Ring Fling – Developer Diary 2 – Prototyping

I had picked my game concept and I was ready to start prototyping. Well, I should have been ready to start prototyping, but mentally, I wasn’t. Starting a new project is always a little bit intimidating, but when you’ve started so many and finished none of them, there’s that much more weighing you down. I was considering just writing blog posts all day instead of starting the prototype, but Twitter shouted me down. I did end up stalling a little bit by sorting out some stuff with the NHS and taking a long walk to grab some lunch. When I got back from lunch, though, I was ready to go.

It was definitely the wrong attitude to have. It’s important with prototypes to know they might go no where. It’s just part of the process. Sometimes ideas just work out. Sometimes it’s not the right time for ideas. The most important thing, though, is to know when a prototype has failed. With my last project, there were too many variables. I had to implement a large number of things before I could even think about if the game was going to work. I wasn’t about to make the same mistake again.

Ring Fling was going to live or die by one thing–whether I could make swiping to fling feel like second nature. I’m a big fan of the physical manipulation approach for touch screen devices. I love the app Clear and have used it to track all my tasks on Ring Fling. It’s a perfect example of building a user interface that maps naturally onto physical actions we’re already accustomed to. From the get go, I decided that Ring Fling was going to be a game for everyone. I wasn’t going to make a game that only other game developers could appreciate or a game just for people who know a particular genre well. I wanted to make sure it was a game that absolutely anyone could play. I remember whenever Mark Healey was asked what the target audience for LittleBigPlanet was, he would say “people with thumbs.” I remember how many people who didn’t consider themselves gamers would perk up when I mentioned I had worked on LBP and it was something that really stuck with me.

So the first thing I prototyped was creating little squares when you swiped from the bottom left corner of the screen. I implemented the obvious version of it. It kept track of the speed of your finger and when you let go, it used that speed for the projectile. In some ways, it wasn’t far off, but in a thousand other ways, I knew I had a lot of work to do. Just as it took me many years to realize that there’s a big difference between what someone does with a control pad and what they think they’ve done on a control pad, the same holds for touch screens. For example, even when doing a steady swipe, you tend to slow down for the last few frames, even if you don’t realize it. Also, people vastly underestimate how fast they can swipe their fingers across a touch screen.

Even without rules or even an objective for the game, I was able to determine if I thought the core interaction would ever feel just right. While I did go back to the swipe code over and over throughout the project, it was absolutely key to getting it to a point where I was confident that it could be brought to shippable.

Once I felt confident that the core mechanic was going to work, I threw in all the other pieces: 3 other players, targets to shoot at, and playfield boundaries. I put in some really basic graphics and we were playing. I played a few rounds with Carly and things were feeling good. I’d put in 6 hours so far and I felt pretty confident that this was a game I’d actually ship. I had no idea exactly what the final product would look like, but I knew that at it’s core, it would feel simple and fun. That was enough to make me confident that this was going to end up being something I’d be happy to put my name to.

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