Paper Prototyping – Putting Your Games on Paper

Potential game ideas; every game developer has them. Ask any game developer and I am sure that they have some great game ideas that they would pursue if given the opportunity. Some people think these game ideas aren’t really useful; but it really depends on the application. I use all my game concepts by creating paper prototypes out of them. Paper prototyping is a surefire way to quickly develop these ideas and is the best way to curate all of the game ideas that you come up with. It simply requires you to make your game idea into a fully playable game.

As an example, I had come up with a game idea two weeks ago about power management puzzle game. The player would be given a map of a city that has lost all of its power and the player would be required to design a power grid that would repower the city. I really loved the idea and wanted to see if it can be transformed into a playable form.

One of my first sandbox levels

I started the prototyping process by designing a few sandbox levels that could be used to explore potential mechanics. I learned some really important things right from those simple levels.

1. I hadn’t put enough time into the winning condition.

How does the player win? This became a question that haunted me as I tried to play my game. I originally wanted the end state of the game to have the city fully powered but I quickly realized that this would clash with my initial idea of a player rating system (feature creep!). The rating system was an important feature for me and I didn’t want to scrap it.

I had thought about changing the winning condition from powering the entire city to powering a specific building. The rating system could rate a player by checking how much of the city did he/she power up (the more the better).

Being able to make changes like this before even a line of code is written arguably the biggest advantage for paper prototyping.

2. In its current state, the main game mechanic would not be fun for the player.

To be frank, it felt like the game mechanic lacked any depth. Powering an entire city by building a grid around each building in the right order felt too simple and I feared that it would become boring rather quickly. Obviously some more thought needs to be put into the game mechanic for it to be fun for more than a few minutes.

3. The possibility of creating the cities procedurally.

After creating a few levels by hand, I began thinking about the possibility of creating my puzzles procedurally. It would definitely aid with the content generation as well as the replay value of the game.

The main point of all this is that by forcing a game concept which I thought was good on paper, I had in fact revealed many glaring issues before I even wrote a single line of code. This type of prototyping is a great tool for any game developer because it helps train your inner game designer to look at all the possible angles of your game concept.

So next time you come up with a killer concept, put it on paper. It’s a great mental exercise and it’s plenty of fun!