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Post feature Report RSS It all starts with pens, papers and scissors (part 1)

Here is a brief presentation of how we prototyped the gameplay of our current game, Swim Out.

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Swim Out is a strategic, turn-by-turn puzzle game where you control a swimmer who want to get out of a pool, a river or the sea. Here is a preview of the game in progress:

Except for sound design and music, everything we created in the game started on paper, without any computer at all.
Swim Out is a tiled-based game and gameplay was first designed by quickly drawing boards on paper. For example this level’s sketch and how it is ingame now :

These sketches were fast and easy to make, but problems appeared with more complex levels : we couldn’t figure out level’s turn-by-turn progression without drawing tons of boards ! So next step was to cut squares of paper for each tiles, draw swimmers on them and place them over a board with a fixed grid background.

We could test our new gameplay elements much faster ! These small pieces of papers were providing us instant feedback, we could evaluate our swimmers behaviours by simply moving them turn by turn.

It’s a common practice we have in our team because paper prototyping also helps communication and ensure that everyone understand and visualize the gameplay. Ava and I are used to sit around the table to play, test and discuss only game features without focusing on the look of the game, and without any distractions.

Any idea can be tested very fast, even if you’re not good at drawing, even if you suspect it would be long to implement because you hadn’t planned your architecture to support non turned-based moving objects, out-of-sync animations, etc... You’re totally free to imagine without constraints what you think would be funny !

- We need a diver, moving several tiles per turn before entering the pool !
- Great, then after 2 turns he should go back to normal. Oh and he should get out of the pool on the other side and dive again, let's see how it goes.
- It would also be great to have a kid jumping in the pool !
- Oh yes ! But then we’ll need to add some waves
- How much and in which direction should the waves pop out ?
- Let’s try !

We truly believe that if a mechanic is not fun on paper there is very little chance it will be in our video game, even with the right graphics and shiny effects.

With paper prototyping we were able to test in one hour something that could have taken days to be coded in a game prototype. We can immediately eliminate non relevant features and give a chance to more tricky mechanics. We’re often even surprised to see how behaviours that first sound complex, once put on a paperboard, can be organized in a clear sequence or replaced by a metaphor perfectly acceptable for the player.


It also helped a lot with controls, for example how should rotation be working with multiple tiles sprites, like when hero is using a kayak (1x2 tiles) or a noodle (2x1 tiles). It let you try all the possible options until you find what’s look like the more natural for the player and get smooth pathfinding algorithms.

Thanks for reading, in the second part of this post we’re going to focus on the graphical part and see why we went from a semi-perspective view to a top-view.
Swim Out is planning to be released this summer. We are currently on Steam Greenlight, vote for us !

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