Blog – Game Design / Paper Prototyping?
Today I want to explain briefly what designers mean when they say “paper prototyping” in terms of game design. The explanation can vary but in this particular case I am going to show it from a non-artist and non-programmer viewpoint. Before I give a quick example let us explain one of the definitions ill be using a lot.
Game Mechanic – This is one of the core elements of game design and is about how something works, if player does X, then Y happens. If X is true, then you can do Y. Things like setup, victory conditions, progression of play and player actions are a part of the game mechanic.
For this particular impulsive blog, I have spent 2 hours creating a prototype idea where I started with theme and goal of the game when I was training my skills.
The Theme I ended up with was Mages riding dolphins in water world. The Goal I ended up with was simply first one to race to the end.
Again, this is an unplanned paper prototyping that occurred out of the blue and as a designer it is also my job to ensure we have new interesting ideas popping up which are further researched, investigated and tested out. Normally, I just write game design documents first. So, the game I created is about racing so bare with me as I explain what happen in a unorganized fashion.
Ready? Walking around the house I saw an old chess board while looking for paper to draw grids on; I decided to just use the grids on the chess board to speed up the design, visually telling me which was the path. Grids was the easiest solution at the time, tiles would require more time, cards would require more planning and grids was easiest way to make a “racing path”.
Having a race on a board game or in general with nothing else occurring except turns and movement, is rather dull. But it was the basic game mechanic in its simplest form where the player moved up 8 grids, then down 8 grids and worked their way to the left. So I had to spice it up using restricted gameplay area which was the chess board along with the theme which was mages riding dolphins.
What did I think about immediately? First, I wanted to try another method of moving instead of dices so I cut out some paper, wrote 1-6 and put it upside down so each player had to pick one each turn like throwing dice. What happen is it was a bad replacement of dice throwing, so I decided to throw in luck design and make “movement cards” into memory mini game, so I created following and limited amount of cards.
* 1 that moved 6 grids
* 1 that moved 5 grids
* 2 that moved 4 grids
* 3 that moved 3 grids
* 4 that moved 2 grids
* 5 that moves 1 grids
I then shuffled them and put them face down, a player would then pick it up place it onto the “used deck” on the other side of the board, turning it into “Phases”. Once all the movement cards were emptied, they were shuffled and put back into place as a full deck. In other words, the same card wouldnt be used again until all the cards before were used, once all cards were used it was all shuffled back into a deck letting players predict and memorize the games movement, which pays a great important later in terms of the whole game design. Read on to understand why it matters.
I had now designed the play area, direction that the player must move to reach their goal and how they would move in turns. So, the rules would look as following.
1. Pick a move card
2. Move diagonal according to the number showed on the card
3. First to reach end goal, wins.
That is it, basic mechanic were in place but in my opinion it was boring because to me it was lacking player engagement and conflict. Most board games I played that had resource management but not much player conflict like stopping other players was kind of boring.
So, what was up next? I needed something the players could do to engage each other aggressively to stop the other player from winning the race. So, I created magic spells and simplified it to the point that everyone simply had it available at the start of the game and no custom character sheet for different mages etc. So I created a spell card called whirl pool
Whirl pool – Place diagonal on your current path, when opponent lands on it they need to pick a movement card which decided how many grids/spaces they go back. It is a combination of strategy to give depth to players like me and luck based to keep things unexpected by letting the player pick move card to determine the distance they need to go backwards.
So, the new rules were expanded into following.
1. Pick a move card
2. Move diagonal according to the number showed on the card
3. Cast a spell before ending turn
4. First to reach end goal, wins.
The reason I put cast spell at the end of the turn and not first is simply because it brings more strategy and planning into the game, I will explain later how. But before that you might have noticed that letting a player cast spell without resource management can be less fun, right? Well, it is a completely different game and would be too simple for my taste so I obviously needed a system for gaining resources and giving casting spell a cost. So, I randomly placed my new mana/energy orbs onto the board along the path of the player. Each time they moved over it they would gain a mana, thus afford to spend it on whirl pool to stop the opposing player.
So, now we have playing board, movement rules, turns, player engagement, resource management and minor strategy.
I played around with different rules, mechanic and even added more cards, limit, restrictions and other stuff. Here are some of the other cards based on game design and the 2 hours paper prototyping.
Freeze wave – It can only be cast vertically from left to right which means you have to be ahead or behind a player, along with see a square/grid space that is ahead of the player you want to freeze. When the player lands on it, he picks a movement card and is frozen for that amount of time.
Boost – To ensure more resource management and choices for the player, I added a spell to use on self which lets the player spend a mana orb and move one extra space, so if someone decided to save 8 orbs for the last path, he could spend it and then win the game. That is if he isn’t stopped by freeze wave or whirl pool trap.
Eventually I wanted something that could counter 1 trap spell so I created the shield spell so the player could use it to ignore the trap, thus rendering the trap spell useless and continue moving.
This is because I added a rule that says “If trap placed on orb grid, player who lands on the trap does not gain orb unless shield is on”. This is also why the “Use spell” is AFTER you are done moving, otherwise the previous player who placed the trap would make the trap gameplay useless, letting all players simply activate shield at the start of the turn when they saw a trap ahead. With the current “Use spell after moving” the player need to think ahead of time thus making things more interesting and strategic!
I also tried three upgrades which changed the gameplay drastically but that is mostly because of the 8×8 game boards, so simply expanding the board to 16×16 would make the three upgrades more suited in the game. I removed the three upgrades because the game become more of “Save to upgrade” rather than “Attack to stop” gameplay in the short amount of playtime.
Capacity upgrade: By paying 5 orbs the player would increase the limit of keeping 5 orbs to 10 orbs.
Double move: By paying 10 orbs the player would gain double move then standard movement, so if the move card said 2 he would have gotten 4.
Double orbs: Pay 5 orbs to gain x2 amount of orbs each time you passed an orb grid. So instead of 1 they player would get 2.
Now, unless you didn’t notice yet why I designed movement cards and made it into deck then I will try and explain. It was because the spells require the affected player to pick a movement card for freeze time or going back in movement. This means, the caster can try and predict the best outcome by keeping track of which cards that went out and try and have the opponent pick 5-6 card, which there is only 1 of! In other words, if I know the 5 and 6 didnt leave the deck yet and there are only 2 cards left then the player would be in trouble after I place a trap spell.
Anyway, this is an actual real process of game design using paper prototyping. Below is the final image and test session.（SOurce：fatcowgames）