[Part 1 of 2]
Play testing is crucial. That’s my point. LOTS of play testing.
Ideas stay in “idealand” for a long time
Let me explain this obvious thing – through my lens: I think up a game idea. I scribble the outline into my always handy Molskine or tap it into Evernote. The idea lives in that state for months or years. I’ll go back to it, add to the concepts, suggest mechanisms, solve problems that come up in my mind. Many of my game ideas never leave this space. A few though, enjoy some “break throughs” or “insights” that lead to What I believe will be a playable game, end to end. At least on paper.
This idea then must be built into a prototype. For me – this is a difficult step. I’m reasonable crafty but maybe that is my downfall? I spend too much time in this stage – assembling the bits and making something playable. Some tools have helped in this process: Component Studio has saved literal hours and hours of fiddling in spreadsheets and mail merge to make cards and tiles. Inkscape, while powerful and functional, has a byzantine user interface that broke my brain every time I tried to draw something simple. Enter Affinity Designer and my life changed for the better. Graphic design (albeit primitive) is no longer a barrier. Apart from these and other tools I cobble together a game that can be played.
Soft version play test
My process does not make this a “Version 1” yet. Borrowing from information technology development models, I assign a “point zero” version number to this early stage. So my first physical prototype might be numbered “0.01” if I feel like this one is particularly rough. As I make changes – I bring the decimal value closer to “1”.
This pre-version version is played through by myself and myself alone. If you work with a partner or a team, this stage in the process can expand to them as well (and this would be very productive!). It’s not ready for play testing. It is being rough sanded to get the game into the approximate shape that you want. You are working our what to do in a turn, what order those things should be executed. Where should counters go – what is too fiddly, too. You’ll experience things like, “Oh, wait. How to I track this? The cube won’t work.” or “There’s no place to keep track of the progress of this thing.” – Point being you will discover that your imagination didn’t cover all the bases. This is good.
You then solve those problems, and you keep running through the game and finding the big broken parts, fix them, repeat. Eventually you’ll have a real prototype that can be played by others. A version”1″.*
*Full disclosure – this process can kill a great idea. This idea never gets play tested, but you spend hours prototyping it into something that can be fiddled with on a table. You fiddle and fiddle and the game never grows. I have three built prototypes sitting in nice plastic box organizers. I’m even raiding parts from them now. I’m considering downgrading their storage or dismantling them completely – but hope stops me. Maybe I’ll have a breakthrough? Probably not. This is a necessary part of the creation process. “Good” ideas die.
In part 2, I’ll discuss play testing and the steps that follow from there.