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Prototyping for Fun & Profit. Engagement & Metaphor. Borut Pfeifer Plush Apocalypse Productions. Some Definitions. en⋅gage⋅ment  [en-geyj-muhnt] - the act of engaging or the state of being engaged. Engage - to attract and hold fast:  The novel engaged her attention and interest.

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Prototyping for Fun & Profit

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Prototyping for Fun & Profit

Engagement & Metaphor

Borut Pfeifer

Plush Apocalypse Productions

Some Definitions

en⋅gage⋅ment [en-geyj-muhnt] - the act of engaging or the state of being engaged.

Engage - to attract and hold fast: The novel engaged her attention and interest.

  • Metaphor - something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol.

The Unconcerned

  • Game about Iran post-election riots

  • Mother & Father lose Daughter in crowd

  • Puzzle-based gameplay moving through crowds

  • Swap characters to solve puzzles (Lost Vikings)

  • Purpose: Convey empathy w/Iranian people, inform about the political/social situation, through engaging gameplay

Prototyping and Iteration


  • Quickly get info you need for creative decisions

  • Different prototype axes:

    • Experiment (test) vs. Exploratory (generate ideas)

    • Aesthetic vs. Mechanic vs. both (careful!)

  • Thematic statement:

    • Clarify the core message(s) of the game.

    • NOT A PITCH STATEMENT (only for you)

      “Only by looking to everyone as individuals can we move

      past group/systemic struggles and save ourselves.”

Typical Prototyping Tips

  • Fail fast – use short prototype cycles.

  • Build it to throw away.

  • Constraints stimulate creativity.

  • Don’t develop story, levels, visuals, etc. until gameplay is engaging.

Typical Prototyping Pitfalls

  • Produces simple mechanics – not often thematically deep

  • Can prototype gameplay that will never work in fictional context.

  • Making the wrong prototype – reject mechanics that would work w/more advanced visuals.

  • Keep changing ideas, don’t finalize any.

Aesthetic Prototypes/Look Development

Avoid if possible!

Evaluate scale, speed, timing.

Look needs to be representative, but lo-fi:

  • May lack in some areas of fidelity (animation)

  • Fallback to debug shapes/text.

  • Important for serious games, look must convey theme

    Visual feedback must be:

  • Easy to distinguish (color, contrast, outline, movement)

  • Contextually appropriate

  • Frequent (simple actions + lots of feedback ~= fun)

Look Prototype

  • First work on project

  • Test perspective/scale/speed/timing

  • Separate (but also evaluate) color palette, style, etc.

Mechanic Prototypes/Gameplay Development

  • Clear player goal(s)

  • Give feedback on progress

    • How well are they achieving goals?

  • Player feedback on available actions

    • What actions can they take to achieve goals?

    • How effective will those actions be?

Serious Game Mechanics

Metaphorical mechanics fail when they’re:

  • Simplistic: can trivialize the subject

  • Over-generalized: applies a stereotype

  • Mismatched: conveys additional unwanted elements

  • Poorly skinned: slapped on existing game

  • Used in repetitive context: also trivializes

The Unconcerned Gameplay Prototyping

  • Interleave engaging elements with serious ones:

    • Searching – looking for daughter

    • Strategic differences between father/mother (both for puzzle purposes & rhetoric)

  • Analyze mechanics for metaphorical inconsistencies.

  • Prototypes

    • Finder/Waypoints

    • Line of Sight/Uncover area

    • Crowds

    • Split city location/crowd gameplay

Finder Mechanic Prototype

  • Experiment - test mechanic depth

  • Finder arrow – shows daughter’s possible direction (bounces around)

  • Ask people about daughter

  • Answers hone in on direction to exit level

  • Certain characters respond to father vs. mother

  • Added multiple waypoints

Finder Mechanic Prototype

  • Goal relatively clear

  • Effects of asking not clear w/randomization.

  • Making the asking mechanic more clear/less random makes it over-generalized.

  • Thematically – seek out individuals in crowd

Line-of-Sight Prototype

  • Exploration – how might this work?

  • Require player to search space by uncovering areas

  • Goal – certain % uncovered

  • Added crowds - sight blocked by crowds.

  • Have to get into a crowd to see inside/thru it.

  • Crowd entry based on father or mother

Line-of-Sight Prototype

Line of Sight Prototype

  • Goal not clear

  • Progress partially clear

  • Thematically – not related to individual/group relationships.

  • Crowds still required discrete class/role boundaries (stereotypical).

  • Might work as optional completion goal

Crowd Prototypes

  • Explore crowd-based puzzles

  • Characters can’t move through some crowds.

  • Break up crowd to open path.

  • Added crowd direction

    • Focused crowds restrict player movement

    • Use crowds as gates with switches

  • Added moving crowds to unblock obstacles

Crowd Prototypes

  • Moving crowds: not really logical for medium/large crowds

  • Basically a locked door “puzzle”

  • Thematically – loses focus on individual

  • Crowd boundaries have to be explicit either/or – strong gender/class statement

Split City/Crowd Prototype

  • Experiment with separating puzzle & exploration

  • City locations – explore w/simple environment obstacles (lock/key)

  • Enter crowds – move people to get through (push/pull block puzzle)

  • Must enter each crowd to uncover level (shown in mini-map)

Split City/Crowd Prototype

  • Engaging (goals & feedback ok)

  • Thematically – contrasts group & individual behavior

  • Diagonal movement problems:

    • Overhead grid spacing affords diagonal movement.

    • Make the puzzle harder, didn’t want them

    • Can it be solved visually?

Crowd Look Dev Prototype

  • Test faux 3D view

  • Eliminates affordance/feedback of diagonals

  • Emotional impact – feel closer to characters

Crowd Puzzle Metaphors

Add variation with different crowd units.

Random elements? Not easily understood.

Analog mechanics? Don’t fit in puzzle context.

Internal class variation:

  • Behaviors don’t apply to all members of a class

  • Some behaviors might apply to multiple classes

  • Communicate through multiple, noisy channels (like character’s random idle animation)

Crowd Puzzle Units

  • Added unit behaviors like:

    • Injurable person: push limit, need to help

    • Vocal protesters: attract people

    • Linked: attempt to stay side by side

    • Avoiders: inclined to move away automatically

  • Metaphors better avoid stereotyping

  • Requires character animation to test playability.

  • But structure allows work on plot, levels, etc.

  • Characters larger onscreen, saved redoing art!

Collected wisdom

  • Understand purpose of prototype (explore/ experiment, mechanic/aesthetic)

  • Thematic statement focuses creative decisions

  • Refine feedback of player goals, progress, and actions

  • Avoid over-simplified, stereotyped, mismatched, or inappropriately repetitive mechanics.

  • Fail fast! Decide faster!


  • Dan Boutros

  • Amanda Williams

  • Dren McDonald

    The Unconcerned:

    Prototyping advice? Email:

    Twitter: @plushapo


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