lunes, 4 de abril de 2016

The Importance of Early Feedback and Testing

Hi all!

How are you doing? We continue working hard on Breaking Fast to make it the best game you've ever played in you life! ...

Last week we had a couple of testing sessions with people external to the development team, and these sessions were quite eye-opening in two senses: first, it allowed us discovering some bugs, which is the tradional goal of testing; but second and more importantly, we noticed that some design aspects were misleading, and others that we didn't consider so important were actually key to the players.

In this post, I intend to emphasize the importance of this early feedback and to summarize the most important changes that we applied as a result of this feedback. You may think that some of the changes are subtle, but sometimes a subtle change may cause a major impact on the overall gaming experience. You may also think that some changes were obviously required, but here's the key to external feedback: once you're very focused on your project, it's easy to lose pespective and you need someone to shove you back so that you can see the complete image instead of the individual pixel.

Why is early feedback that important? In addition to the loss of perspective reason, obtaining feedback may help you not diverting too much from your original goal. Usually, people ask you what your game is about, and you can compare your answer with the impressions that people get when they play your game. If you see they don't match, you can take actions quickly.

Also, it is a well-known principle for software engineers that the difficulty in performing changes on software increases as the development moves forward. This is known as the cost curve, first proposed by Boehm. Therefore, early feedback may result in cheaper development changes.

Figure 1. Boehm's Curve (from http://www.agile-process.org/change.html)

And how did we change Breaking Fast as a result of the early feedback? Here we go with a summary of the most relevant changes:
  1. Position must be always visible: at first, we decided that showing the distance covered by each player was enough. However, thanks to the feedback, it became clear that players expect to see their positions continously. Therefore, we added an element in the HUD to show this information. Still, we need to sort out how to show the relative position with each other player and the distance among players. But now we are sure that this is a problem that is worth the effort.
  2. Throwing stuff is cool: in Breaking Fast, there are two types of boosters; those that activate an attack as soon as they are picked, and others that require the players to throw something explicitly. In our testing session we understood that players felt more rewarded when they could throw somehting they had picked. Therefore, a booster that originally was designed to be activated automatically was re-designed to be thrown.
  3. Physical attacks must stand out: characters in Breaking Fast can attack each other physically. This is a cool and fun mechanic, but players of the testing session agreed that the animations should stand out more, especially because characters in 3 players or 4 players races are small. So we decided to exagerate the animation.
  4. Players want to know that the race is ending: in several races there were a couple of players that didn't realize that the race had ended and felt frustrated because they could not control the character anymore. We have solved this by a) adding an alarm that is triggered when there are 10 seconds remaining; b) by showing these 10 seconds bigger on the screen; c) and by accompanying each of the last 10 seconds with an audible tick sound.
  5. Beginning of the race: we designed the beginning of the race in such a way that players had to press the movement key/button only when the initial countdown had gone to zero; otherwise, characters wouldn't move until they pressed the buttons again. This initial idea was implemented in order to require more precision from the players, but it turned out to give the impression that their controls didn't work, and it wasn't that fun anyway, so we discarded it.
  6. Turbo was a big advantage: characters in Breaking Fast can activate their turbo upon some conditions. However, the original design made the turbo too advantageous for those meeting those conditions and mastering the controls. We therefore redesigned this mechanic to make it harder to exploit.
  7. Bugs detection: of course, we found some bugs that fortunately could be quickly fixed, but we wouldn't have been aware of them hadn't been for the testing session with several players doing lots of stuff concurrently.
And this is it! I hope you're more conviced (if you weren't) to test your game and to retrieve early feedback as soon as possible. In the end, it's in your best interest and will save you development time.

See you!
FM

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