At DuskLight Studios, mobile game prototypes are being developed before an actual project is started proper. There are so many ideas and so many mechanics to play and create with, it’s impossible to know what works, and what fails, without trying them out.
Prototyping stands at the core of the company’s plan. Experimentation with different mechanics and sensations, brought to and tried out on the mobile platform. Even when a full project is in development, prototyping will remain a important part.
At the time of writing, there are a total of 24 gameplay ideas. Not all are great, some are already abandoned. Each idea is ranked by two estimations. An estimation on their ‘value’ (how much impact it delivers, or how fun it is to play) and an estimation on their ‘scale’ (how long does it take to develop with current available resources).
The ideas with the highest estimated (value : scale) ratio are generally the first to be prototyped. Smaller scale games take priority, though, since in my opinion taking on gigantic projects would be unwise for a one-developer team.
I’m a game developer mainly in the form of programming. Luckily, I can draw and put together somewhat of a matching style, but I’m no artist.
Because of my limited ability to create art assets, and the generally long time it takes to create art, I aim for an ‘abstract’ style for the prototypes. Something easy to change and adjust to proper art when it’s turned into a proper project. I feared the abstract style would be a problem, but it’s been working great for every concept so far.
Every prototype is the same in the most basic sense. There is a lot of functionality that all prototypes end up using. For ease of development, improved performance, persistence, sound, time, etc. Little bits of tech I’ve developed to more easily use the Unity engine.
It’s not rare for prototypes to have matching gameplay mechanics as well, such as the spawning of enemies or world segments of a scrolling view. For that, modules such as a parallax background, wave spawning or even a complete 2D weapons system are very useful to save precious development time.
Development of prototypes is great, as well as the development of tech modules to support the prototypes. But it’s useless if I don’t get some proper results on which prototype works, and which does not. To get to know that, I need people to test them.
In the first week, I collected a list of volunteers that wanted to help me test my games. From this list (~35 people), about 4 to 8 actually test and respond. The feedback is useful, but far from conclusive.
Far more useful testing results come from face-to-face playthroughs. Directly observing the actions of the player and his or her responses deliver far better results. With family, friends and strangers at networking events, I test my games to see what they think of them, often with concrete information on what can be improved or added.
My next step in testing is to open up the Google Developer Console, and use it’s Alpha test functionality to send the games directly to everyone involved. I will combine this with an in-app feedback report functionality for each prototype, so people can easily tell me what they think.
And that’s what I do with DuskLight Studios. Develop mobile game prototypes and test them!