Report article RSS Feed The Secret Pizza and Love Life of an Alpha Tester

On April 22nd 2009, we announced our closed alpha in a formal press release. That weekend, we snagged the most elite FPS player we knew, and had him test the game.

Posted by RoRoDejobaan on May 18th, 2009

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.

- 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.

7:04pm - On Inward Focus, he has some initial successes, then starts pushing boundaries. He ends up dead, until he gets a handle of things.

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.)

7:09pm - The final score -- a number that appears in a vacuum -- clearly has no effect on his perception of success. (We've since added a "stars" rating, and have keyed this to level advancement.)

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.

- 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.)

7:40pm - DanR asks if there's a benefit to opening your parachute as late as possible. What if there were other avatars? The player currently has no identity at all. (Solution: Hire an artist?)

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.

7:55pm - He likes the game, as a whole, and feels that he could sit and play it for a stretch. We are happy.

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.

Post comment Comments
stenchy May 19 2009, 3:49am says:

Please do more of these journal style entries. Really love how they show your thought process.

+2 votes     reply to comment
awesomepossum May 19 2009, 4:21am says:

You should have danR as an unlockable character using the second photo of him!

+3 votes     reply to comment
Sketch23 May 19 2009, 5:11am replied:

having character selection would be great... kinda street fighter style. would be awesome.... and have your stats displayed for each character. so that you can see which characters you have done best with. total fall distance, fastest time, biggest combo, most points, unlocks gained, unlocks used, secrets found!

+4 votes     reply to comment
SinKing May 19 2009, 5:46am says:

You know how often I hit a building, because I was looking at any of the many tit adverts you placed around the maps ;)?
I think things are very hard to hit in the air (birds, e.g.). Some automatic targeting system for highest value or most prestige could be included. That would also go well with the evasive and aerial moves I suggested the player should be able make (at least a roll, C'mon!).

I think multiplayer would kick ***, if the maps were larger and you could fly "alternative" routes (you can already, but they aren't different,they are just somewhere else on the map). Multiplayer doesn't necessarily have to be competitive, you could try to get moves done in air or propel each other towards certain goals, etc. Coop basejumping, here goes.

Spider webs and slinging may be fun and a good idea for some games, but for AAAaaa, I think it will break up the idea of continuous flight. I play the Alpha at least once a week and it's surprisingly more fun to me than I thought. It's great, because I can enjoy the game over and over again, even when it's only a couple of minutes I have.

I also love your writing style and sense of humor. The end of the alpha had me in stitches. Yes, I am that easy to please.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Armageddon104 May 19 2009, 4:02pm says:

I what that map editor! :D

+1 vote     reply to comment
spellman23 May 20 2009, 12:11am says:

This was really nice. I love the thought process and that you're taking into consideration his comments. They all sound spot on and really cool.

The preview previously released was slightly boring. Sorry. While points are a cool factor for bragging rights, just points doesn't make me want to play. I want to feel awesome doing things. Like Audiosurf. Sure the points are sweet, but I'm not pro enough to find the optimal path with extra speed reflexes to get to the top of the board. So, the friendly competition with friends near my skill level works to keep me playing instead.

Also, I'm sure the later levels will have more pizaz, but the one given to use got a little repetitive. I want my variety! Too bad you guys don't have an automatic procedural level creator.

Really anticipating the final product. This looks like it will rock.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Djehuty May 20 2009, 1:06am says:

I made a video of it! =) Nothing special though.

+2 votes     reply to comment
MortalMaxx May 20 2009, 3:22am says:

The pagetitles never cease to make me smile!

+1 vote     reply to comment
bomblol Jun 3 2009, 11:25am says:

Great insight. Enjoyable (if short... although that probably contributes to it) read

+1 vote     reply to comment
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