My Game Prototyping Process – Puzzle Poker
A Quick Note
A quick note before starting in about my game prototyping process… I’ve added this email widget thing that I can use to notify you when future posts are made to my blog. I’ve written about 80% of the next post which is about the early concept and development of The Incredible Machine. Enter your email over there to the right if you want to get notified when future blog posts are made. ——>
Getting Started with a New Game Engine
Quite a few years ago Jeff Tunnell and the folks at Garage Games gave me a copy of Torque Game Builder (TGB) so I could take a look at it and try it out. I then spent a few days creating a game prototype that I knew my son, Aidan, would enjoy. Digging in and finishing a little game prototype is a good way to get familiar with a game engine. That first prototype after a whole lot of work eventually became a game called Buggle which was released for the iPhone. It’s not currently available, but we may release an updated version of it someday. Here is what it looked like:
After this first prototype to get familiar with TGB, I then started work on the idea I had for Puzzle Poker. I started work on a Wednesday afternoon and by Thursday afternoon I had a prototype that played very much like the game in its current form. Here is the main game play screen of that very first prototype:
I did all the art myself and really didn’t care what it looked like. It just needed to be roughly the correct size and convey the correct information to the player. At this point in game development I am only concerned with the game play. I can see in my mind how the final artwork will look, but there is no point in spending time and money getting awesome artwork created if the game itself isn’t fun. I am very good at quickly drawing bad artwork.
As a comparison here is how that exact same screen looks as of today in the game:
That wonderful artwork was created by Alex Swanson. If you look between the earlier screen and the current one you will see lots of the same information. Besides the real artwork the layout has also been changed to make it more user friendly. I am still not 100% happy with the layout and especially the wording and it’ll be tweaked and changed as we move toward final release. Design is a very iterative process as we craft everything to be as smooth and polished as possible. Making fun can be hard work.
Menus and Flow Between Screens
Along with prototyping out the game play, I also immediately hook up the flow of all the game menus. Many of the screens will just be stubs with only buttons that hook the various screens together. This gives me a way to quickly see how players will move between screens and make sure that everything moves smoothly for the player. Here is the main menu screen for that first prototype:
On this screen each of the different buttons would take the player to a different screen, most of which had nothing more than a simple placeholder screen shot along with a return to main menu button. The play button would launch the game. Note the “Howdy” above. Originally Puzzle Poker was going to have a western theme – that went away over the course of development. Oh, and also at this point the game had a placeholder name of “cards” and the actual name wasn’t decided upon until much later. Again at this point in the development, the menus and flow between them, functionality takes a front seat and the look is very secondary. I usually I have a pretty good sense in my head how it’ll finally look, but that is not important at this stage of development.
For a comparison here is how the main menu in Puzzle Poker currently looks and works:
The exact same choices for the player are there, but it looks quite a bit different from the original quick prototype version. When I got around to implementing the GUI for all the different menus screens I decided to come up with a custom solution instead of using Torque’s built in GUI. I used sprites for each of the different choices and had them change size and rotate slightly when the mouse was over them. This gave a little more dramatic look to all the screens and also fit the overall game theme better.
One change you’ll notice between the prototype of the game play screen and how it currently appears is that there are now hint buttons present. My Mom got hooked on the game. When I first installed it for her, I was standing there giving her hints on how to play, telling her things like “try moving that card from here to there.” It occurred to me that I should put that in the game as a hint system. Someday I’ll write about how I implemented it. And that same hint system can be used for computer AI if I implement head to head play with computer opponents.
It is a good thing to watch inexperienced people play your game. You can see where the faults are, what isn’t obvious, and also come up with new ideas to make it better.
Steam Greenlight and Kickstarter
Puzzle Poker is currently on Steam Greenlight and also on Kickstarter. We’d really appreciate a vote for it on Steam if it is the sort of game you’d like to play. Just click on the graphic below:
If you’d like to support us on Kickstarter click below to go to the Puzzle Poker Kickstarter page: