VIGS Design Track: Low-fi Prototyping

26 May

May 24rd, 2008, by Adrian Audet

In the spirit of topic, the panel decided to not have presentation materials, and instead focused on describing previous experiences and approaches prototyping design ideas and mechanics. Considering the profound depth and respect for the guest speakers, the packed crowd was happy to just listen and ask occasionally ask questions. It was encouraging to see that the event was a popular choice for so many, with few seats available in the room. The four person panel comprised of Dave Elton, Senior Developer EA, Tony Laborie, Producer and Lead Designer, Threewave Software Inc., Josh Mosqueira, Design Director, Relic, and Tyler Sigman, Design Director, Big Sandwich Games. VFS alumni will recognize Mosqueira and Sigman for their mentoring and instruction contributions as well.

Many important points were discussed and presented by the group. Mosqueira clarified a question by saying, “The questions you ask yourself making a paper prototype are different than digital ones.” He suggested that it’s better to use paper only if you don’t have an engine already available, and further described how Relic has used its Impossible Creatures engine to quickly test ideas in the past, as well as other third party tools as a viable route. Cost effectiveness was mentioned often by all members, presenting an important point when prototyping: Ask important questions and have goals at each phase of your prototype, and make sure your ideas translate to the game. Have very specific goals to be able to determine what you measuring success with. Stories were heard of designers scaring their fellow work peers or causing alarm to other departments when simply testing ideas or fleshing out a mechanic, generating nods from the crowd. The panel advised making everyone aware of the context and goal(s) of the prototype as solutions to maintaining morale and focus. Sigman mentioned,

“Often people can lose energy and momentum if an idea doesn’t seem to pan out, and this can be misinterpreted as a negative. It isn’t however, since progress is being made sometimes in finding what is or isn’t going to be fun for the designer’s goals.”

Low investment, of both time and resources, were marked as priorities. Elton described that using low resolution maps and models to flesh out driving mechanics or feel and controls in Need For Speed, helped avoid focusing on unnecessary details, and instead on easily adjusted core needs. Mosquiera described using Powerpoint at times to convey ideas very quickly to describe a mechanic to a small team, who can then quickly iterate and develop a quick digital prototype. Loborie described how they use orange box modeling at Threewave, to determine if its multiplayer maps will be engaging enough and provide enough fun. When asked about the translation a prototype into a video game, the panel conceded that rules and mechanics are easier, whereas actions are more difficult.

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