It’s been 2 years, 10 months, 17 days, and you have finally put the finishing touches on your master-piece. It has the newest, most innovative gameplay imaginable. The dynamic music and unique rendering system have never been seen before. Your blood, sweat, and tears have gone into this game with immeasurable hard work. You boot it up, start the game, and begin playing. And it sucks.
A prototype is a test version of a potential product that allows for testing certain mechanics and features without having to create a full product. Testing and iteration will occur on the design based on actually experiencing the prototype. A lot can be learned from simply playing prototypes. This means developers can ensure that their game is fun or interesting before investing all of their time and money into full development.
Prototypes aren’t always made with the same tool that the final game will be made in. Often they aren’t. You can sketch a painting with pencil first, and you can try out a complex game mechanic with paper or a simple tool. A game may have the full intention of being programmed in C++, but for purposes of testing the game mechanics the prototype is made in Game Maker. With a tool like Game Maker, developers can create a prototype very quickly without all of the precision and polish needed in a full game.
Prototypes don’t always continue into a full product though. Sometimes prototypes are made just to push boundaries and show what could be possible. Other times the prototype reveals too many flaws that it’s a better idea just to scrap it or save it for a future project. All in all, there is a general consensus that prototypes are a useful step to take in the development of a game.