Prototyping in Java

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The more original your game idea, the more important it is to prototype it Until you and some friends are actually playing the game, you will never have any idea how successful your genius idea really is To prototype a game, one can commonly use a notepad, a few index cards, and some pencils Each index card can be a game output element You can position these relative to each other, or move them around accordingly Get a few friends together, explain the rules of the games, and "play it" You can act as the computer and game master, keeping track of the score and making sure everybody is playing correctly After a few minutes of play, it will become remarkably evident what the weaknesses and strengths of your game design are Continue redesigning the game and retesting it, until your friends get sick of it or until you're happy with the results Additionally, you can easily prototype most games using Java Standard Edition (J2SE) This is another joy of Java it is extremely easy to create a simple application that takes in command line input, processes some simple rules, and then spits out an output
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For example, if you are creating a new type of card game, you can have your Java prototype shuffle the cards, deal them out, accept valid moves, and keep track of who has what Eventually, if you only use text for input and output, it will be easy to transport the prototype in the Java 2 Micro Edition environment The prototype can become the actual rules engine for your final game
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This part of game development is similar to developing any other application You've got a specification and you've got to carry it out, on time and on budget You've got to create your Java classes, possibly create a server, create any artwork or audio assets, and fold it all together Most games are basically an endless loop Speaking in the most general terms, the loop works as follows: 1 2 3 4 Paint the screen Get any user input Make any game state changes Redraw the graphics or sounds accordingly
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Most games also have engines for each major multimedia aspect The advantage of having a generalized engine is that it can be reused for future game products Typical engines include some of the following:
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Graphics engines are a quick way of drawing the graphics 3D games will have a special graphics 3D engine that knows how to take three-dimensional X, Y, and Z coordinates and transform them onto a flat screen Other games will have sprite engines that enable you to take many graphical components and animate them and move them around the screen relative to each other Still other games will have isometric engines that draw 3Dlooking graphics from a set perspective, actually using a series of two-dimensional overlays Audio engines will play the soundtrack or other audio effects Often, the engine will mix together different effects and be smart about fading music in or out depending on what is currently happening in the game Artificial intelligence (AI) engines act as a separate player in the game The AI player is able to compete in the game, often head-to-head against human players Physics engines simulate real movement Making a ball fall and then bounce appropriately takes a very complicated series of equations A physics engine can provide this Multiplayer engines will communicate with the network, often through a central server, and enable game sessions to speak with each other
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After the entire game has been coded, debugged, and released, the development has just begun Because a game is not a cut-and-dry business application, there is usually no right or wrong There is only fun and not fun You may think your game is highly entertaining, but you're biased you've been working on the sucker for the past few months You also may not be representative of the market you're trying to appeal to
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Big game companies often hire focus groups to playtest their game They also might release the game to a small group of beta testers They'll try to get as much feedback as possible Many of the most popular games became huge successes because beta testers loved the game so much they worked hard trying to communicate small requests that would make the game even better When the game company fulfilled these requests, beta testers felt a sense of ownership They told all their friends to buy the game, and the news spread like wildfire The first playtester should be you Be honest with yourself What improvements can be made What strategies are too hard, and why is it so easy to gain points if you know a certain trick Continue to tweak the game until you're absolutely certain there's nothing wrong with it You should then have some friends of yours play your game This will be more useful if your friends are avid gamers, and if they are game designers themselves Watch them closely while they play, and ask them many open-ended questions about their experience Notice when they get frustrated or bored Notice when they get angry, or when they laugh In nearly every case, you will need to go back to redesign and reprogram your game This might be as simple as changing a few values, adding a few power-ups, or removing a few restrictions Or you might need to totally redo your graphics engine to make it animate more smoothly Often times, you'll need to drastically change your game design And you will need to go through the entire prototyping and programming process again before you can be absolutely sure your new design idea works Fun, huh As a rule of thumb, professional game companies often spend as much as a third of the game development cycle on playtesting and redesign
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