By Brian Reynolds
March 15, 1999
There were a lot of "firsts" for our team in the making of Alpha Centauri. We had never done a public beta test before Alpha Centauri, and this was also the first time we released a demo before the game was out. Since we'd not done one before, we didn't know exactly what to expect when we released it, but it turned out to fit right in with Firaxis' iterative design method.
For those of you who aren't familiar with our design techniques, one of the most important ways we go about making our games fun is by "prototyping" early and often. When it's time to start a new game, we don't start by creating a 50-pound design document - there's no such thing at Firaxis. Instead, we spend a couple weeks creating a prototype game that can actually be played; the first prototypes of a game are very simple and don't have great graphics, but you can actually play them. By playing the game (rather than just trying to imagine it, which is all we could do without a working prototype) we can see what is actually fun and what isn't, what works and what doesn't.
Brian Reynolds, designer of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
Once the first prototype is ready, the "feedback loop" begins: We figure out what's fun and what isn't, then we strengthen the things that are fun and fix or take out the parts that aren't. Sid calls this process "surrounding the fun." Once we've revised the prototype, it's time to play it again - and then revise it again, play it again, revise, play, ad infinitum! Over the course of the project, our simple little prototype grows one step at a time into a full-fledged game.
Next: Tell Me More About the Feedback Process