Thank You Note #2: Making a prototype
 
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Hi dear patrons! Thank you for supporting me, you're damn great!

I'm having a nice cup of tea while listening to good music (which you can do as well if you feel like).

Last night I joined "one hour game jam", which is a thing I've done almost every week during the last month. The theme was arcade and I ended up making a game called "Moar Coins!", its easier to explain with a gif.

You insert coins in the machine and you get bullets but, while doing that, you're missing the upper part of the screen, so balancing both actions is important.

I need to write a post about short jams such as this one at some point. By the way, I'm still learning the basic Patreon stuff and I've been told my first posts should be public for people to see a sample of the kind of updates I write. I'll be making my first post public today and this one will become public next Sunday (two public posts should be enough).

Leave comments telling me what you like/dislike about these thank you notes and I'll do my best to improve them!

Now all that is clear, let's get back to the card game.

Prototyping

After writing down your design goals/constraints and finishing your research you'll be ready to start prototyping. First rule of prototyping is that you do not talk about.... silly pun, my bad. 

First rule of prototyping is that you're looking for the answer to a specific question, is this element confusing? does this new mechanic support the core aesthetic? is this system deep enough? Trying to answer many questions with a single prototype should be avoided, the feedback you get from it could be confusing.

The thing that worried me the most about this project is whether or not I could come up with an interesting game that had simple rules and few cards. That would be the goal of my first prototype.

So first things first, I focused on coming up with the core game (not the whole deck, which includes rules, narrative and instructions). Now comes one of the hardest parts of design, you need to build something from the ground.

Most times I need to have something on my hands to be able to think, so I chose "Elevenses for one" as my starting point. I recreated the cards using small pieces of paper and played a game. I liked that you have all your cards on the table at all time and the fact that is randomized, I didn't quite like the rest of the game. I also thought that it had more cards than it really needed.

I took 9 small pieces of paper, numbered them, shuffled the deck and spread the cards on the table. I then established a simple set of rules.

- I can pick any card and exchange it for an adjacent card.

- My goal is to order the cards.

(Important advice: Whether you're designing mechanics, an AI or levels ALWAYS start simple. We tend to make things more complex than they need to be)

(starting and final position)

I knew this set of rules would be boring but playing something bad helps you understand what needs to be improved.

I played a couple of games with these rules and it sure was shitty. Putting cards in order was pretty straightforward. Though I liked having all the information in front of me and doing small changes to reach my goal.

I thought maybe if there were more ways to reach my goal it'd be more interesting and not as straightforward. I used three colors to paint the cards and I set a new goal, two cards of the same color can't be adjacent. Made sense, it'd be like ordering them but this time you had more possible solutions and you needed to decided which one you'd aim for.  

 (starting and final position) 

I played some more games with the new rules but they still felt super bland. I needed to add more layers of depth but I wanted to avoid adding more cards or elements. Thanks to my research I thought of using the back of the cards, as simple as it may sound I might not haven thought of that without seeing some examples before (like I said in the previous update, it's a matter of design vocabulary).

I made cards that had two sides and started making up more sets of rules like "every line needs to have X cards with this side up and Y cards with this one". This time I felt I was on the right track, it was just a matter of tweaking the mechanics and the goal (I guess intuition is just something you train by making lots of games).

After trying out many things I decided to add special cards, something I had in mind to add at some point but implementing those earlier would have distracted me from the base mechanics.

Many iterations later I got to this set of rules:

- There are two types of cards, the special cards (which have the same drawing in both sides) and the regular cards (which have an A side and a B side).

- In your turn you pick a special card and a regular one, swap them and then flip the adjacent cards to that special one (depending on the arrows that card has on it it may only flip the cards to left and right or the ones on and under it).

- The goal is to remove all the As from the table.

 (one turn: pick two cards, swap them, flip others) 

 (starting and final position) 

You never just magically get to the right solution, it's a long process of iterating, keeping what you like and fixing what you don't.

After all this there still were details to tweak, but that's usually easier that building the core mechanics. Like deciding how the starting position is going to be. I made some tests and decided that the card with four arrows would always be in the middle but the others would be shuffled.

Playtesting

It was time to playtest it (I could write a whole new update about this point as well). Last week there was a gamedev dinner, which would be filled with people willing to playtest it, I thought that was a perfect time to try out the card game.

Developers aren't always the best testers, but it depends on your goal. Mine was to check if the game was interesting and, since gamedevs are used to playing all sorts of games, they'd be a great fit.

Turns out everything worked pretty well! Everybody seemed to enjoy the game and wanted to play it a couple of times. Nobody thought it was too easy or boring. I wasn't expecting that, I thought I'd have to keep changing it, but that wasn't the case (for now at least).

(quick advice: don't give away too much information to testers, just the basic rules. Always have a paper near to take notes)

This prototype answered its question and I already have an interesting card game. Now it's time to take the next step and start crafting the rest of the deck (narrative, instructions, etc). But we'll leave that for the next update. Hope you enjoyed this one!