Category Archives: Game Design

Game 2 of 2016 Design Notes

Its time to start on game #2. After the last few games experimenting with MeteorJS and writing games in Javascript, I figured it was time to get back to a dedicated game platform. As of yet I have not decided which but am thinking of going back to Monkey-X or diving into PhaserJS. Additionally, I have changed one of my goals for the year. I will not be releasing games to mobile. They will however still try to be mobile friendly designs but just released for the browser.

But enough of that, into the design.

The Game

For game #2 I am planning on using a mechanic that I have seen in several games, the most well known probably being Steam Birds although an almost identical mechanic was used in a game from the 90’s called Critical Mass. The player will have a unit (or units) that they give commands to that then move and act in short bursts of “real time.” Like a lot of games it will be combat based where your unit destroys others and tries to not get destroyed itself.


Destroy the most enemy units over a course of X number of turns. Deathmatch.


Each unit will have speed and turning radius that limits there movement each turn. They will also have some health or toughness that when it reaches zero, they are destroyed. After a set number of rounds, the player with the most enemies destroyed wins. Ideally this will be multiplayer.


Basic interaction is players score by destroying each other. May give units additional abilities or power ups to be able to interact with the opposing units.

Catch Up

This could either be a power up when destroying an enemy with more kills than you, or a bonus on respawn. Have not decided yet. We will play around with these ideas and see which one plays better.


Like many good turn based games, this one has a set number of turns. Once they have all been taken the game is over.


Random spawn locations and respawn locations. Random power ups perhaps. I was thinking of adding some sort of “cloud cover” where a unit could enter it and hide and nobody could see it and it could not see outside of the cloud. This would allow a player to change direction to get away but possibly make a bad choice and run into an opponent.


I think in order to add a necessary strategic layer, the units will need some sort of limited consumable weapon, shield, etc. that players can learn to use more effectively. Possibly manage an energy level for weapons and shields.


I am taking an idea that I and presumably several others already find fun, 2D dogfighting, and adding some new twists that I believe will prove to be fun as well.


With the energy idea, I am thinking space / sic-fi flavor. It fits pretty well and is one of my favorites. Maybe piloting drones in a space based tournament.


Sort of along the lines of taking something popular and adding other ideas into it. For me the hook is multiplayer version of steam birds. I think that would be pretty cool. Like 8-20 players battling it out, maybe even in teams. The turn based part of it might be a bit rough with that many players with each decision part of the turn needing a timer.

Final Thoughts

Looking forward to making a prototype of this game and start play testing. Learned a good bit the first 3 months working on game 1. Looking to learn even more in the 2 quarter of the year.

Keep growing and learning.

Story Design Mistake

My first design for the story of my current game was a colossal failure. I made a huge mistake that I did not quite see at first.

For every decision the player made, the story went in a different direction. Each choice starting towards a different ending. Part of this giant tree of story was cut off by choices that ended in the player dying, but it quickly got out of control.

I realized that I needed to pick a few endings and have the story converge to them. This proved to be better but the story tree was still large.

Then I read the next chapter of The Art of Game Design. It had a name for what I was doing and did the math for me. If the story is only 10 choices long and each choice leads further towards a unique ending, I would need to write over 80,000 endings! The book refers to this as the “Combinatorial Explosion” problem.

Game Story Patterns

There are a couple patterns described that are used in most games to avoid a lot of the issues that arise from trying to be too free with interactive storytelling.

The String of Pearls

In this scenario, the story is fairly linear but has a series of points in which the player must achieve a goal. There is basically one ending but on the journey the player has some freedom along the way for how to achieve the goal. Once they accomplish the goal for the area they are in, they are advanced to the next area.

The Story Machine

This type of design is based around giving the player an experience that they want to tell someone else about. Free build type games like Minecraft and Rollercoaster Tycoon, competitive games like football and CS:GO allow the player to create an interesting series of events that they want to tell someone else about. The goal is a system that creates interesting stories when your player interacts with it.

Following Examples

A couple years ago I had come across an interesting little text adventure game on Android called Wizard’s Choice which was largely the inspiration for the design of my current game. So I went and found it and played it again and guess what I found. It followed the “String of Pearls” design pattern.

The story has 1 ending. It has basically 3 areas from beginning to end where you have some freedom to make choices that affect how you get through the area alive.

