One issue with game development can be becoming too attached to a project. Things that seem perfectly logical to the development team may be confusing to someone who has never played the game before. “They don’t understand what the flashing banana on screen means?! Obviously it means the car is running out of fuel! Idiots!” Working on a game day in and day out for months or years can do that to you.
Of course it’s not the devs that will be buying the game when it’s released. It’s the players, and if they don’t understand the basic mechanics of the game, then it’s destined to fail. While Early Access certainly gathers invaluable community feedback in this regard, we are also conscious that the majority of players at this stage will likely have played The Ship before. As a studio, we want to provide as good a gameplay experience as possible for seasoned veterans and new players alike. As such, we conducted a focus testing session to retrieve feedback from players who had not previously experienced the murderous delights of The Ship.
The focus testing session involved inviting our friends to the studio one evening who had never played The Ship before and observing them as they played the game. At the start, this was purely observation – we would ask someone to set up a game and others to join, without giving them any direction or guidance, to see if they could navigate through the process without our help. At first, they had a lot of questions. Sure, it makes you feel like a bit of a tool answering all their queries with, “Sorry, can’t tell you that”, but we seemed to win them over in the end with free beer and pizza.
As expected with focus testing, the experience was an eye-opener. Some things that we thought would require little explanation proved difficult for the testers to grasp in the opening games, such as: who your target is, don’t kill innocent players (granted, this is still a concept lost on some Ship veterans…) and how to interact with other players. Over a relatively short timeframe of six games, however, it was good to see them get to grips with the core mechanics of the game.
After the play tests, we had a discussion about their general thoughts, things they would like to see communicated better, and what elements of the UI they would like to see improved. As a result, it was clear that there were several areas we needed to improve upon, one of them being the absence of a tutorial. This is much easier said than done though. Adding a tutorial mode like the one in the original game would require a large chunk of time and resource across all dev departments, and it isn’t as important as the other features currently in development. However, adding tips and hints to the loading screen that would explain the core mechanics is something that could be done relatively easily in comparison, with much less resource, and as such, is being implemented just now.
Focus testing with a new bunch of testers is something we will revisit once the feedback from the first round has been addressed. Coupled with feedback from those partaking in Early Access, focus testing should provide us with enough information to make the game better for everyone!