On April 22nd 2009, we announced our closed alpha in a formal press release. Closed, as in: you couldn't play it, your mom couldn't play it -- really, the only people who could play it was us. Since then we released the playable alpha, which you can download from ModDB. If you haven't you should.
Prior to the open alpha, on april 22nd, we called in a crack team of some of some of our best gaming friends/critics and let them take a swing at the game. This is what an informal playtest/closed alpha session a la Dejobaan looks like, together with the actual development direction we have taken in response to player feedback. For what its worth we really care what our players think and hope that you will give us feedback when the open-alpha drops.
This article expands on an earlier blog posting from our website.
DanR was our first playtester. He has the sideburns of a mighty hero. This is him at Om Lounge in Cambridge. Trivia: DanR is an excellent dancer and was one paid medium-size coin as a semi-pro platfrom dancer in philly -this enabled him to pay the cover charge to the club and buy a drink or two.
DanR can kick any of our asses at Quake 3. He is our hardcore demographic (or, at least the 30+ age group within that demographic -- we're aging). Here's what we found when we sat him down with a recent build, complete with fake timestamps:
7:01pm - We sit DanR down, and start the game. He's an FPS fan who still plays various games today. His experience today will be similar to that of the most adept gamers. The big lesson: Just because he "gets" something doesn't mean all our players will.
7:02pm - He starts the game and looks around before he jumps, investigating the various edges of the building. Exploration is completely logical, but it's one of those things we (the level designers) never think about. He lands level 1 with no problem.
7:06pm - DanR expects the player's bounding (collision) box to be smaller. He keeps hitting things he doesn't expect to hit. Broken bones from hitting buildings all over the place, for example. (We've since smallened it. Everyone loved that.)
7:10pm - "What if there were things chasing the players? Or others jumping with them?" Or, in general, moving objects. (We later added rotating fan blade-looking things for starters.)
7:15pm - DanR says he didn't notice that the mountain was something he could jump down, at the end of Your Jackhole. (Possible solution: Have arrows point the way? No: that's too explicit. Level design rules say that we have to draw players to a goal.)
7:16pm - DanR goes for the shiny scoring plates a lot, which is reasonable. DanB and Ichiro generally do that as an afterthought, given how little they're worth compared to kisses. (Solution: Raise their point values)
7:18pm - There's no visual indicator that DanR's deployed the parachute! (Solved it by adding a "parachute fan" with sound effect.)
7:22pm - The do-nothing Jellyfish item disappoints DanR. (Solved by removing it.)
7:23pm - DanR claims that the controls are good, and the hyper-nonrealistic aesthetic works. We've received reasonable feedback on the graphics, lately, so I'm not too worried about that. However, I'd like to give it another "bump" before beta.
7:27pm - DanR likes the sense of momentum, and stresses that good level design is paramount. He suggests that we group levels by theme. Waterfalls? If players are inside something dark, would they have night vision? How about doing a run within a structure? (Tunnel?)
7:30pm - DanR experiments with an early parachute deployment. He wanted to be able to land, retract the parachute, then take off again in order to search for secrets. DanB also thought this was a good idea, but perhaps as an unlockable much later? I don't want to spoil the game's sense of motion.
7:33pm - The Inward Focus level is a challenge.
7:34pm - DanR suggests that there should be many levels. Replayability is key. Secrets allow the player to repeat completed runs? (First step in our solution is the experience system.)
7:41pm - It is unclear to DanR how damage is handled. He suggests a blue-becomes-red (hit-points) interface that doesn't distract. Could we write the game to allow players to hit walls and take advantage of the rebound? Broken bones = less control? (No solution as yet -- whether you bounce or die depends on the angle and velocity of the hit.)
7:45pm - DanR suggests a Marioesque tube that shunts you to a different level, if you know the secret. (We can do similar things within the game already. This is a job for... Level Design Man! DanB?)
7:49pm - DanR always tries to "break" a level, in the same way that Tribes players first tried to ski, and Quake players tried to rocket jump. Experiment to learn some neat trick?
7:50pm - "What if you were in a video game?" What other interesting environments can we come up with? He mentions the waterfall again.
This is the first game we're playtesting this rigorously. Already, it's paying off in the ways we've tweaked the playable alpha. Our next step is the playable beta - fingers crossed.