I am going to borrow this design pattern and redesign my current pile of spaghetti of a story.

10 Things Analysis: League of Legends

One of the things I decided to write about a bit this year in addition to analyzing the games I work on and make, I am going to analyze various games that I have played or currently play or that I enjoy watching played. The first game that I would like to review is League of Legends.

How I Know the Game

My first introduction to games like LOL was when a college friend of one of my brothers stayed with us for a couple weeks and had a copy of Warcraft III with the DOTA mod. It was one of the coolest things I had ever seen at that point and I really enjoyed it. Later I think I was searching for a way to play online against other people and stumbled across League. I have played off and on ever since.

I am by no means an overly skilled player, mostly because I do not devote very much time to playing. But I enjoy playing and I enjoy watching, especially at the tournament level.

The game is not perfect, no game is, but it is fun and has a world wide player base and has championship games every so often that thousands of people from around the world watch. One of my long term goals in game design is to make a game that has this kind of player base and community involvement.

On to Analysis

Even a super popular game like League of Legends has the 10 things every game needs. It was extremely easy to pick these things out as well. League has multiple actual game modes but most fall under the same analysis. This look will be at the primary 5 vs 5 mode on the main “Summoner’s Rift” map. I may analyze this game again from a different view point entirely in the future, but for now even a simple analysis of these 10 things is over 1000 words.


The goal of the game is extremely simple. Destroy the enemy “Nexus” (the big structure at the heart of the enemy team’s base). There are subgoals that you have to achieve to get there, but that is the only way to win the game (besides the other team surrendering).


LOL is a complex video game with tons of rules riding beneath the surface, but here are a few of them.

  1. You cannot destroy the enemy nexus until at least 1 lane of towers and its “Inhibitor” and the nexus protective turrets are destroyed
  2. You get gold for doing the last bit of damage that kills an enemy
  3. If your characters health drops to 0, you will be unable to play for a certain amount of time and will respawn back at your base
  4. You can buy items at the store that improve your stats

Several gigabytes of code go into making the rules of this came in how it looks and how it behaves.


The game has some built in things to encourage interaction amongst the players. The first is the reward for killing an opponent. When you defeat an opposing player, you get a reward of gold which you can use to buy items to make your character stronger and you get a reward of experience that takes your character closer to leveling up and getting stronger.

In addition, killing an opponent puts them back at their base and takes them out of the game for the length of the death timer. This allows you to try to get towards the goal of the game (destroying the “Nexus”) without them interfering with your character.


LOL does a fair job of avoiding lame duck game scenarios that we talked about last time by including a couple different catchup features. First, players who are at a lower level get a small experience bonus to allow them to catchup. Second, when a player is doing really well and getting a lot of kills they get a bounty on them, so that when they are killed the opposing player gets a large gold bonus for killing them.

The game designers undoubtedly have a few other catchup features but these are 2 of the main ones that I am aware of. There is also a couple mini objectives on the map that offer power ups to allow a weaker player to gain strength if they put in a little risk.


There are a few inertial forces in LOL. Two of them are the mini objective catchup features I just mentioned. The Dragon and Baron offer power ups that the winning team can get to give them even more of a lead to overpower the other team.

The most powerful inertia force is the death timers. As the game progresses, the death timers get longer. Near the end of the game, the team that is doing well and consistently killing the opposing teams characters can get a minute or more without the opponents on the map. This allows them to push their lead even further and often win the game.


Fog of war is the mechanic of choice in LOL for surprise. You can only see areas of the map that friendly characters, minions, or wards are at. This means that opponents could be anywhere. You don’t know when the enemy might appear out of the jungle and attack. It allows you to sneak around unaware opponents and attack from multiple sides.

Even in areas that you can see, there is a terrain feature of bushes or tall grass that allows a character to be invisible unless an opponent, enemy minion, or ward is in the same section of bushes with them.

In addition, some characters have stealth capabilities that allow them to go completely invisible unless they are near something or someone that has a special stealth detection ability.


The strategy is on several levels in this game. It starts before you actually start playing. Their is a meta game that determines whether your matchup will be easier or hard based on which characters your opponents choose.

When you are actually in the game, where you go, who kills certain minions and monsters, what items you buy, when you choose to use certain abilities and in what order are all large strategic choices. I would recommend watching some tournament play of this game to grasp the amount of strategy involved.


