Ninja Prototyping

You know those game or design discussions that leave you energized, where things get clear and you're excited to get back to work? Where you everyone is suggesting ideas and they all fit together and seem feasible and cohesive? Where you can feel the game improving with every passing minute?

Those discussions are the good ones. Where:

  • Everyone knows what the problem is
  • The problem is understood well enough to discuss it intelligently
  • The information needed to make progress is known

But you must also know the opposite kind. Where:

  • Discussion is of a vague, difficult or unknown subject
  • Boundaries are vague as discussion of this subject often veers into adjacent vague, difficult and seemingly critical subjects
  • You talk about issues you've talked about many times before

These are the energy vampires (especially if you're an introvert). You're using the wrong tool in the toolbox. This is where it's better to make a prototype instead.

Enter the Ninja
I read this quote many years ago and it really stuck with me:

"I like to think of good prototypers as powerful ninjas who can drop into hard design challenges, or tedious design debates, and cut them to shreds with one swift movement of their prototyping blade." -Chaim Gingold

The truth of this gives me shivers. Finally, a way out.

Chaim seems to have mastered the art of prototyping during the long development of Spore. I think that prototyping is the most important design tool there is - certainly more important than creating spreadsheets, running brainstorming meetings or even playing other games.

Yet so often, we resort to talking about solutions instead of building our way forward. When those same meeting-people see a clear prototype, the arguments and theorycrafting often fall away in an instant. Suddenly, everyone is clear.

Prototype Outcomes
Of course, the outcome of every prototype isn't as dramatic and effective as a ninja blade: but these prototypes still shed light on the problems at hand. They inform the next prototype. The make the problem clearer. They show a path that isn't going to work. They create pangs of excitement, making you certain you're in the right domain. Or they build a case that an entire solution domain won't be fruitful.

Unlike those de-energizing, frustrating, roundabout life-wasting discussions, this is real progress.

Notice when to stop talking and draw your blade.

Thoughts or questions? Join the discussion on Discord or get in touch.

(I'd like to cover the prototyping more in another article, but these prototypes don't have to take a long time or require intense programming. They could be in Excel, in Miro, be made as a mod in another game, or otherwise require effort of just a few days)