Next Generation Game UX Prototypes and prototyping skills are here! If you have been reading or following this article series since last year, you are in for a treat! (Previous articles in this series can be found here and here.)
To recap: Necessity indeed is the mother of invention, and methodology behind this series was born with:
Prototypes are the bedrock of usability testing way early in pre-production to gather valuable make-or-break user feedback.
*Image above shows various touch points for prototype testing in pre-prod cycle.
ï»¿As described in previous articles, through many iterations we realised a holistic design sprint approach which is called Cross Discipline Teamwork (CDT Sprints) which aims at pulling in different creative disciplines like Game Design, Art, UX, UI at the right times during pre-production using an agile model. This creates opportune overlaps during a features' pre-production cycle thereby building to an opportunity to rapid prototype near product like experience.
*CDT Sprint planning to show all disciplines pouring in to prototyping window
These sprints result in an unbelievably robust near-finish feature experience in high fidelity that can rival (and even in some cases exceed) real products aspirations. It can be placed in the hands of your play testers and stakeholders, used for A/B testing or just used in hackathons for pitching game ideas. And best part?
Hi-fidelity, near finish, robust prototypes can be created without writing a single line of code or using a game engine, with unbeatably fast turnaround times!
But, that's not all...
While the previous articles in the series did push the limits of existing UX prototyping tools, they can be safely catalogued as Generation 1 prototypes.
With multiple iteration cycles, learnings from user tested prototypes & advancements in state of the art prototyping tool, we have moved towards more refined & immersive Generation 2 prototypes.
The focus of this article is not simply how to create prototypes that feel more robust, polished, animated and deliver a real world product experience, but it runs way deeper. With continued experiments overtime with our usability tests, we realised that while standalone prototypes that follow traditional "T-Type" format do generate valuable information about usability of our product, they do not necessarily give players the whole context or the bigger picture. Let me elaborate:
Example for making "Fund Transfers" a user does not needs to look at e-statements and vice versa.
A single session in a utility app can revolve around doing just one specific task, while a single session in games usually revolves around completing a series of interlinkedtasks by design. _Om
Ever seen a banking app that grant you 200 dollars to go an upgrade your couch or living room?
Type-8 prototypes are versatile. They allow intermittent connectivity between simulated micro game loop sessions. While a session in utility apps revolve around accomplishing a specific task, a single session in games is rounded to establish multiple tasks routine.
Question: You may ask, that's all well and good but how do we go about testing such prototypes when no software build exists??
That's up next!
The last article looked at simulating a micro session of core loop of a casual Match 3 game which could then be placed in the hands of actual play testers to A/B test different input mechanism and booster deploying mechanics. This time we have upped the ante and will look at simulating a micro session of core loop experience of a mid-core game.
Think: Boom Beach, Clash of Clans, Rival Kingdoms, Summoners War as archetypes.
Mid-core games have way more complexity compared to casual games in terms of player inputs needed, decision making and loop management. In the demo prototype, we will focus on not only rapid prototyping the core mechanics & gameplay loop as shown below, but also how they interact with each other allowing a "Type-8" interaction as described above.
As per the core loop diagram, we will simulate micro sessions of the following aspects of a mid-core game:
Important: Please put your headphones on for full context.
Screen Capture Version:
Screen Capture Version:
With CDT Sprints and Type-8 Prototyping, we can create & test more immersive experiences to reflect real world mental models
A holistic design sprint that allows collaboration, creation and validation of ideas with other creative teams such as Product, Gamer Design, Art, UI make UX more inclusive of other disciplines rather than exclusive.
Get player feedback not just on UX..but Game mechanics, UI, Art, VFX, SFX and holistic product vision.
In my experience, having tested both high and low fidelity prototypes with users and stakeholders alike, a lot of us may have also observed the engagement and immersion level of users going higher as the fidelity of prototypes go up - which is not at all a surprising insight.
On day-to-day basis, people are used to interacting with products that are finished and final. The brain is used to real world mental models and an acceptable level of fidelity standards for total immersion.
This difference can often be gauged by studying the contrast in level of interest, the questions users ask and their curiosity levels when testing prototypes of varied fidelities. If you have not paid attention to it, this might be a good exercise for next time when you conduct user tests.
As an example for most people/testers, the image (below) on the right may create more immersion in terms of peaking players curiosity and intrigue which can then affect the quality of feedback and opinions people may have or want to share.
*Image source: DeviantArt & Marvel Spider Man PS4
NOTE: This is not to say low fidelity prototypes are not useful! It is quite powerful (a full UX cycle (in my process) calls for both low and hi-fidelity prototypes testing (refer here). The difference between choosing when to test low-fidelity or high-fidelity prototypes comes down to variables like scope of what you are testing, complexity of design and the stage at which your pre-production process is.
Every feature design might not require a hi-fidelity prototype, but may need a low-fidelity prototype.
You might have some questions on the nature of these prototypes and their scope:
Over 80% of mobile game micro sessions, can be successfully simulated with some ingenuity and problem solving.
Core loops of majority of mobile games today follow an approach where automation plays a big role. That is the burden on the player - in terms of micro-managing every interaction - is not a necessity. Many games also shift the tactical decision making - in terms of troop training and/or boost equipping - to base building rather than combat loop thereby keeping player interactions minimal resulting in sessions ranging from 2-5 minutes, with the least effort from the player for a full loop to be executed. There are always exceptions to the rule like FPS and Hack & Slash RPG’s for which dev prototypes will definitely do more justice.
You should test and measure your dev prototypes as much as possible, yes! But if you have them ready in time for testing. If you are building a new feature or game mechanics from scratch that will not hit production for a couple of weeks or months, that's when Advanced UX prototyping of this fidelity can be immensely valuable.
Pre-development Advanced UX prototypes help play test and sell the vision to stakeholders by simulating micro sessions of features' look and feel, before thousands of dollars are spent in it's production. _Om
Not yet, but it's quite obvious to see all UX prototyping tools like Invision, Flinto, Principle, Adobe XD etc. evolving every year and becoming more and more powerful. So it's only a matter of time till we get there. However a lot of 3D experiences and transitions can be simulated using 2D sprites or elements as we demonstrated.
Credits: A Special thanks to Kamal Nayan Ganguly, Diogo Alves and Pavitra S. Tandon for their contribution and collaboration in helping out with putting together of this project on art, content and editing front.