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Monday, 28 April 2014

How to prototype in Unity. The Magic Rule of 3.

It doesn't matter if you work in a big company or you are a one-man team. Ideas doesn't fall down from the trees, and success comes with the price of many failures. That's why you will need prototypes! The art of prototyping consist in being able to test ideas better and faster. In this article I will be talking about two things. First I will make an introduction to prototyping and then I will explain why Unity is the ultimate prototyping tool for video games.

While documenting myself before writing this post, I stumbled across many very interesting articles about how to make video game prototypes (written by people with far more experience than me). Here I will comment two of them that I recommend reading.

The first is a rather old post from Gamasutra. How to prototype a game in 7 days is very complete, and has some revealing facts that I never though about before. It focuses on the fact that "Formal Brainstorming Has a 0% Success Rate". The sentence is quite true, but I will talk a little bit more about it later on the post. It also mentions "Nobody Knows How You Made it, and Nobody Cares" witch means that you should be building prototypes maximising outcome, even if that means forgetting about Software Engineering and good programming techniques.

The second article is from Rapid Game Prototyping: Tips for Programmers is a more practical guide of what to do and don't. It also has some interesting ideas like: "If a task is not moving you closer to your goal, don’t do it.". Don't waste your time, the only thing that should survive prototyping are ideas, not code. "When you are in the mud, get out of it, and move on". Use all the dirty tricks you know to fake the final idea of game and don't stop on details that burn your time.

Prototype of Northwards of Roswell, still in development. This state was achieved in 2 hours.

"Prototyping is about testing an idea, not a product" - Me :)

Whenever I made a prototype there was always the same pattern. First comes the idea. No one can choose to have an idea, therefore it makes no sense to sit, think and discuss, waiting for it to come. The best you can do is write down the ideas you have for games regularly somewhere. It doesn't matter if they are good or bad, just write them, you will never know if you will need them.

When you have the idea you need to make it grow, evolve. This is done much better in group. Here is when meetings have sense. You shouldn't go to a brainstorming meeting with the hands inside the pockets. You need to have the ideas already there. In general you should pick a general concept. Develop somewhere around 10 propositions. All propositions are good and there shouldn't be space for negative criticism.

At this point of the prototyping process comes the Magic Rule of 3. Whenever you are making a decision, 3 is the optimal number of choices. I cannot explain why, but it works. You should try to apply it in every situation because it has a lot of benefits. For the creator, usually forces him or her to think outside the box to make the third proposition. For the chooser, you pick the best and make it perfect with pieces of the other two. Coming back to the topic, you should choose the 3 best propositions (out of the 10 total ones) and find the problems of each of them while going into the details. In this way you fix them before they happen.

When you have the refined idea for the game is time to start prototyping some video games.

Bad Piggies from Rovio. The evidence of the Supreme Ruling of Unity in mobile devices.

To create all kind of different game mechanics and crazy game plays, there is no doubt that Unity is the King. Unity is the most flexible engine you will find out there and allows re-usability faster and better than anyone else. You can create a prototype of pretty much any existing game in the world in one day in Unity. How? Recycling and lying. Use as much of the components you have made or you can find for free and make the person believe the game is there, like the villages from the Far West movies.

Chances are that you will use Unity for more than prototyping. From the official Unity Game Profiles site, we find an article of Rovio, the creators of Angry birds about their video game Bad Piggies. In "Unraveling the unending oink" they stated that "We decided to prototype the game using Unity, and went forward into production". That's it, even the big fishes of the mobile video game market are using Unity... and they are not they only ones.

And Unity is not only good on mobile. Imagine you want to show your prototype to some potential players, because their feedback is more valuable that it from you or any other developer. Well, you can do it easily porting your game to pretty much any convenient platform. I particularly like to put my web project on the public folder of dropbox and share the public link of the automatically generated HTML file. PUFF! you just put your game online magically for anyone to enjoy :)

Success comes after try number N. Being N the try before the one most of the people give up.

There is a lot more to tell about prototypes, the creation process of a video game and how to test it. I may write more about it in the future. In the meantime, don't be scared of discarding a big amount of ideas or prototypes just to get a good one, the sooner the better. Think about it as squeezing a delicious elixir, If you generate no waste, you are doing it wrong.

Credits to the great promotor of "The Magic Rule Of Three": Marcin Maciejewski ;)


  1. I wish you hadn't written this article. Now everyone's gonna know the best way to be more competitive, which means less money for us established Unity developers!

    Seriously, though, great article, and 100% agree.

  2. Rule of 3 is quite old in fact. But unfortunatelly forgotten by many now. Jumping to work with the first idea in hand is one of the biggest waste of time I can think of:)

    Great article Juan!

    1. Thanks Marcin!
      I added a small credit to you. I think you deserve it :D

  3. Great post, as usual.
    I'm learning a lot with you and your blog.

  4. I wrote those tips. Looking back, it doesn't seem like my process has changed that much.

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