Boryokudan Rue: Post-IGF
1 Week later...
So last week I had the privilege to attend GDC in San Francisco and demo Boryokudan Rue for about three straight days to hundreds of passersby. This experience taught me many things, some of which I thought I would share.
The first thing I realized was just how critical physical playtesting is to a game. I've had games playtested (and playtested others' games) over the internet, and that suffices well enough. But when you physically get to be in the same airspace as your tester, you receive so much more critical feedback that you would otherwise probably never get. Every little action a player performs, be it a mouse click, reading a line of dialog, or walking across a room, is conveyed back through them through a twitch of the eye, the raising of an eyebrow, a small grin, or an exasperated keyboard dab. Little non-verbal cues like this tell you so much about the psychology of the player, and what is specifically working and not working in a game. I would say that to undergo minute testing such as this, and specifically remove every element of unwanted frustration from a game, is to successfully playtest and debug that game.
The second thing I learned was about gratification. Since other attendees usually only had a couple minutes to spare on the show floor, that meant they would only play a game for a minute or two, several at most (usually). What this means is that those players need some sort of gratification or reward to justify their playing of your game. For platformers, this is easily achieved as players get instant feedback as whether or not they successfully jumped over a pit. For fighting games, players know when they've killed the enemy, and when they've succeeded. However, since my game was more story/puzzle driven, I found it much harder to give that sense of gratification to players in such a short time span. I realized that players needed instant goals, and instant objectives to achieve; nobody wanted to be wandering around, or figuring out what to do on their own. Once I switched the demo scene from a free-world, exploratory section, to the most linear tutorial section of the game, that's when I found out that players would actually play the game for 5-10 minutes, instead of the normal 1-2. So, the lesson learned here is to hold your player's hand--they don't want to be lost, they want your help.
One week later, I can say that overall, GDC was a very surreal experience, and one I'm glad I had the opportunity to go through.
Oh yeah, I didn't win. Forgot to mention that. :)