The new stage of game design to do first…

There is nothing new about Pretotyping except using the word.  At Gameloop Boston #gl11, during the Prototyping panel professional game designers discussed the various methods they use to prototype a game.  Flash, Game Maker, Unity are all the rage right now in big design companies to get their ideas down into a playable form before coding a new game.  And then there was one guy at the panel whose main prototyping experience was using a D&D dry erase battle mat before ever coding anything…  Yeah, that was me.

As an amateur game designer looking to turn pro you absolutely should take the time to pretotype before prototyping.  Before ever spending a dime on any kind of development play your game.  The point is to play it on paper before building any kind of code for the game.  Really think about the game play and base assumptions about the game before you ever even add a second member to your team.  This new step will make the stages of game design look like this:

  1. Pretotyping
  2. Prototype (digital)
  3. Alpha
  4. Beta
  5. Full Release

Chances are good that you have everything you need to start pretotyping right away.  A table top gamer will have pens, graph paper, and dice.  Dave from The Tap Lab built a binder of paper ‘screen shots’ of TapCity before the game was coded.  Then used those to play the game!  If you don’t find those ideas interesting there are plenty of other sources for D.I.Y. pretotyping.  Simple things like Lego can give you a basic .  Flea markets and yard sales can provide a cheap source of tons of pretotyping gear which you can paint, color, alter, and cut up to make your game.

After the pretotype stage move on to the prototype stages using some kind of popular software.  Things like Game Maker, Flash, or Unity.  Additionally consider modding an existing games like Minecraft, the Unreal Engine.  After that process is complete move on to putting the effort into creating a unique game engine.

Do you have any tips or stories from pretotyping?  Even if you never knew the word before?  Post your stories to the comments!

4 things you really need to make an amateur computer game.

If, like me, you are an Amateur Game Designer you should follow some advice that I have found to be really really important.  Whatgamesare.com says it best.  You need four coders.  When I started the ZoRTS project my instinct was to keep the team small because controlling lots of people seemed beyond my ability.  Over the course of the project I have experienced reasons why this was a bad idea.


For some projects four coders might appear to be overkill.  Too many team members can feel like scope creep.  An amateur team with 4 coders, 1 music, 2 artists, 1 project manager is a big group.  8 people seems like a lot.  My suggestion to you is “Suck it up” and get four coders.   It’s doubly important in an amateur game design setting because real life is going to have a much larger impact on the scheduling of the members and therefore the project.  You have no carrot, and no stick to motivate the team.  You need 4 coders because real life is going to knock a few of them out for some amount of time in your project.


Professionals can, of course, get away with many fewer people and still develop great titles…  But they have the advantage of having created games in the past (for money).  When designing with Amateurs you have to account for their unproven status.  Work quality could be unpredictable.  Timing can be worse than unpredictable.

When a company produces a game they have a captive workforce.  An employee is ideally available daily, while a volunteer project member could be able to work on the project weekly or even monthly.  They are motivated by pay to sit at their desks and get the job done.  In an amateur project the threat of firing someone who doesn’t meet their deadlines is less effective negative reinforcement.  

Finding someone that is extremely interested in a personal way in the project will ensure that they produce stuff for the project.  Getting kicked off a team may be a great negative motivator, if they are personally very interested in the project.  On the other hand someone who is very motivated to be on the project most likely is not missing their deadlines.


So get four coders to allow for real life changes.  Set deadlines and goals.  Doing these things ahead of time to prevent disasters later.  Do you have any neat tricks to share when starting a computer game project?  Comment below.  Comment below with your opinion on how many people an amateur project should have.

Amateur Gamer Designers

I am an Amateur Game Designer.  I do not make a living from the creation of ZoRTS.  I am not even indie (not yet anyway).  Scott MacMillian was trying to make a point that many people that want to make a computer game should not try and build a company to do it. My Project Management Professor once told me that its important to understand the difference between starting a project (a computer game) and starting a company.  You do not have to do one to do the other.  And many, many people would be better off just making a game, and not trying to make a company.

Somewhere between being a Gamer, working for an Indie Game Company, and working for a AAA company lies a zone that not many designers or gamers talk about.  The realm of the Amateur Game Designer.  There are no websites which support the Amateur Gamer.  No place where people with a day job, who like making games can chat about running a project.  If you talk with someone in the industry it can be a little intimidating.  They have concerns like deliverable products and deadlines, and those things are tied to dollar values.  People really can and do loose money when projects fail in the professional space.

But on the other hand we do have a non professional space.  Generally flash games, but not necessarily.  Kongregate is an interesting showcase of games which most likely are not professionally made.  I don’t want to talk in absolutes because there are 40,000+ games on one website.  There have to be rule breakers in there somewhere.  Anyway…

So here’s to the Amateur Game Designer… The non professional.  Maybe one day we all want to be professional game designers, and maybe we will be.  Maybe one day we’ll all have a place that we can discuss how the pros make a computer game, and how we can cheaply do the same.  But until then we can create fun games.

Community

Many amateur game designer think that you have to hunker down and make a game by keeping it totally under wraps.  After all; game designer will steal your idea, right? There is no possible way that you can make this work.  You have to be a Mensa level coder/artist combo for this to happen.  Even so it’s going to take a lot of work and luck (good decision making).

The rest of us mere mortals are going to need a team of people that can help fill in experience that you don’t have.  Personally I am not a coder.  Which is most likely the most important thing I need to fix.  In the mean time I need to create a team enviroment where coding is taken care of by someone else.  For that to happen, you have to reach out to someone about game design.

Cave Johnson says, from the back of my mind: “Can’t make a company in a vacuum. ‘Cause there’s no air in a vacuum and you’d die.”  Been watching a the Portal 2 Blog’s lately.

Cave is right.  You need help. Start talking about games.  You don’t need to directly and baldly state what you want to do.  Just start talking with people.  The Zorts Project never would have started if I had not started talking with people about games.

You also don’t necessarily need to start talking to people about a game.  You could start talking to people who work in area’s that a game is based on.