Creating a Better User Experience with our Game’s Character

Since I began making video games, I have found viewing art assets before implementing them in the game a challenge. What I mean by this is that art assets may look great on “paper”, but when they are finally imported into the game they may not fit in with the design and ultimately the game’s experience. This occurred recently when we finally implemented our new character only to find issues with it in game.

For one, we designed the new character to shoot projectiles from its chest. The reasoning for this change was that our previous character threw minions to capture territory. Since we changed themes as well as pushed our camera back to see more of the playing field, we decided the effort to create a wonderfully detailed minion was not worth our time. Therefore, we decided to redesign the character and the position in which it shoots projectiles.

As we moved forward, our artist conceptualized the character reminiscent of the borg from Star Trek. Using this as inspiration, he created long tubes that ascended high above the character’s head. Initially, I very much liked the character and it’s look, especially when looking at it up close. However, when we finally inserted the alpha version of the character into the game, the player experienced difficulties viewing the projectiles being fired because the tube-like objects above the character’s head obstructed seeing the projectiles. As a result, the game and the shooting mechanic felt broken and unresponsive.

Second, since the camera was pulled back to show more of the environment, it was very difficult to view the detail on the character. The character looked great up close as noted above, but from afar the detail was wiped away. And it even played against seeing our character since the detail muddled its appearance. It just didn’t look or feel right.

Taking the problems into account, we decided to make a slight pivot on our character and simplify its design. This would ensure that it would communicate more effectively to the player. Now we could assure that the communication problems would be lessened moving forward and thus make the shooting mechanic feel more fluid and natural. Hopefully for GDC we will have the new character in place.

Importance of Participating in Playtesting

On Tuesday, the cohort conducted a class-wide playtest. Almost everyone would playtest each of the cohorts games. This allowed us to gain feedback with the desire to use the information to tweak our games for GDC. What I found interesting is how impactful playtesting is when members of the team are able to witness playtest feedback firsthand.

What I mean by this is that playtest feedback is more impactful when the team is able to see and hear people playtesting the game. Now they are able to gauge the quality of the game while at the same time understanding what players are experiencing. This becomes important since in the past whenever we had a playtest, members who were unable to participate at the playtest would disregard the information ascertained through it. This affected how the information was received and ultimately how we used. As a result, following the playtest, some of the feedback gathered would be taken with a grain or salt or ignored all together. This affected how we approached user feedback and experience with our game. Thus, we were unable to tailor our game to gamers but instead to ourselves.

Now that we are able to witness the playtests firsthand, the feedback has become more impactful. Members are able to see players and experience what they experience in the playtest. The information gathered now is no longer seen from afar like a number on a spreadsheet, but has value. This is making our design decisions and tweaks more tailored to the feedback and hopefully therefore make it more user centric.

It’s going to be a busy few weeks. Hopefully you will continue on this journey with me. Cheers!

Blinded, But Now I See

This week we focused our efforts into working towards polishing our game for the Game Developers Conference next month. To get to this point, we have locked down our design so that we can begin focusing on polishing the game. It is our goal in the next few weeks to get the game ready to show off at the EAE booth.

One aspect of the week I would like to discuss is how blind one becomes when constantly working on a game. On Tuesday, we played around with different designs and different builds. Two ideas we were toying with that were born from our two instructors Jose and Ryan. The first we called “light cycles”. Light cycles is a design that is similar to the film Tron in which motorcycle-type vehicles would use a light wall to trap and ultimately defeat the opposing player. In our game, the player’s character would “paint” the tiles underneath them so to capture tiles as the character moves, which can be destroyed by the player. The second involved using “bombs” to paint larger areas. This allows the player to capture larger amounts of territory underneath that too can be removed at the player’s discretion.

What I found interesting is how standoffish I was to these two ideas. When I first played them, I didn’t see the use of the two mechanics. For me, it felt too chaotic. I thought to myself, why would we need these two ideas and what did they really add to the game. I felt frustrated with entertaining the two ideas and for giving them the time of day. And this frustration reached a boiling point after our instructors’ playtested the game. You would think that the very first time they had nothing negative to say would be a moment I would want to frame. On the contrary, I believed that it only made it more difficult to argue against the two mechanics.

But what I noticed is that when we returned on Thursday and began playtesting the game with Allen, I finally opened my eyes to what the two mechanics added. The game felt fun and what we had introduced worked with the game’s core ideas and mechanics. I enjoyed the concepts that came from the faculty – go figure.

At this point I began looking at myself wondering why I didn’t see how well these mechanics worked. After talking with Skip about this fact, I started to realize how much a designer’s perspective can be clouded when playing a game they are making. I noticed this over the summer when I worked as a game tester on Disney Infinity 2.0. When playing the game daily, you begin to only see what you want to see. This affects how well I was able to find game breaking bugs daily since you almost go on automatic. In the same instance, I became blinded my constant and continual playing of our game. And because I have a vision in mind as to how I see our game playing as a lead designer, I overlooked two ideas appear to help support our design. This is a great lesson moving forward that I need to adhere to: making sure I am open to ideas that could push the game forward.

With all of this, this week proved that what we’ve invested in our game over the past year is coming to fruition. Seeing what the game will be and having members of our team finding the fun, we’re definitely are in a much better place then we were when we ended last semester. Exciting times and am looking forward to hearing how people receive our game at GDC.

Returning the Game to its Roots!

This week we began honing the design of our game and worked on defining our final features. We worked on using our theme to push the mechanics in our game. This can be seen in our latest iteration in which the player can use the captured territory to move faster thus simulating stronger connections while traversing the opponent’s captured territory slows the player down, which is akin to a poor connection.

Nevertheless, what I found interesting this week were the strides we made with the art style of our game. In particular, we consciously and subconsciously revisited concepts we created in our earlier prototypes. For instance, our Lead Artist Mark Jarman created a tube very reminiscent of our original one sheet we used to pitch our game to the industry panel. He created concepts around the original art. This allowed the style we originally desire to have to return to our game.

Another example would be the concepts for the avatar from our 3D artist, Robert Guest. It looks very similar to the avatar we created for our second thesis idea for the game re:Genesis. His avatar has taken inspiration from the concepts created for that game. However, Rob appears to have subconsciously fashioned our new avatar after the old characters from re:Genesis.

Revisiting our previous ideas gives us a bit of nostalgia wrapped in our project finally coming full circle. This for me provides insight into our earlier design and how influential they have been overall throughout our time working on our thesis game. The return to who we were appears to be the driving force for us reaching the fun we envisioned at the start of our project.

I’m excited for the future and what we will present for GDC. It has been a long and challenging journey up to this point. But I know we are on the right track and are on pace to create a fun and engaging game.