Guest Blog: The Very Basics of Game Prototyping, Part One

Posted by Daniel Zayas November 15, 2017 in Guest Blog

While creators seem to be getting better at the prototyping process, there are still new creators making waves on Kickstarter every week. That’s why I wanted to start covering elements of crowdfunding that I often take for granted, but are crucial to the process of self-publishing. I invited Jonathan Thwaites to contribute a two-part lesson on prototyping and I hope you enjoy it. Part One will focus on rapidly creating basic prototypes, while Part Two will focus on manufacturing higher quality prototypes.

Jonathan is a freelance tabletop game developer who has worked such games as No Escape, Vikings: Raid & Conquer and Trailer Park Boys: Park Wars. Currently, Jonathan is developing games using app integration. If you would like to contact Jonathan regarding his services, email him at jonathan@noescapegame.com.

Getting Started Prototyping

I’ve been asked by a few people how I create prototypes. One of the first things people need to know is that there is no specific right way. The tools and techniques I use are what I have found work for me. If you see some useful information, please use it as a base to find the best method that works for you.

Before making a prototype, I create a basic template for it. I have used Publisher and Word, and their free equivalents from OpenOffice, Draw and Writer. Publisher/Draw works great for quickly laying the general shapes I’m going to be using. This step allows me to create a page full of the template shapes I will need, and copy it as is necessary. This stage also creates cut lines for me when I cut them out later.

Don’t worry about rounded edges on your templates, even if the final product will have them. Starting this way makes it easy to add text and to add pictures and background images later without needing to rebuild your template. Square or Rectangle shapes can be set right beside each other, but leave extra space between hexagons or complex shapes. I may have less per page than I could optimally fit, but this will make the cutting process more manageable.

I make quick notes of the rules, ideas and concepts I will be using in Word/Writer. I create a working file that I can quickly add or remove information from. This also becomes the outline for my rules later one.

The Prototype Design

When I am making Playing Cards, I will sometimes use pre-designed templates for printing business cards. This can save time if I have a lot of cards in the game, as ten cards fit a sheet (8 max for regular playing cards). You can purchase blank pop-out business cards sheets from most stationary stores reasonably cheaply, and play perfectly well for prototypes. I only use this method when the time is a factor, as making cards this way is swift, but costs more. I have also used this technique for creating Print and Play games, as this makes it easier and faster for the person who downloads it.
I also have several cheap, regular playing card decks from the dollar store and a few packs of penny sleeves. This allows me to quickly print a card idea, cut it out, and slip in the paper with the card for stability.

If I need to make character cards, or oversized cards, I will often use templates for printing postcards, as pop-out postcard sheets are also available from most stationary stores. Again, however, I only use this method when the time is a factor, or for creating Print and Play games.

When I need tokens, I have a pile of glass beads I have left over from years ago. While you can buy these from a craft store, a lot of people use them in centerpieces at their weddings. Ask around among people you know and see if they have any of these just sitting around, or make a post onto your local Facebook shop and swap page asking about them.

If I am designing Tokens for printing (usually later in the process), I made a template with has two pages, with one-inch circles evenly spaced throughout page one, and the second sheet duplicated with all circles reversed. This allows me to add text or a picture onto each side of the token.

Quick Prototyping

Once I have my template in place, it is time to print everything and cut it out. This is where setting things up initially in the models will pay off. If you are printing cards, and you have dollar store cards and sleeves ready, print onto regular paper. For everything else, I recommend printing onto cardstock. I use 110lb cardstock for printing as it’s thick enough that it’s difficult to see through.

In cutting out the prototype, I have several tools. The three most important in my opinion are a metal ruler, a handheld rotary cutter, and a self-healing mat. I have found rotary cutters make cleaner edges on my prototypes than straight-edged cutters. Look for a rotary cutter and self-healing mat in a sewing store, and it will be cheaper than at a crafting store. Cutting of oddly shaped pieces will still need a straight blade.

Because of how we set the prototype up earlier, merely lay the ruler across one common edge of all the shapes, and roll your blade across for a nice clean cut. This makes it very easy to cut out Hexagon shapes (something several people have mentioned they find difficult) as your template has your cut lines (shape edges) set up for you, and rows of hexagons come out together.

In Part Two of this blog, Jonathan will discuss creating high-quality presentation prototypes. We hope this information helps you in the next prototype you make.