Somewhere in Indie Developer land I’m sure there exists a perfected method of prototyping a game concept before coding and building it out, but we at SYNTH7 have yet to discover it. So instead we’re returning to the basics, and more specifically pen and paper with one magic ingredient: dried beans.

If you hadn’t guessed, (or if you’re new and in that case welcome!) yet based on hints in our past posts, our game concept has to do with territory control between opposing forces that are both employing their own forms of weapons. It sounds easy enough to (1) talk about various game mechanics playing out and interacting with game elements and (2) take notes on the discussion so that we remember to follow up on it later, but we’ve quickly discovered that it’s also easy to get lost in an endless loop of ideas.

We made a commitment to each other that even though progress will be slow because we’re just learning indie gaming as a craft, we will continue to make concrete steps forward. In meeting that commitment we’ve tried mockup software like Balsamiq, scribbling on lots of paper, drawing out diagrams in Android tablet apps and various other tricks. In the end we used bits of each of those techniques but decided to use beans as tokens with paper as a game board. That way we could move them around and discuss each step of the intended gameplay. Though you can’t see it in the picture, we built a legend to remind us what each type of bean represents, and added some colored corn kernels for good measure – those represent levels of health.

Using this tool, in about an hour we we able to more tangibly move through ideas for a first level and identify many new game object interactions we hadn’t previously considered. That will translate into easier programming later, and this may be something we use repeatedly to design additional levels before spending any time on code.