Finding the fun: Prototyping & core playable

Ralf Adam
Producer/ Advisor
Virgin Lands GmbH 

Ralf Adam

Ralf has worked for a multitude of publishers and developers in different positions, among them Infogrames/Atari, Sunflowers Entertainment, JoWooD Productions, Gameforge, Travian Games and flaregames. His portfolio also includes freelance work for Disney Interactive, Eidos and Vivendi Universal as well as writing for numerous games magazines.

This week’s Tentacle Zone residents talk was all about prototyping and the pre-production phase of development. Our speaker was Ralf Adam, a highly experienced producer and designer who has worked in games for over 30 years.

Ralf’s talk tackled both the benefits and pitfalls of prototyping, and answered some crucial questions that all teams should ask themselves at the very early stage of development: How can you define the goals for your Core Playable and what exactly you want to achieve in a meaningful way? What are the main game loops that will define your title? Why will it be fun to play?

Ralf started his talk by defining prototypes – what they are and also what they are not. Prototypes are very fast tests of core game mechanics. So fast that you should be aiming to complete three a day in this phase of development, if not more. Prototypes will often feature placeholder graphics and they can even be done using pen and paper. Speed is a huge focus here, if you find yourself spending days on one prototype then something has gone wrong and you should re-evaluate.

It’s important to understand that prototypes are not vertical slices. Vertical slices are complete sections of your game that contain shippable quality graphics and are generally in shape enough to be shown to press and players. 

The distinction between the two is important as it can have real implications for your project and your relationship with your publisher. Publishers can use the two terms interchangeably or they may call prototypes something else entirely – first playable, proof of concept, first production build etc. Make sure that the contract with your publisher clearly defines what all parties understand prototyping to mean. It’ll save you a major headache along the way.

That’s just a snippet of Ralf’s presentation, he went on to give a detailed exploration of prototyping best practices in what was a thoroughly enjoyable talk. We’d like to thank him for his time and expertise, it’s much appreciated.

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