How I Prototype, Part I
Like most, I start with an idea. Often I write down the idea and file it away for a time. Other times I don’t, and my subconscious works on it until it decides I’m ready to sit down and do something with it. Sometimes my subconscious is more active than I might like, but that is, perhaps, a story for another day.
This is a high-level description about how I go about prototyping games, with more detailed bits to follow. Some of the tools I use deserve their own articles.
The first couple of games I prototyped, I used index cards for the first draft. There’s nothing wrong with this; it definitely makes for a very quick and easy way to experiment with ideas. At this point, however, I find that it’s just as fast to create prototypes using my tools – and they look much more finished too!
I have written code which takes images and descriptions from a config file and then produces PDF’s of cards, stands, play aids, and more. I will be Open Sourcing it shortly, as well as creating a graphical front end for creating cards, using nested blocks (similar to those used by Scratch) to describe how a card or other items are templated and then filled.
It’s easy to change the templates and re-run the code. Adding a symbol or changing a font on hundreds of cards need only be done once, in one place, and then Voila! all of the cards are updated in seconds.
I then print cards or other artifacts, and cut them by machine.
A few weeks ago I literally created a game prototype in about six hours – typing up the rulebook, deciding on placeholder art, then designing, printing, and cutting 60 two-sided cards. Admittedly, the first draft of rules inherited from an existing, though perhaps somewhat obscure, game, but nevertheless, I am pretty pleased with the results.
At a high level, here’s a list of the tools which I use:
- Prawn PDF Library – I’ll write more about this in depth, but it, and some plugin libraries are very important in my process of developing games. Basically I use it to describe a card template which is then merged with data and outputs PDF files.
YAML – the config file format I use for describing items which go into templates.
- Additionally, I have recently started looking at Adobe products…
Images and other Resources
Open Clipart – public domain artwork
Adobe Stock Art – I’d had a subscription to Dollar Photo Club. They went away, and transferred their customers to Adobe. So I still have some credit with Adobe. It’s not as inexpensive as it had been, but there’s still some good items there.
Templatemaker.nl — free, custom sized box templates – this was a recent discovery, but it’s great for making custom boxes for game prototypes. There are custom layouts for a variety of box shapes – enter your dimensions, and it will create templates for you in a variety of formats.
I’ll tackle this another time.
- Canon Pixma Pro 100 – I got this printer for two reasons:
- It can print up to 13x19 inches.
- It will print on cardstock up to 110 lbs. It has its quirks, but all in all I really like it. Being able to print on cardstock is awesome. I’ll post a review of the printer shortly.
Brother Scan-n-Cut 2 – I got tired of using a papercutter. Moreover, I can cut shapes using this tool. For instance, a sheet filled with many-many-many 1/2” circle tokens. Instead of taking a stupid amount of time to cut, this tool took minutes, and they’re all uniform in shape. I have also cut out things such as small clock hands, dials, character stands, not to mention cards (with nicely rounded corners, too). It does work best when there’s a bit of padding between elements, and you do need to be careful when mounting the cardstock to the mat. Bleed can be important, especially if cutting items printed on both sides. But it makes life much, much easier. In addition to cutting, it can be used as a plotter. I’ve not tried that yet, however. I’ll have a more in-depth review soon.
- Deep throated hole punches – these are a lifesaver, particularly for making dials.