If you haven't heard about From Earth before, read the outline of the project here.
Playtesting seems to be an issue for a lot of mod teams. My favourite Source Engine singleplayer mods like Research and Development, Minerva, and Mission Improbable are set in the Half-Life 2 universe and they mostly use the enemies and gameplay elements from the original game with little to no coding behind them. They are easier to test since you don't really have to reinvent and playtest everything, and that's why they end up more polished than any total conversion with new elements or completely new gameplay. That's not to say I don't like or have respect for bigger mod projects. It's just that usually those, just like our own mod projects, have some problems.
However, as much as I love those mods set in the HL2 universe, partly why I don't want to do another Human Error episode is because I don't find it as interesting to explore the Half-Life 2 gameplay anymore. I'd rather take the risk of having some problems than just be confined by the rules of Half-Life 2. From Earth has a movement system that works a lot different from the Half-Life 2 one. Interacting with items and machines is handled differently. You have a new fighting system that is just in the works. We are still in the progress of developing these systems and tweaking them to be better. Getting them right is going to take a lot of playtesting. Unfortunately this is something that not all playtesters appreciate.
One playtester quit playing the mod after a single map, saying that he would continue playing it later. He never did. He later told another playtester that he felt "it was a chore". He never bothered to tell us what the problem was, why he felt it was boring. It's a trend I have noticed often where the internet playtesters don't communicate well what the problem is. We didn't always explain to playtesters that it is really important that they actually give us feedback no matter how insignificant the problem. You would think that is a given. But it seems to be something we really need to stress out when playtesting through internet. After getting through these problems in communication, the playtesting has gone a lot smoother. The Beta Tester's Collective has been a good helper in this area.
- Live playtests are the best
- Even if the tester is not super talkative you can see what they are thinking
- If you encounter a bug you can immediately try to fix it or bypass it so that you can continue testing the gameplay
- It's really hard to playtest through the internet
- Some playtesters are turned off by all the hoops they need to go through to test such as installing TortoiseSVN and getting their username and password
- Having the tester record the testing on a video with microphone is useful if the the tester is talkative.
- Sadly most people are not ready to do this
- It takes space and bandwidth to upload the videos
- Recording demos is not nearly as useful
- You need to keep track what version of the mod the tester had, and update your Tortoise SVN back to that version, which can be nuisance
- Sometimes you have trouble in the demo playback. For example, the animations are not smoothed correctly when ending a climbing animation in demo playback
- If the tester doesn't somehow record his or her voice while playing it's really hard to figure out what the tester is thinking
- Taking screenshots is not always super helpful in the gameplay testing phase but they don't hurt
- It can otherwise be really hard to figure out what part of the map the playtester is referring to ("It's the part with the door")
- Skype with shared screen is the best option when testing through internet
- It can slow down their PC and make some platforming scenes even harder to perform
- Some playtesters find it bothersome
There was one playtest session through the internet where the tester was stuck in a very early part of the game. He was playing as we were talking on Steam chat. Suddenly I realised he might have the item he needs in his inventory which is why he couldn't find it. I probably wouldn't have thought about it if I had seen a liveplaytester lose an item into the depths of the inventory system as well.
At the beginning of the testing, the game is bound to have problems. One problem we didn't really pick up on soon enough was, for example, how some of the buttons were too low. They weren't in the normal eye height of the player. Because of this, players would often miss the buttons right in the first puzzle, and would get stuck and frustrated right away. The problem was, even though we realised this months ago, that changing the models would mean that I would also have to change the player animations. Some other models also used the exact same animations, so changing them would mean I would have to change more than one model. It is something we should have picked up even earlier, but we didn't since playtesting can sometimes be difficult to organize, and it didn't occur to me to playtest a map with two rooms and a single machine in it.
As the only programmer and animator I was unsure if I would want to use all this time to redo the animations again, as it would mean I wouldn't be able to focus on developing new puzzles, or improving the existing ones. But usually, if you have a feeling you should fix or change something like this, you really should. Eventually I went through with it, and it took less than a day to do (even though I didn't fix the uv maps yet). I am glad I did, as since then players have had less problems.
Even smaller problems can escalate into more problems or make other problems appear bigger; if the player gets frustrated from not noticing a button, it will have affected how they perceive the whole area after noticing it.
We have had more playtesters for From Earth already than we had in total for Human Error. Since we are still in the process of designing new puzzles it's going to take a lot more.
Looking for help
We are looking for a dedicated an experienced writer to help us finish the story and the script for From Earth. While we have a good idea for the basic plot, there's still a lot to figure out. We need someone who has a lot of time and interest for the project.
We are looking for two different types of Level Designers. Firstly, we need people that can bring existing levels an aesthetic quality, and are experienced with lighting, texturing, and the general make up in Hammer. Screenshots and/or example maps are required.
We are also looking for puzzle designers, such as anyone who has a lot of experience designing different types of puzzles for games like Portal 2. Source engine or Hammer experience is not necessary.
Most of the concept work will revolve around the industrial era Alien technology and architecture. Samples of previous work required. We already have a strong set of existing concept art for you to draw on.
Voice actors and actresses
Although the script is nowhere near ready, we are looking for people to play the parts of Zenaida, Anthony, as well as the generic voices of aliens, both male and female actors. All voice actors applying should provide some kind of samples. You should be able to do big range of emotions. Some lines might be delivered at a later date.
The aliens will be speaking an alien language specifically designed for this mod. Their dialogue is partly already written and ready for recording. Examples will be provided if you are interested.
We are interested on getting any help we can get, especially world texture creators and prop modellers.