This week, I have been studying methods of rapid ideation and more specifically the role prototyping plays in the generation of ideas and the execution of projects. I have studied and considered several different forms of rapid ideation as well as how it would benefit my practice.
Additionally, I have studied prototyping and how it relates the process of rapid ideation, as well as how it allows us to execute and test features and ideas for a finished product, within a short period of time in a low stakes environment.
The challenge for this week was to explore one or more forms of prototyping through the reverse engineering of a creative artefact that has been made by another practitioner.
The artefact that I chose to reverse engineer is a level from the game, The Talos Principle (Devolver Digital, 2014), which as an excellent adventure puzzle game in which you play a robot who goes through various mazes and has to solve them using lasers, boxes and switches in order to obtain pieces from them which, when put together, create locks that can be used to unlock higher levels. The overall storyline of the game is also really fascinating as the main character is questioning its own purpose, sentience and existence and as the game goes on, it starts to become apparent that the world the robot inhibits may not be real.
I chose this game largely as it is one that I am currently playing and enjoying at the moment, but also because I believe the structure of the game would lend itself very well to being reverse engineered. Each level of the game features a maze in which you need to unlock gates using either switches and lasers and this all needs to be carefully timed and co-ordinated. I wanted to explore how these levels could have been planned and worked out.
At random, I selected a level called ‘One Little Buzzer’ from the game to prototype. I would have recorded myself playing the level for the purpose of this blog and my research; however, as I have already completed this level and there is no way of going back to it without clearing all of my subsequent progress, I will instead include this YouTube video walkthrough of the level I am prototyping.
In this level, the player has to use the connector to link the transmitter and receiver via a laser beam, in order for the gate to unlock, so that they can retrieve the piece and complete the level. However, there is a floating ball, known as a beam blocker which moves back and forth horizontally, which will disrupt and break the current of the beam each time it goes past, making it harder to unlock the gate. The player needs to find a way of blocking the path of the ball so that they can maintain the current between the transmitter, the connector and the receiver.
The prototyping method that I chose for this assignment was the sketching method. This is one that I am very familiar with as I have used sketches to generate character designs or plans for finished pieces of art work in the past. Sketching is also not just a form of prototyping but it can just be used for artistic study and actually practising drawing skills, without it necessarily going towards a finished piece of work (Harris, S., 2019).
Bill Buxton, a computer scientist, designer and researcher at Microsoft argues in his essay What Sketches (and Prototypes) Are and Are Not, that sketches are not a form of prototyping (Buxton, 2007). While he agrees that sketching is an ‘archetypal activity’ within design, he asserts that sketches are not prototypes. He then proceeds to explore how a sketch and prototype diverge from one another.
Buxton believes that sketches are most relevant during the earlier stages of ideation and are a quick, cheap and effective means of freely generating ideas, exploring a concept and asking important questions. Sketches are also done in a large quantity.
Prototypes, on the other hand, are for more succinct and are developed later in the design process. Buxton asserts that unlike sketches, prototypes are not disposable and are about refining the ideas and concepts within the earlier stages of ideation and working them towards a final product
I believe that is a lot of overlap within sketching and prototyping. Although sketches may not be prototypes themselves as they do not have a close enough resemblance to the finished product, either aesthetically or practically, sketching is still a core part of prototyping.
In order to reverse engineer the Talos Principle level, I used sketching to work out the layout of the map and how each obstacle to the end goal relates to one another. This involved a lot of replaying the above clip at different points and drawing shapes to work out the size and shape of each part of the map and how it is all connected.
I initially drew the map of the level on paper, rather than digitally. Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., a User Advocate and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group argues that beginning the prototyping phase on paper is beneficial and more cost effective than beginning it digitally as it allows us to freely and quickly work out how something should be designed and to remedy any potential issues early on.
Through sketching I was able to work out how I should draw the proportions of each section of the map, as well as the positions and shapes of all the objects within this level. Sketching was also a relevant and useful method for reverse engineering a game like the Talos Principle, because I can visualise and analyse how each part of the map can relates to one another (Dam, R. and Siang, T., 2020).
Once I was satisfied with the sketch, I decided that I would redraw and refine it digitally and here is the final result:
When I drew it digitally, I decided that I would lay it out like a blueprint drawing, similar to a floor plan that is done in the design and development of a building. The reason for this is that I wanted to reflect how sketching is a core part of ideation and how is crucial to the success and effectiveness of a resulting prototype.
Buxton, B., 2007. What Sketches (and Prototypes) Are and Are Not. [online] Carengie Mellon University School of Computer Science. Available at: <https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~bam/uicourse/Buxton-SketchesPrototypes.pdf> [Accessed 11 February 2021].
Dam, R. and Siang, T., 2020. Prototyping: Learn Eight Common Methods and Best Practices. [online] Available at: <https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/prototyping-learn-eight-common-methods-and-best-practices> [Accessed 11 February 2021].
Devolver Digital. (2014) The Talos Principle [Computer game]. Croteam.
Harris, S., 2019. The Basic Structure of Art and Drawing. [online] Udemy. Available at: <https://www.udemy.com/course/character-art-school-complete-character-drawing/learn/lecture/7323458> [Accessed 11 February 2021].
Nielsen, J., 2003. Paper Prototyping: Getting User Data Before You Code. [online] Nielsen Norman Group. Available at: <https://www.nngroup.com/articles/paper-prototyping/> [Accessed 11 February 2021].