White boxing? Gray boxing? What?

Benefits of Prototyping without Assets

In our last article, we took the time to convert our prototype, that used basic 3D shapes to represent our game objects, into a full fledged game with more refined graphics in a 2D format. Why didn’t we just start with the 2D version? Was there any benefit to building the prototype without assets?

As it turns out, there were several benefits to doing so. Prototyping with primitives is sometimes called “white boxing” or “gray boxing” which comes from the common practice of using white or gray box or cube primitive as stand-ins for our game objects. Doing so allows us to focus on the most important aspects of game design like core game mechanics, game pacing, user interactions, puzzle mechanics, and fun factor. If you can make a game fun to play with just blocks and capsules then it will have a truly solid foundation to build on when you start adding those smoking hot graphics!

Another benefit to white boxing is that a developer or team can rapidly iterate over design ideas and concepts. Knowing if a new idea or concept is going to work sooner rather than later in the process is key to making sure that you are only including the features that make the game stronger and not spending time chasing ideas that don’t work or weaken the core game play. It also helps developers stay focused and more detached from any one idea early in the process. Throwing away a white boxed concept that was worked on for a short amount of time feels easier than scrapping concepts that have had weeks or months out into them. This helps keep the game fluid in the early stages of design and development.

White boxing also helps keep biases that may form based on how a certain asset looks, feels, or moves from informing or guiding the design and development of the game as a whole. Whether consciously or not, spending hours working on a concept with finished art or specific models can skew the perception of the designers and developers, limiting or eliminating possible alternatives or options. At this stage of pre-production, the goal is to stay as fluid and flexible as possible and only focus on the most important aspects of the process as outlined above.

We have covered a few benefits of prototyping without assets today including keeping focus on the most important aspects of what makes a game fun, being able to rapidly iterate on ideas, and not introducing bias towards temporary assets early on. Tomorrow we get back into the fray and look at how our game is starting to feel like a real game! If you enjoyed this article, or want to come along with me as I progress on my journey, follow me at gamedevchris.medium.com.

Unity Game Developer, Software Engineer, Gamer, Musician, and Father. Christopher is a creative that enjoys a challenge and loves coding.