What is fun about this game? This is the major question I need to figure out how to answer and probably the main usefulness (at least to me) of doing these kinds of analysis.

Their are several things that I enjoy about the game personally. Teamwork is a big one. Being able to join 4 other random people and work towards a common goal together is awesome (one of the same reasons I like pickup basketball).

Another is being able to outsmart opponents. Figuring out what an opponent wants to do and stopping them, or turing around an ambush to our advantage.

Mastery is the final element of fun I want to talk about. Being able to learn and figure out different play styles that ultimately lead to victory is fun.


League went so far as to create their own universe (Runeterra) for flavor. It has tons of lore and story and character background and different races and nations and technology and magic. They have a large portion of the game’s website dedicated to lore.


One of the major hooks of LOL is that it is free to play. And it is completely free to play. All the actual stuff that matters in gameplay (characters, bonuses, stat increases) are available through gameplay.

It also has a huge community that enjoys creating derivative drawings, paintings, music, cosplay and tons of other things on top of enjoying playing the game.


League of Legends has all 10 of the things every game needs, and it does them all pretty well. I hope that you will use some of the examples from this game and others to improve your own games. Learn to learn from the games that you enjoy.

Go do some analysis on the games you play.

Game 1 of 2016 January Progress Report

So far I have done absolutely 0 programming on Game 1, and that is ok. This will definitely need to increase but it is impossible to actually start programming a game until it has been designed.

There is a design and I decided to start by working on the paper prototype.

Game 1 Paper Prototype

Given the text adventure style of the game, it is actually fairly easy to do a paper prototype since it is fairly similar to a “choose your own adventure” book. Play testing will be interesting to figure out since I plan on having some resources like ammunition for a weapon be part of the decision making process.

As I was making the notecards, I thought of a neat little idea I could use in the story where instead of just reading text, the player can sometimes be faced with some sort of interface with button and switches and levers that utilizes the phones natural tap and swipe interaction to make the game more fun and interesting.

I used a notebook to draw a little flowchart that includes the major decision points and then develop out the interactions that occur at these decision points and what the story will be like on 3×5 notecards since they are similar in size to a phone screen (which is the target platform). The goal is to get to a minimal story and start building on it.

I have been doing a little tangential programming, working through a tutorial on AngularJS and MeteorJS which is the current target technology for creating the game. If it looks like this will be too unwieldy then I may go back to vanilla MeteorJS. This is sort of an excuse to teach myself Angular to see what all the fuss is about.

We are coming up on the end of the first month of 2016 already so if you haven’t already started …

Go make games.

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses – Part 1

One of my self-improvement goals this year is to read a book on game design or making video games every two months and I could not have picked a better or worse first book to start with.

I figured I would do a long review at the end of the 2 months and that would be all. But this first book is actually over 500 pages long and I am only about 75 pages into it at the moment and already have enough notes for a full post.

The goal is still to average 1 book per 2 months but this book might stretch to 3. So I am going to break up the notes I am taking into separate posts that will probably take the place of post I was planning on doing about various articles I had read on game design because I am reading this book instead.

These are rough notes from the Intro up to the end of Chapter 4.

The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses

Game Design is simply decision making, of how the game will ‘be’.

Good game design comes from viewing the design from multiple perspectives (lenses).

Game design is not super precise, more art than science.

Study fundamentals, study classic games that have withstood test of time to find what makes games fun.

It is a game designers job to create new games.

Design principles will come from everywhere because design is everywhere.

You will not become a game designer by reading a book. It is an activity you must do, and you must build the game and play it and have others play it.

Ch 1 Design games, start now!

Say out loud: “I am a game designer”, now go make games.

Must lack fear of ridicule.

Game design is decision making and decisions must be made with confidence.

Failure is the only path to success, the more the better.

Almost anything can be a useful skill for game design.

The most important skill: Listening.

Ch2 The Designer creates the experience

Game designers goal is to create an experience, all he really cares about.

Game is not the experience, it enables the experience.

Split between artifact and experience is more noticeable in game design mostly due to the level of interaction.

Some experiences or feelings only game based experiences seem to offer (choice, freedom, accomplishment).

Need to use Psychology, Anthropology and Design to uncover mysteries of the human mind.

