Hotline Miami is one of my absolute favourite games of all time. The thrill of the moment to moment gameplay, the speed with which you get right back in the action when you die and the feeling of accomplishment when you clear an especially difficult level are all what makes the game so awesome. But the Hotline Miami experience can be distilled down to one essential experience: top down arcade fighting. With this essence broken off from the overall experience, we can now create a prototype around this core experience that would have been how the designers initially went about developing and iterating on their core gameplay.
A paper prototype for Hotline Miami would be a real time experience on a grid sheet of paper. Players would be represented by a small object that fit in a space (a bead for example) and enemies would be represented by other beads of the same colour that is different from the player colour. The top-down aspect of Hotline Miami is captured in this prototype because the player is observing the action from above similar to how it is done in the game. Rooms will be drawn on the graph paper with a thick sharpie following the lines (ie no curved or triangular rooms). The player will then be tasked with manoeuvring through the rooms and either not walking directly near an enemy (without a wall between you) or not walking past an enemy who is not two or fewer spaces away. This will capture the close quarter’s combat of Hotline Miami very elegantly.
A digital prototype of Hotline Miami could quite easily be implemented based off of the paper prototype. Again we would need some symbol representing the character, it doesn’t even need to be a sprite yet. This symbol then moves around the screen over other symbols on the screen representing the various weapons in the game. The character symbol then faces waves of attacking symbols that restart the simulation when they touch the player symbol. This is the essential Hotline Miami experience and can be easily altered to allow iterative playtesting and quick adjustments to fix issues that come up.