On Playtesting Monsterpunk
Monsterpunk is the first game I've made where I've put serious effort into playtesting. Most of my jam games are never tested before release due to time constraints. Sufficient playtesting for my student projects was, unfortunately, a low priority due to development conditions. At the time, simply finishing a game was a challenge; let alone making anything playable by a lay person.
While most of my jam games err on the side of being too difficult (but fair), they have generally been playable and enjoyable by most people even without playtesting. Because of the incredibly short development cycle on such games (2-7 days), the mechanics of my jam games are relatively simple. By the end of each game's development, I have plenty of practice playing it, but not so much that my abilities fully eclipse those of a first-time player. Basically, it's still possible for me to imagine what it's like for a first-time player to try the game, and I design accordingly. Even though, as the Bloodjak high score table below demonstrates, I have a very different relationship with my own work than anyone else does (6821 points), many other players were still able to form some sort of relationship with it. I consider the game to be more successful than not.
Monsterpunk is fundamentally different from anything else I've worked on. I've been developing (and playing) the game for nearly a year and a half. Not only am I exceptionally skilled at the game, I'm also starting to become bored by it. More so than usual, I have an insufficient ability to predict what an average player will be able to understand, what they'll be able to accomplish, and what they'll enjoy in the game. While every video game should be sufficiently playtested, Monsterpunk is both the first recent game of mine for which sufficient playtesting is possible and the game of mine which requires playtesting the most.
Playtesting for the game is far from over - I'm only halfway through the list of people who offered to help - but it has been a thoroughly useful process. The first two playtesters barely lasted 10 minutes in the game. With necessary changes, Playtester #3 was able to play the game for a couple of hours. Further changes allowed Playtester #4 to be the first to beat the game. Playtester #5 not only beat the game, but voluntarily played through the opening 30 minutes of the game twice. The game has transitioned from something unplayable to something genuinely enjoyable over the past few months, and it's been both a pleasure and a relief.
|Altering the HUD's color scheme was one of many necessary tweaks made evident through playtesting.|
What's left for Monsterpunk? I'm recently begun drawing and adding character portraits to the game, but once that's done, I'll add a character selection quiz, illustrate the game's endings, exaggerate the impact of the player's violence (or lack thereof) on the world, complete the soundtrack, and make various other small mechanical and audio-visual tweaks.
Considering how consistently wrong I've been in predicting the release date for the game (originally December 2014?), I probably should stop making promises regarding it. That being said, I'm currently aiming to finish this game by spring, and I can't imagine that I'll still be working on it through the summer. I don't want to spend more than two years on this project, and I really don't want it to stay in perpetual development hell. I don't want this to be another Waker.
This time, though, I actually have a good reason for extending the game's release date!
On Preparing Games for Festival
I'm intending to showcase my shorter games at Artscape this Summer! Artscape is a massive, free arts festival held in Baltimore each year. Local game developers have been showcasing games at Artscape (through Gamescape) for a few years now, and I want to participate. Monsterpunk is too long, complicated, and R-rated to be showcased at such an event, but Bloodjak and Digital Toilet World are short and simple enough that they'd be perfect for it.
In preparation for Artscape, I'll be making changes to both games to make them more accessible to a festival audience. Bloodjak will mostly receive minor difficulty tweaks, but changes to Digital Toilet World will be more extensive, including some basic animation for the enemies, edited dialogue, and significant changes to the game's difficulty. If possible, both of these games will soon be playable in your internet browser!
I originally wanted to present Empty Chambers at Artscape, but I've begun revising it and realized that the game needs to undergo some very heavy changes to reach the same level of quality as my more recent work. It's the only jam game I've made that hasn't yet had a post-jam revision, and it shows.
In any case, those new versions of Bloodjak and DTW will be out within the next few weeks! I'm pretty stoked about it.
But wait! It gets better!
I've been asked by a friend in Athens, Ohio to make a short game for an art showcase he's curating at the beginning of April. The game's inspired by a piece of writing of his - a western story about a Native American woman addicted to morphine who's allegedly trying to rescue her sister from Union soldiers.
Since I'm adapting the story into a video game, I went ahead and added a ton of shooting to it. As much as I'd like to break away from traditional (violent) design sensibilities, imagining the story as a top-down shooter was simply the fastest and easiest way to add a compelling interactive element to the story given the limited development time. Making compelling narrative games requires engineering the entire experience from start to finish; making compelling action games only requires engineering specific elements of the game (enemies, weapons) and then mixing and matching those elements.
Here's an early peek of it, two weeks into development. I'm pretty happy with it so far!
|The enemies don't shoot yet, obviously.|
The new game will premiere on April 1st at Athensworks, and then will be made available online shortly thereafter. If all goes well, it will also showcased alongside Bloodjak and DTW at Artscape.