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.

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Prototyping for Fun & Profit

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Prototyping for fun profit

Prototyping for Fun & Profit

Engagement & Metaphor

Borut Pfeifer

Plush Apocalypse Productions

Some definitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look Prototype

  • First work on project

  • Test perspective/scale/speed/timing

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

Mechanic prototypes gameplay development

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

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

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

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 prototype1

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

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 prototype1

Line-of-Sight Prototype

Line of sight prototype2

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

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 prototypes1

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

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 prototype1

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

Crowd Look Dev Prototype

  • Test faux 3D view

  • Eliminates affordance/feedback of diagonals

  • Emotional impact – feel closer to characters

Crowd puzzle metaphors

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

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

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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