Lost in the Void: A Paper Prototype

For this week, the theme is paper prototypes, and as a bonus exercise we had to construct a playable one for a 5 minute digital game we had envisioned ourselves. Our “design buddy” would then give feedback on the game, resulting in refinement of the game. And, naturally, to get something to write about:

Write a blog entry (200-500 words) about the process of creation, testing and refinement, about paper prototyping in general and how the prototyping process works for you.

With that in mind, along with a bit of inspiration from the mystical sphere from the Doctor Who (2005) season 2 finale, the paper prototype of “Lost in the Void” was born.

Now, as the subject is rather loose for this week – and I really want to both show some pictures and focus on the feedback from my buddy – my focus will primarily be on how the game came to be and how the feedback affected the next iteration of the game. So, let us start off with a nice little overview picture.

The creation process was quite difficult at first, seeing as the requirement of being envisioned as a digital game while still being playable as a paper prototype. That made me drop any hopes of a game that involved any form of real-time physics and more than 2 dimensions (3 could be possible, true, but it would hardly be worth it effort-wise). I realized a type of puzzle game would be great for the purpose. The rules were as follows:

  • The dark sphere-ship needs to reach the portal, collecting all the orange fuel-cells on the way.
  • The ship has one last shot of fuel per level, to send it floating along the grid (up, down, left or right).
  • The player can place the place the walls to match the grid, which will change the direction of the ship.
  • The goal is to hit as few walls as possible before going through the portal.

I found this to be a good approach, as it would let anyone complete any given level no matter how good they were, and still give the more skilled players a motivation of trying to improve themselves by figuring out solutions that would require the least possible amount of hits. The below picture shows a quite simple level that probably only has one solution, but demonstrates the rules quite well.

The process of getting feedback proved to be both incredibly fun and enlightening. I laid out a slightly chaotic level for my buddy, after showing her the basic rules of the game. I naturally had a loose idea of how the level should be solved, but tried to make it open for more than one solution, while having a solution in mind as well. The following image shows how she chose to solve it.

This was great, as it was not the solution I had in mind at first. The best part was, when I set up my own solution (as seen below), that it proved to be better seeing as my ship would hit 7 walls as opposed to her only striking 5. It was a great example of how a solution could be improved, even with an initial level-setup that was not really though about too much.

However, the most important part of it all was the agreement when suggesting another approach I had thought about: Rather than the goal being to hit as few walls as possible, the player would instead have a limited amount of walls per level, and had to collect as many energy-cells as possible before hitting the portal. My buddy thought that this would give the competitive aspect more focus, especially with levels where there were a lot of energy-cells scattered around the level. In theory it was a minor change, but it suddenly gave the game a limit and a potentially unobtainable goal: collect all the energy-cells. A nice little refinement.

In the end, I found the challenge to very enlightening, even though it was difficult coming up with an idea right off the bat that could work both digitally and on paper. The result proved to fall in my buddy’s taste, and even more so with the refinement. As such, I doubt I will be lost in the void when doing the next prototype.

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