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Will Wright’s 3 Tips for Successful Prototyping in Video Games

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 3 min read

Game design is a multidisciplinary creative process that directs the natural human inclination to play. Will Wright, the mind behind SimCity, The Sims, and Spore, is a master game designer with years of experience in the industry. In his opinion, the central discipline of the game design process is rapid prototyping.

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Will Wright Teaches Game Design and TheoryWill Wright Teaches Game Design and Theory

Collaboration, prototyping, playtesting. The Sims creator Will Wright breaks down his process for designing games that unleash player creativity.

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What Is Prototyping in Video Game Design?

Prototyping, put in the fewest words, is the simplest possible execution of a design concept. It’s the process by which a game designer builds an example of their game in order to test the gameplay—for instance, coding a simple version of the mechanics. Good prototypes should have two main characteristics: they should be fast and cheap to build, and they should help game designers answer questions about their gameplay.

In Will Wright’s words, “A prototype is a navigation instrument. It’s a compass.” Prototyping should be treated as an efficient way to ask and answer questions about your game’s rules and mechanics, allowing you to perfect the gameplay before you start building the final product.

The 2 Kinds of Video Game Prototypes

There are two types of prototypes for video games, and each offers advantages and disadvantages.

  1. Paper prototyping: These are prototypes that aren’t built on a computer; rather, they’re built using things like pencil, paper, scissors, glue, dice, coins, and player pawns. Tangible models like these help you understand how to give your game subjects authenticity and weight, and what it should feel like to interact with your game in a digital space. Even though it’s not digital, a paper prototype should offer an interactive experience that tests a specific concept or system of your game—for instance, whether the currency system works, or if the pacing of events feels natural. Unfortunately, paper models can’t test certain mechanics, like physics engines.
  2. Code prototyping: Code prototypes are prototypes built digitally. The benefit of prototyping with code is that you can easily tweak variables to explore different behaviors—for instance, quickly changing the speed of bullets or the weight of objects the player interacts with. The downside of code prototyping is that it usually takes more time and effort than paper prototyping. To combat this, use the simplest platform at your disposal, and only do so if you can produce something quickly and cheaply.
Will Wright Teaches Game Design and Theory
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Will Wright’s 3 Tips for Successful Prototyping

  1. Practice. Prototyping is a skill, so you’ll need to learn and practice to improve. Will recommends building a paper or code prototype of a game concept that you’ve come up with yourself. As you play the prototype, take note of interesting conflicts or dynamics within the game. Are there certain actions that players take that could conflict and cause the game to stall? Are there other actions that feel overpowered in relation to other options? Answering these questions will help you make adjustments and fine tune the game.
  2. Pay attention to fun. As you play a prototype, it’s vital to pay attention to which moments of the play experience are fun, no matter how trivial or incidental they might seem at the time. Take note of those moments for use in a future prototype, because they may show you how to rework the game concept from a different angle. After all, games are meant to be fun, and you should take advantage of the most fun moments in your prototype to build a game that players will truly enjoy.
  3. Learn, and then move on. Will emphasizes that prototyping should be a quick process. Don’t spend any time agonizing over what form the prototype should take. The important thing is to build something interactive as quickly and cheaply as possible, learn a lesson from it, and move on to other branches of your design—including building additional prototypes. Prototyping should be treated as a way to answer questions about your gameplay, rather than representing the quality of the final product.

Learn more about video game design in Will Wright's MasterClass.

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