Paper prototypes of mechanics should, generally speaking be rough. Artistic skill is not a necessity. This is so as not to limit who can make one. A prototype can be created by a programmer, game designer, or anyone on the design team. This is important because it reduces the time it takes for a prototype is created, which allows for more testing and quicker results. However, a prototype should still be able to convey clearly the mechanic it was created to examine. If it’s being used by someone outside of the design team this becomes even more important, as there is no guarantee that person will have knowledge of how the game works.
While creating a physical prototype of a game mechanic (specifically a type of spell) for an upcoming assignment, I grappled with how detailed to make it. Should I use color? Do I draw it entirely in pencil? Should it be 3d? Do I use printer paper, construction paper, or cardboard? Initially I wanted to represent the spell visually by a green scrap of paper. However, halfway through creating the spell proxies I worried that they would stand out too much, since the background and characters of the prototype were black and white. In the game, the spell does not stand out that much. In fact, in some areas it almost blends in with the environment. The game object itself is also somewhat transparent until detonated. Plus, the logic behind why the game object distracts NPCs is not because of its color, it’s because of its smell. As a result of this I changed my plan to make the prototype spell game object green, instead opting for white pieces of paper.
Was I over thinking things? This is not a final product, so why fret over the color of things? This goes back to what I previously mentioned about outside playtesters. What color things are might influence what approach they take. For example, in the game since the spell does not stand out much players might place it near another, clearer object, to track where they placed it. If the prototype featured a spell that clearly stood out, then there is no chance for this dynamic to be mimicked. To accurately simulate a game mechanic in a prototype, more has to be considered then just how the mechanic works. Other details of design should be considered as well.
Fullerton, Tracy. “Chapter 7: Prototyping” Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. 4th ed., Taylor & Francis Group LLC, 2019. PDF.