#27 Why playtesting matters (a lot)
Welcome to the twenty-seventh devlog!
Last week a rare and magical event occurred: I was able to playtest the game four times with four different playgroups.
This gave me loads of useful feedback, which prompted me to radically change a few things in the game.
In this devlog, I want to explain the interesting feedback I was given and what I decided to do with it.
As usual, I also made a video devlog (though my video devlogs are less in-depth and more of a general overview of my work):
First, the good stuff
Of course, it wasn’t all bugs and heavy criticism. People generally seemed to really like the game! They were saying things like:
- “Oh, level X is my favourite level!”
- “I’m very interested in whatever mechanics/systems/levels will be in the next world!”
- “Trampolines are fun. You should make everything trampolines.”
People were cracking jokes, helping each other but also hating on each other if someone failed miserably, and generally having a good time.
The fact that they wanted to keep playing and tried their best on each level was a VERY good sign.
Arr, there be problems
Three huge problems appeared, however:
- Problem 1: People didn’t really understand what was happening a large chunk of the time. (Especially people who barely play games needed a clearer explanation.)
- Problem 2: People had trouble moving themselves and packages. (Again, especially those who’ve never held a controller in their life.)
- Problem 3: People didn’t feel like replaying a level if they failed. It was too hard, which made people a bit “hopeless”. (Also, you don’t need to succeed in a level to unlock the next one, which makes it very easy to skip levels.)
As I’m doing more and more playtests, I keep getting better at pulling useful feedback out of people :p
When I was younger, I used to naively ask things like: “did you like the game?” To which the response always was: “Yeah it was fun.”
That’s useless in terms feedback. So, nowadays I keep track of where people get stuck, where they do weird things, where they ask interesting questions.
I remember that. Once a level is over, I ask them “what did you mean when you asked about X?” or “why did you do Y?” And, perhaps most importantly, “what would you LIKE to be able to do at moment Z?”
This yielded the following interesting ideas …
Remark: The changes below are a mix of suggested feedback and things I was already wondering about myself. For example, I already thought about making the tutorials a short video, instead of an image. But I wasn’t sure if it would help. Once five of my playtesters suggested it as well, I was quite certain it would be a good feature.
Solutions to problem 1
Here’s the list of biggest changes:
- Create moving tutorials, instead of static images (or just a paragraph of text)
- Do NOT allow people to skip the tutorial (not even by accident) if it’s the first time playing the level.
- Restrict mechanics until you can fully explain them. For example, the mechanic “you can fall off the field, and you’re reset at the closest spawn point” wasn’t explained until level 3. But … you could already fall off the field in level 1 and 2. This caused loads of confusion, with players asking me “where am I? what happened?”
- I changed the order interface to be a lot smaller. This way, it occludes less of the screen.
- (Similarly, the camera could be a little more lenient with zooming and moving sometimes, otherwise it’s hard to see where you’re going. The camera script is a never-ending work in progress, so it seems.)
Here's the tutorial video for explaining how deliveries work (first level of the whole game):
(The dots on the GIF are not there on the original video, they are an artifact from GIF compression.)
And here's a comparison between the old and new order interface. I'm still not completely sold on the new interface (it will probably be changed/polished anyway at a later development stage), but it's much more practical than the old one.
Solutions to problem 2
The problem here wasn’t necessarily that it was hard to move packages: they move very quickly and they copy the direction in which your player is walking. This makes it quite easy to control them and transport them quickly, and there’s even room for error.
The problem was that people were still learning how to walk at all. And if you have trouble walking in a straight line with a controller, then yeah, moving packages as well will be a step too far.
First of all, when you start a new game, the first thing you see is a short “intro video” This video explains movement (on controller and keyboard) and sets the right tone for the story (it welcomes you to the company, explains you’ll be delivering packages, etc.)
Secondly, I decided to switch around a few mechanics. At the old level 3, powerups would be explained. The first powerup you learn is “glue” => if you are made of glue, packages will stick to you!