Cannot afford to be snobbish about where we get our knowledge. Good ideas can come from anywhere.

Use introspection to make judgements about what is and is not working in your game. But your experience may not be true for others so listen to your audience and internalize to better predict what experiences they will enjoy.

Need to clearly be able to state what you like, what you don’t like and why.

Analyze how a game makes you feel, what it makes you think of, and what it makes you do.

Do this kind of analysis when designing and playing your own games and games others have created.

How do we analyze our experiences without tainting them?
1. Remember them – best with powerful or fresh memories.
2. Go through experience twice – analyzing the second time.
3. “Sneak Glances” – ask yourself simple questions while in the experience that don’t require deep analysis and don’t break immersion.

Getting in the habit of observing yourself without interrupting your own experience can be worthwhile.

Goal is to figure out the essential elements that really define the experience you want to create and find ways to make them part of your game design.

What experience do I want the player to have and what is essential to that experience?

Ch 3 The Experience Rises Out of a Game

We cannot manipulate experiences directly.

Fun is pleasure with surprises.

What will surprise players when they play my game? Can players surprise each other? Can they surprise themselves?

What parts of my game are fun? Why? What parts need to be more fun?

Play is manipulation that indulges curiosity.

What questions does my game put in the players mind? What am I doing to make them care? How can I make them invent even more questions?

What is valuable to the player in my game? How can I make it more valuable to them? How is the value in the game related to the players motivations?

– 10 things that make up a game –
1. are entered willfully
2. are interactive
3. have goals
4. have challenges
5. have conflict
6. can create their own internal value
7. have rules
8. engage players
9. can be won and lost
10. are closed, formal systems

A Game is a problem solving activity approached with a playful attitude.

What problems does my game ask the player to solve? Are their hidden problems that arise as part of gameplay? How can my game generate new problems so the player keeps coming back?

Ch4 The Game Consists of Elements

4 Basic Elements
1. Mechanics – procedures and rules of game
2. Story – sequence of events
3. Aesthetics – how your game looks, sounds, smells, tastes, and feels
4. Technology – any materials and interactions that make your game possible

All of these are of equal importance.

Is my game design using elements of all four types? Could my design be improved by enhancing elements in one or more categories? Are the 4 elements in harmony and reinforcing each other?

Space invaders looked at as an example.

What elements of the game make the experience enjoyable? What elements take away from the experience? How can I change the elements of the game to improve the experience?

End of Part 1

Just the first 4 chapters have been immensely valuable in how I approach designing a game. I have started asking myself these questions about the first game I am making this year and already able to make a few improvements.

Looking forward to the rest of the book, would already recommend it as a must read for aspiring game designers.

Say this out loud, “I am a game designer” … now go make games

Game Design Fundamentals Notes – Ernest W. Adams Talk

While searching for talks about the fundamentals of game design, I came across this video of a talk given by Ernest W. Adams which has some really good material. This is a summary in some broken notes of the talk.

While this talk is about game design in general, it focuses primarily on video games.

A Game

A game is something that entertains people through play.

4 Things separate games from other forms of entertainment.

  • Play – competitive, creative, social (for single player games it is player vs machine)
  • Rules – this is what separates a game from a toy
  • Goal – a victory condition, not all “video games” are games by this definition, some are toys (i.e. Sims, Minecraft Creative Mode)
  • Magic Circle – this is a term the presenter uses to represent the social and/or mental space where we pretend the things in the game are important like the money in Monopoly has value or that it matters that the ball goes in the net. It is a suspension of disbelief also referred to as immersion. Games differ from books and movies in that there is participation in the immersive experience.

Video Games Entertain

There are multiple ways that video games entertain.

Gameplay – this is the most important and is separated from the rest of the list for this reason.
Aesthetics, Storytelling, Exploration, Novelty, Progression, Risk & Reward (Gambling games), Learning, Roleplaying, Socializing

Parts of a game

Player – This is the most important part of the game, it processes outputs and gives inputs

User Interface – This presents the game outputs to the player

Core Mechanics – This enforces the rules of the game, processes inputs and gives outputs

Game Designers Job

As a game designer you have to imagine a game, define how it works by creating the core mechanics and designing the User Interface. Then you have to describe the elements that make it up (Example was hockey and you would need to describe the hockey stick, the puck, the skates, the rules, etc).

