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GAMBIT Spring Prototyping: #1

The following paragraphs are notes documenting the first meeting of the spring prototyping team at Gambit. We had a working lunch, during which our team leader challenged us to take a preexisting videogame and translate it into a paper prototype. We began by brainstorming some games. Out of the twenty-odd games discussed, we chose Shadow of the Colossus--a game that nearly everyone on the team had played, or at least understood in terms of fundamental mechanics.

The team then generated a list of verbs that were integral to or somehow represented the player's immersion in the experience.

Most of these were directly related to gameplay:

Stabbing, slashing, calling your horse, running, shooting an arrow, swimming, grabbing, climbing, divining the locations of colossi

Other actions were less grounded in the mechanics, and more a part of the unique experience of a given player:

Falling, breathing, stumbling, searching, discovering, escape, yearning for exploration

We narrowed the list down to a smaller, more specific set of verbs:

Search, climb, grab, and fall.

We felt we could use these verbs in a way that conveyed the objective of the game as well as the aesthetic experience of playing it.

With an assortment of game pieces at our disposal (cards, poker chips, dice, go stones, cubes, post-its, graph paper), we first attempted to recreate the experience of traversing a vast terrain. We had the idea to have the player search through a deck of cards to find one that represented a colossus. The cards were then set up as a sort of terrain in which the player would navigate. Cards that were placed face-down were evocative of unexplored areas.


As the player moves a token from card to card, he has the option of searching the stack on which the token sits (limited to one card per turn). In order to prevent the game from simply becoming a pixel hunt, we organized the cards so that the player could intuit where cards of a certain suit and rank could be found. As the player advances, the path before him becomes more evident, but breaking down steps into turns necessitated a more gradual progression.


Among the issues that surfaced during the first trial game, one was the question of adapting the rules to include a second player in order to include the role of an active opposing entity, or instead allowing the inherent rules of playing cards work against the player. We also wanted to extend the theme of "searching" to the combat. In the video game, when a colossus is found, the player must then search for its weak point, and then must in turn search for a tactic to reach it.


We also thought we could convey hopelessness and desperation by forcing the player to use cards of a lower and lower denomination as they lost each round, making their failure eventually inevitable (unless they worked out a secret pattern, or tactic, that would ensure victory). Using lower and lower cards (picked up from lower rows on the board) would also symbolize "falling." Conversely, if the player began to successfully fight the colossus, they would feel "climbing" when the colossus had to use cards closer and closer to themselves.

When Matt played the game, more issues were raised. We wanted to have him play without much instruction, similar to how the game throws the player directly into play. But the rules of the game weren't clear enough from the bare setup, so we had to explain, taking away from the feeling of immersion.

He progressed quickly through the terrain, making us wonder if there wasn't a way to better emulate the feeling of crossing a great expanse. The use of graphics, space, and sound design all contribute to the immense atmosphere of the game, but is there a way to replicate this with a deck of cards and simple gameplay mechanics?

He did identify the pattern in the card layout, allowing him to "divine" his intended destination, and even had an "aha!" moment when he discovered the King of Diamonds (which we had instructed him to find at the beginning). Play was then paused at this point, until further development. Additional ideas we had from this experiment are as follows:

  • The game contains 16 "boss" battles, and after each battle you are brought back to a central point. Is there a way to represent the cyclical nature of this journey?
  • Can the variety of 16 different bosses be represented with 16 different kinds of gameplay? That is, one involving cards, another involving poker chips or dice?
  • Can we reproduce the feeling of the ending, which involves "letting go" of ultimate victory but still embracing a rewarding emotional experience?
  • Is there a way to involve the horse at all? In the game, the horse is a mode of transportation that you can control, but it sometimes disobeys you. We forgive this disobedience because it's a reflection of its characterization, but how would that translate into gameplay elements?

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