Early Prototype Creation

This is a re-post of an article I originally wrote for The Daniel Zayas Company. Check them out before you launch your next Kickstarter!

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I’ve been asked by a few people now how I create prototypes. One of the first things people need to know is that there is no specific “right way.” The tools and techniques I use are what I’ve found work for me. If you find some useful information please use it as a base to find the best method that works for you. Part 1 will focus on rapidly creating basic prototypes, while part 2 will focus on creating higher quality prototypes.

Getting started.

Before making a prototype, I create a basic template for it. I have used Publisher and Word, and their free equivalents from OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org) Draw and Writer.

Publisher/Draw works great for quickly laying the general shapes I’m going to be using. This allows me to create a page full of the template shapes I will need, and copy it as needed to create more templated shapes. This also creates cut lines for me when I cut them out later. Don’t worry about rounded edges on your templates, even if the final product will have them. Starting with the templates makes it easy to add text now, and later easily add pictures and background images without needing to re-do you template. On Windows based systems, hold down CTRL and SHIFT when dragging a shape to create a copy of that shape while staying on the same paralleled or vertical alignment. Square or Rectangle shapes can be set right beside each other, but leave extra space between hexagons or other odd shapes. This may mean having less per page than you could optimally fit, but will make the cutting process easier.

I make quick notes of the rules, ideas and concepts I will be using in Word/Writer. This becomes a working file that have open or printed off for playtests, that I can quickly add or remove information from. This also becomes the outline for my rules later one.

The Design.

When I am making Playing Cards, I will sometimes use pre-designed templates for printing business cards. This can save time if I have a lot of cards in the game, as 10 cards fit to a sheet (8 max for regular playing cards). You can purchase blank pop-out business cards sheets from most stationary stores fairly cheaply, and play perfectly well for prototypes. I generally only use this method when time is a factor, as making cards this way is very quick, but costs more. I have also used this method for creating Print and Play games, as this makes it easier and quicker for the person who downloads it.

I also have several cheap, regular playing card decks from the dollar store and a few packs of penny sleeves. This allows me to quickly print of a card idea, cut it out, and slip it into a sleeve with a card.

If I need to make character cards, or oversized cards, I will often use templates for printing postcards, as pop-out postcard sheets are also available from most stationary stores. Again however, I generally only use this method when time is a factor, or for creating Print and Play games.

When I need tokens, I have a pile of glass beads I have left over form years ago. While you can buy these from a craft store, a lot of people use them in center pieces at their weddings. Ask around among people you know and see if they have any of these just sitting around, or make a post onto your local Facebook shop and swap page asking about them.

If I am designing Tokens for printing (usually later in the process), I made a template with has 2 pages, with one-inch circles evenly spaced throughout page one, and the second page duplicated with all circles reversed. This allows me to add text or a picture onto each side of the token.

Quick prototypes.

Once I have everything I want to create set up in my templates, it time to print everything and cut it out. This is where setting things up initially in the templates will pay off.

If you are printing cards, and you have dollar store cards and sleeves ready, print off onto regular paper.

For everything else, I recommend printing onto cardstock. I use 110lb cardstock for printing as it’s thick enough that it’s difficult to see through.

For cutting out the prototype, I have several tools. The 3 most important in my opinion are a metal ruler, a hand held rotary cutter, and a self-healing mat. I have found rotary cutters make cleaner edges on my prototypes than straight edged cutters. Look for a rotary cutter and self healing mat in a sewing store and it will be cheaper than at a crafting store. Cutting of oddly shaped pieces will still need a straight blade.

Because of how we set the prototype up earlier, simply lay the ruler across one common edge of all the shapes, and roll your blade across for a nice clean cut. This makes it very easy to cut out Hexagon shapes (something several people have mentioned they find difficult) as your template has your cut lines (shape edges) set up for you, and rows of hexagons come out together.

Jonathan Thwaites

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Jonathan Thwaites