Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence
Prototype: Making Games in Seven Days or Less

Jordan Deam | 7 Jul 2009 08:10
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What began as something of a master's thesis for the team ended up becoming a minor sensation in the development community. Gray posits that the project's success was both a product of the gameplay ideas they showcased and perhaps some fortuitous timing: "I think we had enough successes where we attained a nice degree of visibility - especially since internet gaming was just starting to take off back in 2005 when we started the project." As the semester drew to a close, the EGP site had built a large enough following that the team decided to keep it alive, encouraging other indie designers to attempt their own rapid prototyping projects and eventually hosting outside submissions. Gabler and Gray have since gone on to develop far deeper and more ambitious games, including Gabler's World of Goo (based on the EGP prototype Tower of Goo) and Gray's EA-published Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure. But while the EGP site has laid dormant for months, the designers haven't forgotten about their rapid prototyping roots.

Messing with success

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Indie developers may not be able to afford posh sky-lit office buildings or 24-hour QA testers, but there's one thing they can afford that the majors can't: failure. For Gabler and Gray, one of the chief benefits of rapid prototyping is the ability to fail - sometimes spectacularly - without losing much more than a week's time. "If you're able to test out your own ideas and play with them in a matter of days (or in some cases hours), then you can determine early on if they're duds or not," Gray says. This early feedback doesn't just insulate indie developers from financial risk - it helps them get more creative with their designs. "For me, one of the most difficult things about any project is just convincing myself to get started," Gabler says. It's important to "take a step back, stop caring and make something, no matter how horrible."

Even the most colossal failures aren't a total lost cause, however - they can teach designers practical lessons that would be hard to learn otherwise. Gray's most prominent EGP disaster, a flashy prototype called Spin to Win where you use your mouse to rotate discs, was all style and no substance - it featured a charming '60s theme, but the core mechanic was mind-numbingly boring. The lesson it taught him became one of the main takeaways of the project: If the gameplay isn't fun, no amount of polish or aesthetic flourishes will save it.

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