Backflip's 6 essential prototyping tips for mobile games

Tom Blind puts prototyping to the test.

Backflip's 6 essential prototyping tips for mobile games

Tom Blind, Backflip Studios' co-founder and design director, opened GDC 2015's Smartphone and Tablet Gaming track with a call for developers to start building dedicated prototype teams.

Perhaps controversially, he also suggested that prototyping should be a sub-team of the design department, not programming.

According to Blind, in Backflip's experience a single technical designer is faster than partnering both a designer and a programmer when trying to build quickly. 

"If you use a programmer, they're normally hardwired to create well-crafted, solid code," he explained.

"They're not used to writing loose prototypes that just need to get done."

Tips of the trade

He outlined six tips that are essential to the prototyping process.

  • First you need to identify your goal - what should your prototype prove? "It's a trap to try and create a prototype that encompasses all the features of a game," Blind says. Focus on just one mechanic to test.
  • Blind wants you to always kill your babies - as in, to never turn a prototype into an actual product. It's what he calls short term gain vs long term loss. "Besides," he says, "If your prototype is that good, you're doing it wrong. Putting too much time into it.
  • Try to prototype in parallell. Carrying on prototyping while you're already in production will allow you to quickly test out new mechanics.
    Ninjump Smash was created from a prototype experiment.
  • Do not polish your protoype, but use intentionally bad graphics. Beautiful art can make a bad game seem well-crafted and can fool testers into thinking gameplay is good when it's not.
  • Blind says the most important point is realising thaat there is no such thing as a failed prototype: Every bad prototype teaches you something. "The only failed prototype is the one you didn't do."
  • Use temps, not "interns." Bring in fresh students and grads and put them on the prototype team to experiment. Backflip Studios does this, and has found it gives inexperienced devs trying to break into the industry a chance with very little risk to your business.
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