Most importantly as a game designer you have to get this information to other people in a clear manner.

Video games exist to fulfill the player’s dreams. Dreams of power, of creativity, of exploration, and many other things.

Ask first “What does the player dream of doing?”
What actions are fun? (include)
What actions are no fun? (exclude)
Only then think about characters, story, setting, etc.

Games can offer the player more than 1 role to play but if you cannot describe to the player what their role in the game is you will have problems. Players will not want to pay money for you game because they don’t know what they are getting and Marketers will not be able to market your game to a particular audience.


Gameplay is the challenges you put in from of players and the actions that they have available to them.

At least 1 action must overcome the challenge, otherwise game is unwinnable.

Challenges are the goals of your game.
Actions are the verbs, the player options.

You will have a hierarchy of challenges with some major challenges like “Beat Level 1” being made up of smaller challenges like “Solve the puzzle” or “Defeat 5 enemies.”

Smaller challenges that can no longer be broken down are atomic challenges. Want to start with these.

Most games only offer a subset of their gameplay at any one time. They have different modes that offer different gameplay.

Modes are usually a combination of the Camera model, the Interaction model, and the gameplay that is available only in that mode. Examples include Pac-man eating a power pellet changing the interaction with the ghost to be chasing instead of avoiding.

Interaction Model

In Avatar based play, the player is represented by a character or object in the game world and affects the world through their avatar.

In Omnipresent based play, the player is usually interacting with much of the world directly.

Camera Model

Most games simulate a physical space and have a virtual camera that looks at that space.

You have first person which is good for precise action like shooting and driving.
You have third person which is good for exploring.
You have side scrolling, top scrolling and fixed.
You have Omnipresent which is usually an aerial top down or isometric view, though many modern games have a free 3D camera that can roam the whole world.
Some games have a context sensitive camera that tries to find the best point of view, this can be tricky to do though and is usually a bad idea for combat or other intense situations.

Game Structure

The overall game structure is made up of the relationship of gameplay modes to each other.

The game designer usually would want to create a flow chart to determine what actions and occurrences cause the games mode to change (i.e. zooming in with a sniper rifle).


Mechanics are the algorithmic form of the rules that a computer can understand. They are used to implement the internal economy of the game. By that we mean the numeric quantities like ammo and life points that the rules of the game rely on.

Not all games have internal economies. Puzzle games and some adventure games do not rely on numbers.

The internal economy typically has Resources, Sources, and Drains. Using an First Person Shooter as an example.

Resources – Ammo, Health, Enemies
Sources – Clips, Med Kits, Spawn Points
Drains – Fire Weapon, Get Hit, Kill Enemies

You Balance a game by adjusting the numbers in these three categories.


Balance has different meanings in different kinds of games.

In a PvP (player vs. player) game, it means that the game is fair. Each player has an equal chance of winning the game at the beginning based on the rules (skill does not factor in).

In a single player game, balance means that the difficulty level is appropriately challenging.

Puzzle games are difficult to balance.

The easiest way to balance a PvP game is to make it as perfectly Symmetrical as possible. Everybody starts with the same resources (turn based games can be a little difficult because of first move advantage).

Asymmetrical games are harder to balance but are more interesting because of their complexity.

Positive and Negative Feedback

Progression through the game is aided by positive feedback.

Positive feedback is when a resource makes it easier to get more of itself or an achievement makes the next achievement easier. Monopoly is the example used where you spend money to get properties which get you rent which gets you money.

Good positive feedback prevents a stalemate but you don’t want to give too much of a lead so that it is hopeless for the other player.

Negative Feedback keeps games close and punishes the winner (think Mario Kart and power ups). This is usually good for silly games.

The ideal progression in a games is where the lead changes hands but the better player ends up winning.

Mechanics of Game Design Questions

These are some questions to ask yourself when designing a game.

What are the core resources in this game? What are the sources of those resources? Where do they go, what uses them up?

What are the challenges in the game? Physical Coordination, Logic, Pattern Recognition, Races against Time, Factual Knowledge (only good for trivia games), Memory, Exploration, Conflict, Economic, Lateral Thinking and Conceptual Reasoning?

Interface of Game Design Questions

User Interface needs to be designed to answer the following questions:
Where am I? What am I doing? What challenge am I facing?

The interface should use indicators to represent the internal values of the game.

