi),
making him walk, run, and jump, while avoiding traps,
overcoming obstacles, and gathering treasure
Building The Physical Prototype
1. Foundation: Build a representation of your
core gameplay using paper and crafts
2. Structure: Prioritize structural elements to
add to your gameplay. Focus on rules over
Features: Attributes that make the game richer (like
Rules: Modification to the game mechanics that
change how the game works (like win conditions)
Building The Physical Prototype
3. Formal Details: Add the necessary rules
and procedures to make it a fully
functional game. Isolate each rule, test
it, remove it, add another, test it, repeat.
4. Refinement: Now examine the details,
and add ideas for features that came up
during testing but were not essential
Never Give Up Hope!
If your game doesn’t seem to be very
Go back to your core mechanics
Strip away all the additional rules
Reintroduce them one-by-one to isolate
A digital prototype extends the design work done for
the physical prototype and allows you to test the
essence of your game in its intended format
Now you will want to build models of core systems
that you have questions about: game logic, special
physics, environments, levels, etc.
You will also want to prototype your interface
Digital prototypes are made using only the
elements to make them functional.
Generally, they are made with minimal art or sound.
(However, adding just a little bit of visual design and
sound to a prototype can often help articulate the
Even their gameplay is incomplete, focusing only
on unanswered questions and parts of the design
that need clarity.
Keep In Mind…
What are your reasons for making your
Are you trying to answer game design or
Are you trying to establish an effective
Are you trying to communicate your vision
to your team or a publisher?
Prototyping Game Mechanics
Game mechanics are discrete features of the
formal aspects of the game.
When prototyping game mechanics, keep it
simple and focus on your core mechanic.
Do not try to integrate all of your questions
about the game into a single prototype, at least,
not at first.
Prototyping Game Mechanics
Gameplay prototypes need not be stand-alone
Often the questions you will have about your
mechanics will involve some kind of number
crunching that could be tested using Excel
Aesthetics are the visual and aural dramatic
elements of your game. Sometimes you will
have a question about your aesthetics that you
will need to test early on.
How will the character animation work with
the combat system?
How will a new interface solution work with
The kinesthetics are the “feel” of the game,
how the controls feel, how responsive the
interface is, etc.
A game designed for a keyboard and mouse
will have a very different feel from a game
designed for the Wii.
Input: How the player can express their intent to the system
Response: How the system processes, modifies, and responds to
the player input in real time
Context: How constraints give spatial meaning to motion
Polish: The impression of physicality creating a layering of
reactive motion, proactive motion, sounds, and effects, and the
synergy between those layers
Metaphor: The ingredient that lends emotional meaning to motion
and provides familiarity to mitigate learning frustration
Rules: Application and tweaking of arbitrary variables that give
additional challenge and higher level meaning to the constrained
In a technical sense, digital games are about
three things: input, output, and AI. Controls are
the input part of the equation.
As a designer, you need to make sure you
understand the capabilities of the controller for
the platform you are designing to. This means
creating a kinesthetic prototype and testing the
controls until they are perfectly integrated into
When you have
decided how the
controls will cork,
create a control table
to make sure you
have thought of
Arrow keys Walk forward, back,
Shift key Run
CTRL or Left
Shoot (hold for
A key Look up
Z key Look down
The Lens of Control
When the players use the interface, does it do
what is expected? If not, why not?
Intuitive interfaces give a feeling of control. Is your
interface easy to master, or hard to master?
Do your players feel they have a strong influence
over the outcome of the game? If not, how can
you change that?
Feeling powerful = feeling in control. Do your
players feel powerful? Can you make them feel
more powerful somehow?
Jesse Schell, Lens #53
The Lens of Physical Interface
What does the player pick up and touch? Can this be
made more pleasing?
How does this map to the actions of the real world?
Can the mapping be more direct?
If you can’t create a custom physical interface, what
metaphor are you using when you map inputs to the
How does the physical interface look under the Lens of
How does the player see, hear, and touch the world of
the game? Is there a way to include a physical output
device that will make the world become more real in
the player’s imagination?
Jesse Schell, Lens #54
This is modeling all the software that it will take to
make the game work technically.
This would include prototypes of the graphics
capabilities of the game, the AI systems, the
physics. It can also include a prototype of the
Prototyping in this area is about testing and
debugging the tools and the workflow for getting
content in the game.
Digital prototyping is often more effective when it is
done in small, fast, throwaway projects.
When you pose a question about some aspect of
your gameplay, come up with a potential solution
and then build a quick and dirty model of that
solution to see if it will work.
A good rapid prototype makes a testable claim and
provides actionable learning about that claim.
The digital interface for a game is a
combination of the camera viewpoint of the
game and controls that allow the user to
interact with within the system.
The viewpoints for the first video games
were mainly limited to text descriptions
(Zork is an example) but they could be very
This view is primarily used for digital maps and
digital versions of board games.
The side view is popular with arcade and puzzle
games, but it has its most influence with the side
Popular in strategy games, construction simulations,
and role-playing games, this view gives the player
easy access to a lot of information.
First Person View
This view creates immediacy and empathy with
the main character, but limits the player’s overall
knowledge of his environment.
Third Person View
Adventure games, sports games and other
games that depend on a more detailed control of
character actions use this viewpoint.
Questions To Ask Yourself
What is the purpose of your interface?
What viewpoint is the best choice for that
How much information should the player know
about the state of the game?
Designing the User Interface
The game’s interface works together with the
controls and the viewpoint to create the game
experience, and it needs to be very
understandable. So, how will you incorporate
this information around your main view?
Form Follows Function
Instead of merely copying the user interface and
control scheme of a game that’s similar to yours,
go back and think about what’s special about
Next try to come up with innovative ways of
representing the play value of that idea in both
the controls and interface.
Visual interfaces are graphical symbols that help us
navigate through the game.
When you design your game, you need to consider its
basic metaphor. For example, objects that a role-playing
character must carry could be placed in a backpack.
When creating a metaphor, think about the range of
concepts that players might associate with the game’s
Players often need to process a lot of game information
Try to visual the information so that they know their
general status at a glance.
“Natural Mapping” is when we use cultural expectations
– such as gas gauges and temperature meters – to cue
us as to what the information presented on the screen
It is often best to group similar features together
visually so that the player always knows where
to look for them.
Do not move your features from one area to
another when changing screens or areas of the
game. Keep meters and buttons in the same
Let the player know, through either visual or auditory
feedback, that their action has been accepted.
Audio feedback is very good for letting the player know
that input has been received or something new is about
Visual feedback is good for giving precise data like the
exact status of a player’s resources or letting the player
know where his units are.