Foreword by Joe Martin
Here we are again, back with Introversion’s Mark Morris as he continues to guide a new generation (or a re-enthused old generation) of game developers to the indie way of life and all the treasures that their way holds.
While last month Mark wrote an article about how to develop a decent idea for a game and presented it to us here and on the official Introversion blog, more importantly how to tell a good idea from a bad one, this time he’s taken a rather different tack; how to build the first version – the Alpha. In brief, what form should an Alpha build take and how should it be handled?
Building a prototype of a game is never easy and it’s at this very first hurdle that most would-be developers fall down. Trust me, I know – nearly all games journalists are just game developers who lack any decent programming skills.
Still, if you’re serious about developing a computer game (or just serious about learning more about it) then it’s the most important of all the steps in my experience. Once you’re over that first hurdle you have such an investment that you’ll usually crawl the rest of the way to finish line if you have to.
Thankfully, Mark’s guide goes through the stages to help make that journey a little easier...
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Building the Prototype
By Mark Morris
Last month I wrote the first in a series of articles, aimed to help budding game developers found their own studios and how to avoid being developed, trained, integrated, educated and moulded by the mainstream until all creative spark has been utterly extinguished.
Last time we looked at ideas and I tried to gently provide some guidance on what is a bad game idea – this time I want to talk about how you make the first prototype of that idea.
It is important to note that I have not written – “How To Get Funding For A Prototype” – because it is virtually impossible to secure money before you have something to show. Even if you have the most fantastic idea in the world, you have a much, much better chance of getting somewhere if you have an actual tangible game, than if you only have a few scribbles on paper, even if those scribbles do include some amazing concept art and a ton of design work.
Now I’m sure that there are people in the world who have managed to get development money for a prototype and I know there are grants out there to give you some funding, however these people are few and far between. Frankly, my view is that you have a much better chance of getting funding for the principle development stages after you have a prototype built up.
So, if we assume that you and your mates are serious about starting a games studio and are willing to have to work in the evenings, weekends, during lectures and on the tube, then we’d better start to look at what you are trying to achieve.
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Now, there are two main objectives for any prototype; the first is internal, the second external. Once you have a game design (or even just an idea in your head) it is necessary to start experimenting with bringing that design into the real world.
The major challenge with game design is that the end product must be fun to play, and sadly it is very easy to take the fun out of a game, but very hard to put the fun in. You could produce an incredible game that looks stunning, includes an amazing back story, has great game-play mechanics, but if you get the control mechanism wrong the whole thing will collapse before your eyes.
Of course in different games, different aspects are more important (the story is perhaps less important in Half-Life than in Mass Effect), but you may not be able to determine this at the start. The point is that until you actually have the game in front of you, then you do not necessarily know which areas of the design work need tweaking, and which are fundamentally flawed.