Public Game Testing (Part 2)

So I tested my game out at a second public event, meant to promote my University and “Science” to local kids and families. Games are science, right? I did feel guilt about taking away a bit of attention from the other Computer Science volunteer who was showing legitimate educational tricks, but alas…

My experience with these events enhances my recommendation for all indie developers to find any opportunity to showcase their game, not for press but for exposure and feedback. It doesn’t have to be at events strictly game related either, and doesn’t have to have huge audiences. From roughly a hundred kids who came by and tried the game, I got enough feedback on the design of the game to feel more confident this time around.

Purely because I had the only video game in a room of tables, I got kids excited to come by. The two levels I had were simple enough: basic platforming levels, each with a unique trick on how to get to the other side. Most children who tried the game were about 5 to 10 years old, and there were a handful of young kids who didn’t quite understand the game and why they kept falling down. But after explaining the trick to most kids, they got it pretty quickly and were able to clear the level. Some even got the hint without me saying a word. A few older kids (14-25) also tried the game, and agreed that the levels were a little too basic, but that the two levels had different tricks to them suggested there was room for variety to keep things interesting. Since I considered the two levels to be “introductory” levels, I think the difficulty for all ages was about right. And the general frustration playing the game was much less than that seen from people playing the first level for “James – Journey of Existence,” so at least I improved that.

Surprisingly, very few people commented on the art style, making the gameplay the main focus. A few older people did point out the style and how different it was. One seemed especially impressed by it, another suggested that with a fitting story (perhaps using multiple art styles to contrast different characters to symbolize their characteristics, like a Disney-style character getting lost in a foreign anime-style town for example) it could really take off. A fitting story… of course, I should have given that more thought. A game that comes to mind is “De Blob” for the Wii, a game that used color and shape in its style to tie-in directly with the gameplay mechanics and story, making everything seem like one cohesive whole for the style it tried to portray. I have thought of the gameplay a little more this time around, but it barely qualifies to match the style. And the story… well, I know exactly what story I want to tell, although it may be more serious and somber at risk of not blending with the style appropriately. Maybe I’m being selfish to make games with completely separate elements. I might be able to squeeze elements of the hand-drawn style a bit more in the story element, but I’ll figure that out soon.

 


“… I know exactly what story I want to tell… more serious and somber at risk of not blending with the style appropriately…”


 

The best part of the day was seeing kids excited to play the game. Excited to keep trying to beat the level even after falling and restarting a few times, and finally understanding the puzzle to be able to solve it again. Hearing one or two simple comments that might ultimately help further shape certain elements of the game. Hearing parents ask what the name of the game was so that their children might play it later, and being surprised to hear it was a student-made project. To see older teenagers comment on the game’s simplicity, and younger children beat the level quickly, only to come back and play it again later in the day. One young child came by a second time with his younger brother, and was excited to show him the game and how to play. These were heartwarming moments, making the event worthwhile.

Best of all, this all helps affirm that I’m on the right track. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes in game design with “James,” and I can say that “Drew and the Floating Labyrinth” will be a much stronger game in style and design.

And I also learned what I’ve learned several times: animation takes a lot of time and effort. I had hoped to finish it over a week of work, but only finished about 10% of the animations for the main character in time to show it off. More on this in the next post. I will formally announce “Drew” later this week, promise.