Developer Blog: Prototyping and Playtesting Frozen Synapse
Posted on 21st Jul 2010 at 11:50 by Mode 7 with 2 comments
As lots of boring industry types will endlessly tell you, ideas are cheap. Actually, this is complete nonsense, but the point they're trying to make - that the hard work is in the execution - is correct. Even if you do have a strong idea, translating that into a viable game is extremely difficult.
During the development of Determinance, we struggled to get the core mechanics right, so every aspect of the design seemed in flux throughout development. This is a phenomenon that afflicts games of all sizes, and we were determined to overcome it this time around.
See that picture above? That was our primary weapon in the noble fight against failure! I like to call it “Annoying Wonky Triangle Wars.” It was how the game looked for at least a year while we tried to get everything else right.
Effectively finishing the core mechanics before we did any art meant that we started with a fun game, rather than trying to create one round a load of constraints. Annoying Wonky Triangle Wars was just as competitive and fun as Frozen Synapse is now. Prototyping it this way meant that we prioritized gameplay, but it also showed us what the art needed to accomplish.
Essentially, the job of the art was going to be to take this game board and make it as exciting as possible. It had to add in some nice aesthetic rewards for accomplishing gameplay moments such as outwitting someone, blasting a hole in a wall or skillfully rounding a corner.
Next time, I’ll talk about how the visuals for the game were created by taking a look at our early concept art. Now though, I'll answer questions from last week - though there was only one this time. If you have any questions for next week then sling them in the comments!
Question: One thing I was wondering is how important playtesting is in the development cycle and whever it's possible to overdo it? - EndingCredits
Answer: This is a fitting question to answer this week. Most of the work on the prototype you see above was done with pure iterative development: Ian and Robin tested the game extensively after every single gameplay change, then went back and tweaked it again. We went down a few blind alleys at that point, but playtesting helped to get us out. So much of game development is actually intuitive: you play for a while and something doesn’t “feel right”, so you think about it for a while and then go in and change a mechanic.
As I mentioned before, we still play the game quite a lot: I play the least as, my main job in the company is to focus on things outside of development and not get too bogged down with it, but Ian and Robin play every day. It’s the only way to stay in touch with what’s happening.
I don’t think it’s possible to overdo it, but it is important not to neglect the needs of new players once you’ve become used to the game yourself. Something we always do when we get near the end of development is take the game somewhere where we can observe total newbies getting to grips with it: the University of Reading very kindly allowed us to do this with Frozen Synapse and it was very eye opening!
Paul Taylor is the Joint Managing Director of Mode 7 Games, makers of Frozen Synapse.