After the paper playthrough of “Austen Translation” (see our “TMI” post from November) we started putting together a playable, electronic version of the game we’ve been referring to as the "digital prototype." Unlike the traditional "vertical slice” method which strives to show a small section of a game in near-finished form to give a sense of final product, our “digital prototype” is intended to allow an alpha tester to play through an entire game from Chapter One to the closing Flurry of Marriage Proposals to give a sense of game flow.
With the digital prototype, we’re looking to explore big-picture questions of pacing, story structure, information delivery, and player agency. We’re less interested in having the animations appear polished or the transitions to be perfect, since this is intended to be a very rough-cut of the final full game experience. Some of the features we're planning to include in the finished release are also not included in this prototype, like avatar customization and multi-player, since those features don’t really affect the shape of a given playthrough at a fundamental level. In the interest of reducing variables (and preserving programmer sanity) the digital prototype also uses only a static subset of four events to build the plot, where the finished game will randomly pull and assemble from a pool of twenty-four.
The digital prototyping stage is also a chance for us to work out the mathematics of how the game evaluates the relationships and how the bachelors and the AI rivals make their decisions. You can see some of that numerical underpinning in the screen capture above. In the spirit of making “Austen” feel like a literary adventure and not an exercise in spreadsheet management (I’m looking at you Eve Online), we’re working to make this mathematical “backstage action" as invisible to our players as possible.
Once the digital prototype is in playable form, we’ll be anxious to get it into the hands of bunch of alpha testers so we can start getting some feedback to inform the next round of prototype. It’s an exciting time for us at W&M! We’re so glad you’re along for the ride.