Not only was this a very fun mechanic, it also made moving packages a lot easier.
The obvious solution? Make players automatically “glued” at the start of the game!
The first X levels of the game (at least the 3 tutorial levels and a few after that), you’ll be made of glue 100% of the time. As such, players only need to walk against packages to pick them up. It’s super simple, doesn’t require any extra buttons (or work from the player), and it’s loads of fun to stick to stuff.
Look at this GIF below: all I need to do is walk towards a package, and it automatically sticks and allows me to transport it. I'm not pressing any buttons here.
The only downside is that I need to change a few of the older levels to make this work. My old level 2, for example, worked with conveyor belts: you needed to place a package on the belt to transport it to the other side, where another player would hopefully deliver it for you.
Well … if you stick to packages, you can’t do that :p
So next week I’ll be changing a few levels to make this work. But the tutorial world (which has three short levels) is already completely working and finished!
Solutions to problem 3
Problem 3 is already mostly resolved with the solutions I presented above. If the explanation is clearer and moving packages is easier, levels will be easier as a result.
But that’s not enough for me. I would never allow a game of mine to make players feel “hopeless”, to make them quit the game out of frustration.
Additionally, this game is meant to be for anyone: gamers and non-gamers. As such, I should stay a bit on the safe side and make levels easier instead of harder. This game isn’t made for hardcore gamers, so the levels (especially the first ten or so) shouldn’t be hardcore.
The solution is … to just simplify levels and make them smaller :p
One of my playtesters said, several times, “it’s just one destination too many, one color too many” And I agree with that. Many levels had three destinations (or even four), where two destinations would suffice.
Some levels had too many steps before a package could be delivered, which made the level look messy as a result. (And gave the players that “hopelessness” => “Man, if we can’t even get step 1 right, how we will ever deliver this 4-step package?!”)
My playtesters said: “these would be GREAT levels … but not in the first world. They should be the harder levels you play near the end of the game.”
For example: this was the old level 8. There are three destinations, three buttons to create packages (one for each destination), three buttons to open/close gates. Is that everything? NO! Every 30 seconds, there’s an earthquake and the fences shift positions (creating a new “maze” every time).
People loved the idea of the level and how it looked … but it’s obviously way too hard for a level 8.
So, I’m currently moving some levels to the back of the line (to be used later in the game), and simplifying the ones I think fit best at the start.
There were also many bugs, which somehow only appear once other people are playing (and never if you’re testing it yourself) :p
And there were some visual problems as well. For example, one of my playtesters thought that the duct tape on the package texture showed the proper destination. She thought that ALL packages had to go to the red zone (because the duct tape has a red-ish color).
That’s just something I forgot to consider. You really need playtesters to point out these kinds of problems.
Now, the duct tape takes on the color of the package destination, so people who understood the tutorial in a different way will still be able to play the game just fine.
Similarly, each destination in the game also has a unique shape (on top of their unique color). This is to help people with (any form of) color blindness, or to help players when a destination color isn’t clearly visible.
However … this shape is only visible on the FLAG of the destination, which is hard to see sometimes. So one of my playtesters had the amazing idea: “Why don’t you put the shape on the floor as well? That should be clearly visible.”
So I did that:
All in all, last week shows again that playtesting is the most important thing you can do. With a few suggestions, the game has suddenly become much better (in my opinion) and has a much clearer vision.
(And any bugs or unclear aspects are being ironed out during development.)
Also, seeing “proof” that your game is working and fun is a HUGE motivation. Working on games can be a lonely and (mentally) challenging task. Seeing other players have fun with the game and asking when the next levels will be ready, is a huge help.
Version 0.3 is coming quickly, hopefully it will be ready within a week! Once this version is online, I think the game is good and solid enough to start putting a solid price tag on it. I think a price of 5 euros, as a start, is fine. Of course, a free demo will always be available.
Until next devlog,
Get Package Party
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