So what did people think of Spell Team Death Match? After facing its first official testing group, STDM was met with generally positive feedback. The artwork received praise which was great. But the real reason we were testing was to see how players responded to the controls and game mechanics. Before we go any further I should state the current game mechanic to give the following more context. STDM uses a 2D platforming system where players face off in an arena, collecting letters to upgrade their weapons. There are no enemies and the aim is to kill your opponent 10 times. Maybe there’s a cooler way of saying it. Something like: Collect letters, spell words and kill your friends! It needs work. Anyway, So what did we learn? Here’s our list:
1. If you design for everyone, you please no one
Initially users didn’t seem to have a problem with the game’s controls and were happy to bounce around the screen shooting at each other. But as the time went on, more players started to have trouble with them. Part of our problem was that we were trying to be a little too clever. We had previously created a movement system for the prototype of The Evening’s Dying Light where there was a hidden joystick that we covered with two buttons, left and right. We made this option available originally to ensure the players could quickly go from left to right without having to lift their fingers off the screen and tap the other button. This system actually worked fine for players who didn’t look at the controls as they weren’t confused by the buttons. But as soon as they started to try and press the buttons directly we ran into problems. The reason for this is that instead of pressing the button, they were actually moving the joystick to that point. Sounds confusing? It’s less so in real life. Anyway, the point here is to keep things simple and follow a golden User Experience rule: If you design for everyone, you end up pleasing no one.
2. Expect comparisons to other games no matter what
We were given feedback that because STDM actually shared the same paradigm as games like Mario and Super Crate Box, people would have a low tolerance to bad controls. Which is absolutely true. With the prior knowledge of a player being reminded of such titles, we will have to ensure that our controls are perfect. One suggested way of doing this was incorporating distance and height on shooting and jumping. The shooting of grenades in particular, as they are lobbed, they would be more useful if the player were to have control over how far they are lobbing them. Regarding the jump height, it was suggested that players have control over their jump height based on how long the button was pressed (a la Mario, Donkey Kong Country, etc.). So with this feedback in hand we are aiming to tackle controls next before we move on.
3. I don’t know what that does, but I also don’t care
Another key aspect of the gameplay mechanic is the weapon changing system. Currently we have the system set up so that players don’t necessarily receive an upgrade, it is more of a parallel path to a different weapon type. This forces players to learn how to play with all of the weapons available and dynamically changes the ebb and flow of battles. One minute you’re the hunter, the next minute you’re the hunted. Then you’re the hunter again! We found no complaints from players regarding this system. Even though upon questioning they didn’t know what was happening, it wasn’t a source of frustration. This is actually the outcome we were hoping for. When players are annoyed, they voice their frustrations. But the fact they didn’t mention something we thought might be a problem was a win for us.
4. Overdeveloped visuals skew player perceptions
One interesting point that was made by a user was that the artwork made the game seem a little further into development that it actually was. Although the artwork received praise from players, the combination of this with the problems with the controls had a negative impact. The game looked more polished than it actually was, so players expected more of it before they had even played. This has taught us a valuable lesson: Be sure to dress your games appropriately as it can skew player perceptions.
All in all though, a very productive session for us. We felt that this was the final session before we locked in some of the permanent mechanics of the game and hopefully that means we can start a whole lot more asset creation soon!