Eric and I went to our first Boston Indies Demo night as Dormouse Games to do some paper prototyping. We learned a few things about how to do a paper prototype and why it’s a valuable process to go through. We were not the only guys there, Legend of the Cipher a CCG that teaches you how to rap, had made some cards and were play testing. Good stuff!
1.) Good Materials
Initially we were going to have people prototype our puzzle game on a piece of paper, with pens. After a couple attempts it got pretty hard to see the puzzle anymore. We briefly switched to pencil, but even that was a bit cumbersome. Fortunately we had dry erase markers and plastic sheets. This combination allowed players to erase their incomplete attempts. Each of those options punished the player for making a mistake, something we do not intend to do in the game.
Be careful of the difficulty level of what you show to players. Having stared at the puzzles for weeks now, we can solve them faster than anyone that hasn’t seen them before. So when you select the puzzles to demo, make sure you pick ones that seem easier than you think they should.
You can develop a neat little narrative about the game, while explaining it. This happens naturally as you show the game to multiple people over the course of the same evening. Keep this narrative in mind, as it can become your tutorial or introductory levels. Better yet record it if you can; Audio, video, or digital.
4.) Record Keeping
You don’t need to keep everything, but having a few paper copies on hand is a good idea. Keeping many repetitive copies of the same solutions to puzzles isn’t really as important as watching the player go through the motions. Arguably the design of the game changed in our minds as we watched players struggle, overcome and enjoy the game. We could have recorded the session better… But for a first game start-up paying close attention is a fine place to start. Recording would be more important if your developer was not available to watch the players directly.
5.) Emotional Impact
Don’t be surprised if some of the players do a better job at playing the game then you! Chances are out of 50 or 100 people one of them will find a better solution to an issue than you did. This might feel like a blow to the ego, but congratulate the player as honestly and enthusiastically as possible. Your goal is to make a great game, not be the world champion at it. That may change after the game is released, but during prototyping be supportive, and move on.
If you have any questions about building or prototyping a game you can tweet me. Or you can find me on ello.co/larp. Recently I did some play testing for some combat larp character creation mechanics. Check those out here.