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Round 1

The first task of the semester for the Fast Prototyping Team was to come up with ideas for a game about a girl and her dog. One of the more intriguing concepts from our initial brainstorming session involved having the player control a blind girl who depends on her guide dog to get around (rejected idea: Blind Girl Frogger). But how do you prototype a game where your protagonist is blind when all of your playtesters can see? Our first challenge! In the end, we went with the somewhat obvious solution of simply requiring playtesters to close their eyes or look away from the game boards that we created. We also set up the boards to conceal certain information from the "dog" (who was allowed to see the board), since a dog would have a much more limited understanding of the world than a human would.

Unfortunately, when your playtesters and your designers are the same people, any steps you take to hide information about the game world will end up being useless when you actually play the game. So, in order to keep some playtesters in the dark without making any designers sit in a corner and twiddle their thumbs, we broke into two groups that would each come up with their own version of the prototype. There weren't a lot of constraints---specifically, the game had to have two players, with one player taking on the role of the dog and the other that of a blind person, and the person had to rely on the dog to find her way around an unfamiliar space.

The first group drew out a set of corridors and required the player and her dog--represented by a couple of little plastic cubes--to navigate from one end to the other. The "human" was not allowed to look at the board, so it was up to the dog to tell her which directions they could go and if something was blocking their way. The corridors were marked with things like "Danger!" and "?", representing (unsurprisingly) danger and unfamiliar objects, respectively, but no further details were included. This was to model the fact that the dog might not be able to identify a particular object (for example, a dog probably doesn't know what a mop is--he just sees it as a non-threatening object) and also to preserve the interspecies communication barrier--even if the dog can see something dangerous coming up, he can't tell his person exactly what it is (spike pit? large carnivorous plant?), only that it should be avoided. It was up to the person to investigate and overcome the obstacles using her other senses ("I listen for any strange noises") and her ability to pick up and identify, and in some cases use, strange objects. And just to make it more difficult, parts of the board were covered up and were only revealed when the human and dog arrived at a point where the dog would be able to see more of the map.

The second group envisioned their playing area as a large, cave-like space for the human and dog to explore. In this version, the object was to find an unspecified widget (again represented by a little plastic cube) located at one end of the cave and put it into a widget-shaped impression on an altar in another part of the cave, all the while avoiding dead ends and traps. The walls of the cave and its passages were constructed out of Play-Doh, and the human player had to keep her eyes closed and "navigate" using her finger to feel out the paths formed by those walls. The dog had the ability to move freely over the entire map, regardless of the human's position, and could tell the human which way she should go next or which areas were dangerous and should be avoided. In addition, the dog was able to pick up and carry objects in its mouth if the human ordered it to do so.

When the two groups re-joined to play the prototypes, we were surprised that they had turned out to be so different from each other. We had talked about the problem extensively prior to splitting up, and I think we felt that we were all pretty much on the same page. I was in the first group, and I don't think we even considered the idea of 3-D features that allowed the player to physically feel her way around the game world. I was particularly interested to see that the second group had not included a representation of the dog or the human in the world. The human's position was marked by the location of her finger, and since the dog was allowed to run all over the map--in essence, he could move to any location at any time he wanted, with no restrictions--there was no real need for him to have a token on the board. In that prototype, the dog was actually more of an all-seeing advisor than an in-world guide. In general, the dog behavior in the two prototypes was very different--the dog in the first prototype could do about three things (warn of danger, warn of an obstacle, and indicate available directions for travel), but the dog in the second was much, much more capable (more of a guide chimp, perhaps).

Splitting into two teams like this may have its disadvantages, but we usually find that it's valuable to do so because we get to experience different takes on a game that we might not have encountered if we'd stayed in our group of 4. The technique is also applicable to pretty much any of the kinds of games that we've been asked to consider this semester, from word games to zombie apocalypses (note: this applies only to game design. Technique may not be valid in the case of actual zombie apocalypse).

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