Wednesday, March 17, 2010

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. :)

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At 3/17/2010 5:06 PM, Blogger Edmundo said...

Hey it was really nice meeting you!

Yeah, on-site playtesting is one of the most important things that can make your game a whole lot better. It hurts a lot to see people get lost in your own creation, but it gives you a lot of information on what could be improved in the game.

There's a lot of books about conducting good playtests. The one I'm familiar with is this:

At 3/17/2010 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you found the experience useful...i'm sure i'm not the only one who was rooting for you. Boryokudan Rue is THE game i'm most excited about right now=)

I agree you need the instant gratification, if only because I like to explore story based games in my own time, not with an audience breathing down my neck. But if I even got close to your game i'd damn well play for over two minutes; you'd have to beat me off with a stick...

At 3/17/2010 10:29 PM, Blogger TheJBurger said...

Thanks! It was nice to meet you too! Now I can say I met 3 AGSers in real life (the other two being Dave Gilbert and Andrew Goulding--a true legend).

On-site playtesting is particularly useful when paired with non-gamers, as they're the ones who typically break the normal intuition gamers are used to, and find the major flaws in the learning process of a game.

Haha, thanks! I hope you'll enjoy the long hours of ineptitude between puzzles.

At 3/18/2010 1:42 AM, Blogger Bundeskanzler Krang said...

Interesting article! I've been helping friends with their stand on a book fair lately, and I imagine the situation to be quite the same:

Even though you have a very deep and slow medium, you have to present it to passersby very quickly and from the most easily accessible, eye-catching and startling perspective. This results in a - in my opinion - pretty awkward situation, making you either shout out loud about the quiet little qualities of your product or give potentially interested people a completely wrong image...well.

In the case of Boryokudan Rue, there's also another element, I guess: People appreciate good tutorials. Tutorials have an incredibly high learning curve and provide instant gratification, and also prepare the player for what there is to be come. Once a player has learned how to handle his tools and feels ready to experience the game world successfully, he or she will not lose motivation so quickly -
this is crucial for games that require timed button pressing mainly, but also for adventure games. There's nothing more frustrating than not knowing what to do when you really want the story to progress...


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