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GDC: Prototyping for Indie Developers

In his Independent Games Summit session, Jonathan Blow told independent developers how rapid prototyping can be successfully utilized to make great games, as proven out by his time-twisting action game Braid, winner of the IGF 2006 Innovation in Ga
Jonathan Blow had a lot of presentation to go through, and it would have required some significant time-bending itself to pack it into the 45 minute session; instead he breezed past some PowerPoint slides, and showed the audience examples of game play in Braid, as well as other games and prototypes he had developed that led him to make certain design decisions. He began by showing a magical gesture-based combat game he had worked on, where he prototyped the gesture system heavily. He eventually got it working; however, just testing the thing did not make a good prototype. “Even though it exercised the technical parts of the scheme, it didn’t exercise the game play parts,” he said, going on to say that he should have worked on it within the context of a game or mini game. This contrasts with his own personality as a tech guy, getting excited by the tech in and of itself. He then showed the precursor to Braid, Oracle Billiards. Here, Blow wanted to see how the game of billiards would change if one could see the future: in addition to seeing the balls on the table, the game showed the final positions of the balls after being struck. It wasn’t fun, but it was a much more successful prototype. “It didn’t do what I wanted, but I got a feeling out of it that I never got out of any game I ever played before.” Rather than continuing to work on Oracle Billiards, Blow took the idea of playing with time to a more simple genre: platforming. Within Braid as a framework, Blow could ask various questions about how time could affect gameplay. What if you could slow down time within a radius? What if playing with time spawned multiple universes? He later showed a prototype called Raspberry, where simple gameplay ideas like matching bouncing objects or staying away from pieces were used to evoke particular emotions in conjunction with music. This prototype wasn’t enjoyable to Blow, but it was successful, and was a big part of what led up to his next project, Eight Dots. Blow finished by saying that independents are much more invested in the games themselves than employees of large companies. He noted that just as in the strategy games he was so fond of, life is a very limited resource and wasting it on merely average or okay games, at one to two years a shot, is unfortunate. “Don’t do ideas that are just ‘good enough,’” he concluded.

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