Binary indicators (on or off), Multistate indicators (like traffic lights), Numeric (Money), Multidimensional (3D character appears tired instead of having a stamina bar).

People always forget audio indicators (when they aren’t sound designers).

Indicators should answer: Do I have what I need? Am I making Progress?

Constructing the Fantasy World

This is one of the more fun parts of game design (results may vary).

The fantasy world contributes to the immersion of the game.

However, if the gameplay is absorbing enough, the setting or world becomes less important and may not be important at all.

Things to consider are:

The physical dimension – is it 2D, 2.5D (2D with a single flying height), 3D?

Scale – how big is the world? how big are things in relation to each other?

Boundaries – what happens at the edge of the world?

Laws of Physics – totally bogus or borderline literal (usually only want this for simulations like flying)?

Temporal Dimesion – is time meaningful to the player? does the game make time move or does the player?

Environmental Dimension – what are the natural surroundings? how about man-made? how are things influenced by the culture? what level of detail? what is the visual and auditory style/tone? how do you choose to represent the underlying style?

Emotional Dimension – what is the tone of your world (happy, sad, scary)? how do you want the player to feel? (most games not emotionally subtle) how do you inspire emotions?

Ethical Dimension – what is right and what is wrong in your game world? what leads to victory is considered good. player must conform to the designs morality to win (cannot be a pacifist in Call of Duty). games can get into political trouble when they look like real world and have flip flopped ethics (GTA).

Abstract vs Representational

All games have compromises on realism, some more than others.

Abstract games can have arbitrary rules.

Representational games must avoid “conceptual non-sequiturs” because they represent a world similar to the one the player is familiar with. (example is James Bond game where fuel tank had a medkit inside it when blown up).

My Closing Thoughts

This was a useful talk about game design and gave a lot of good questions to ask yourself when designing games. I highly recommend watching the talk for yourself. You can find it on Youtube here.

Game 1 of 2016 Design Notes

Since I have not found a better method yet to start my game design process with, I am using the 10 things every game needs as the foundation for the first game I make in 2016.

The Game

Part of the first game’s goal is also to learn how to build an app for Android and how to release it in the Google Play Store, so it needs to be pretty simple. I do not want to be doing animation, multiplayer or any other complex stuff for game #1.

So I decided that a nice text adventure should be a good first app. Also, last year I did not make any games of this type so it is a new genre to learn about making.


The first thing any game needs is a goal. For our text adventure, the goal is simply to reach 1 of X (X probably being 4 right now) endings where the player is still alive. These ending may vary wildly in their perceived desirability with some leading to riches and others maybe leading to minimum survival but the goal is just to get to a survivor ending.


As with most text adventure games, it will be a game of choices. Choices that players make early affect the choices presented to them later.

Also, this game will have some resources that make the player choose when to use and what they can bring along with them. The choice options will depend on the players items and other resources.


This does not really exist in this game as it is single player. The player only interacts with the game and the choices that are presented to him. We can sort of simulate an opponent through the story, but I feel that this is not in the spirit of this particular design element.

Catch Up Feature

Again, since this is a single player game this does not really apply. There could be choices that allow the player to risk something to gain more resources if they managed them poorly in the beginning of the adventure so they can reach one of the survivor endings. I will have to think of how to implement that.


There is no going backwards through the story. Once you have made a decision it cannot be reversed. Pretty straightforward inertia.


Unless someone has played through the entire game several times, they cannot know what the consequences of their actions are or how to get to a certain ending. Each choice is a surprise. Also, some elements of the story can include surprise like events. Even a little randomness could be added.


Managing your resources and learning the best response to the enemies you encounter to get to the best possible ending is where strategy comes in.


The book I am currently reading on game design states that the purpose of game design is to evoke an enjoyable experience from the player. This can be the choice making and the surprise one gets from unexpected consequences of the choices that were made.


This is usually whatever scifi or fantasy story I am currently reading, but I think it will be a cross up of several stories. Leaning towards having the player start in a crash landed escape pod, waking up with amnesia on a planet with dinosaur like animals and a mix of futuristic and modern day technology. With the usual intergalactic war, pirates, mercenaries, crime lords and politicians.


