Prototyping

So here's something I don't think you see every day. This is a prototype of the game we're working on. Bask in its overwhelming beauty! Okay, so it's not much of a looker, but that's also not what it's actually for. And it's not ready even for a playtest quite yet, but it is getting closer.

 

IMG_0278So what's the deal, you might ask? Well, if you've been following along for a while, the core mechanic of the game is a card-combat game. The goal of the prototype is to make sure that the core mechanic is fun. We've played hands of the game in person, with actual cards, but scoring is kind of complicated, and so it never quite "feels" as snappy as it would in code. This also lets us playtest the game with people that are not just us.

It forces us to understand how card manipulation on-screen works. How we display information to the user. How the game actually flows in detail, without any "handwaving". And even though this version isn't pretty, if we get the mechanics right, there's a good chance that the first thing you get a chance to play may not be too different than this.

Why?

Because this is the actual game. This is where you'll make decisions, where you'll gain & lose resources, where your character will develop over the long term. All that fun stuff can be represented here without it looking much different than it does now.

That's not how we want it to be in the end, but it's a great way to make sure things "feel" right and work correctly.

It's interesting what kinds of things you can learn from a prototype like this. Not all the cards have been implemented, because the rules behind each card still need to be turned into game code. But we've already learned that one type of card is much more powerful than another type of card, and that balancing how often certain cards appear, because of that imbalance, wasn't the right way to go.

We've learned that if you only have the cards we have right now, that most games end up close-ish, but there are never really any big blowouts, and that one of the main problems is that it's very difficult to have a big "turnaround", which is one of the things games like this really need - you need to have the hope that if the stars line up, even if you're behind by a significant margin, that you can still pull out a win. Some of that we know will be coming when additional cards (and a missing combo system) are implemented, but it's interesting to really *feel* that those things are missing right now, because it's a clear window into something about the game that will make it un-fun unless it's addressed properly.

The other thing that still needs work is that it's really not clear how the rounds are resolved. If you know what's happening you can understand it, but it's certainly not obvious. And I see you, now, trying to be clever and figuring it out, but the point is that it ultimately needs to be obvious and it's not. There's a very labor-intensive way of showing you exactly how this all fits together, but we can't build that system yet, and as a result, we've gotta figure out a good, simple, clear way to let you know what's happening in this version.

So that's what our prototype looks like. It's helping us understand what works (the moves are quick, and will be quicker with some tweaking - you can resolve a turn in about 5-10 seconds, and overall, the rounds are right-ish in total length, though once more cards come online that let you rack up more damage, that might make them too short). There's not enough strategy at this point, but that's okay because there's stuff that's missing, but the feeling of there not being a way to have a big turnaround is something to watch out for, because it's a "must fix" before we can really consider this "good".

I hope none of you have completely freaked out and said, "THAT'S what they're working on?!?! It's NOTHING like what I want!!" though I'm sure the thought's crossed some of your minds. Here's the thing - we're showing you this stuff because it's something you rarely see, and we figure some of you will find it interesting. Every game we've ever worked on looked something like this at some point. The difference was that in the past, we'd have been too scared to show it because someone might steal our idea, or we'd been too embarrassed to show it because it isn't representative of what we hope to accomplish.

But what we've learned over the last few years is that showing this kind of stuff is interesting - we often get interesting/valuable feedback by showing things before we're comfortable with them. It means we can be more receptive to that feedback, because we haven't spent a month tweaking the visuals & adding polish. I want to show you what it's like to look at an imperfect prototype, because ALL prototypes are imperfect, and walk you through how we go from here to a game that you will hopefully think is fun.

So yeah, that's our prototype for Alter/Ego. It looks nothing like what we're hoping to build, but has already taught us many valuable lessons that will make the game better.