I think I actually need to do some research into hooks for text adventure style games. The only thing I can think of for this is “Find out who you are by the choices you make. Run by the most powerful graphics processor known to man, the human imagination.” Borrowed the last bit from the Big Bang Theory from where the main character, Sheldon, plays a text adventure.

Final Thoughts

Its not perfect but it is something to start with and that is one of the most important things. If you don’t get started, you will never figure out what works and what needs to change.

Keep growing and learning.

Making Games: Paper Prototyping

Paper prototyping is an easy and inexpensive method of testing out game ideas and anybody can do it. Basically all you need is a pencil or pen and a piece of paper of any type.

The idea is to simulate the game you are designing to get an idea of the different parts of design before you make a large time and effort investment into creating a digital or more exact physical prototype.

Paper Beats Rock

There is a short but noteworthy list of advantages to prototyping a game with paper.

Paper does not grow on trees. Or does it?

You can literally paper prototype for free if you don’t want to use actual paper but will settle for dirt, sticks, rocks, etc. Single person shops and small studios (even large studios really) can always stand to save a little money. What better way than to start your designs in the cheapest way possible.

However if you do want to be slightly more sophisticated, a few standard office supplies is all you need to get started.

People are not scared of paper

A major benefit of prototyping with paper is when you are working with non-techy people such as artist, sound engineers, and people who play games but don’t make them.

Where a computer and programming might scare somebody off, most people are comfortable working with paper and pencils.

This allows you to get design input from all sorts of people who would have been excluded before. Large teams where only a few members are programmers will especially benefit from this. Added benefit is you can remove all the pesky distracting technologies from the design area such as phones and computers.

Fill the wastebasket

Throw away the bad ideas early, its just on paper after all.

The disposability of paper makes it ideal for iterating thru ideas quickly. This gets you to the better ideas quicker and makes you feel less guilty than if you had invested a lot of time into writing the code and creating the art for a digital prototype.

This does not mean you have to throw out whole ideas every time. Using paper in different sizes, like sticky notes and index cards, allows you to replace small parts to find what works.

More than plain paper

Just using a paper and pencil is fine but using a few more office supplies and a few odds and ends make paper prototyping even more versatile and useful.

The articles and videos I watched doing research on this suggest a long list of articles that could be useful:

  • Colored paper
  • Index cards
  • Sticky notes
  • Tape
  • Glue sticks
  • Scissors
  • Poker chips
  • Dice – for randomness
  • Pieces from board games
  • Any other office equipment you can think of

There are really no limits on the physical objects you use for paper prototyping.

I recommend watching a few videos on youtube of people demonstrating games using paper prototypes. Several have been done and they are very creative in simulating things with paper, some tape and some short sticks to manipulate actors in their game.

Hard to Draw

Some game styles do not lend themselves well to paper prototyping. It is not a one size fits all approach. Real time strategy games, first person shooters, and games with a lot of action do not lend themselves to paper prototyping.

Also, some concepts do not translate well or are hard to simulate on paper such as screen loading time, colors, images, fonts, and scrolling horizontally or vertically.

The colors, images and fonts problem can be partially solved by using a printer to get hard copies of some of these things but this is not always practical.

Lessons from the Field

In my research I found several great suggestions about things to do and try while prototyping with paper.

Put Notes on your Paper

Put design notes directly on the design, front or back, for when you actually go to build the thing. They will have context and be easier to find.

Get User Expectations

Have a tester/user draw what they think would happen when they push a button or perform some sort of action. This will lead to better user interface design and help find unclear design features.

Cut the Paper Down to Size

Try to accurately represent in the size of the paper, the size of the computer screen you are designing the game for. If its for a phone, get some standard phone sizes, a ruler and a pair of scissors and cut your paper down to size (or use index cards). Same for tablets and other digital devices.

Get Creative

One video I watched, the guy was talking about designing the game Paperboy. In it he described how they had one person sliding poker chips across paper while others tossed poker chips at them that they had to avoid.

Don’t just limit yourself to drawing things.

Wrapping Up

Paper prototyping is an inexpensive method to rapidly prototype games used by both industry professionals and beginners. It is beneficial in being able to get the design input of non technical people, and being disposable so that you can iterate faster to get to the fun.

Further Reading

A List Apart: Paper Prototyping
Game Career Guide: 5 Facts for Paper Prototyping
Video: Play without Pixels
Video: Dr Ben Lewis-Evans on Paper Prototyping