Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Crit Rocket!

While play testing any form of interactive product is an essential design methodology procedure, perhaps the most important factor to understand when designing a game is that people new to it are not going to have any idea how to play it. The designers and programmers of the game will always have a far greater understanding of not only how the game works, but also any rules, tactics and/or exploits that can be achieved within the game environment. Usually. I say usually as though something like bunny-hoping in many Quake engine games (eg. Quake 3) are originally considered physics exploits, they can later be considered to be an actual gameplay 'feature'. Such is not the case for Quake engine's cousin Half-life (heavily modified Quake 2 engine) where bunny hoping was considered as game breaking and later patched to be removed.

Below: Quake 3 Bunny hopping - Fly me to the moon...

Jumping rabbits aside, the need for developers to receive feedback during all stages of production is something that should be seriously considered, especially considering the eventual success factor of the product. A good example of this taking place can be seen in the currently in production expansion for Blizzard's game World of Warcraft. Wrath of the Lich King, scheduled for release sometime at the end of this year, is currently undergoing an Alpha stage testing phase, available only to families and friends of Blizzard. A very secretive process, the game which is only partially completed is already undergoing tests concerning zone/level/quest progression and general aesthetic design and feel.

Below: WotLK Alpha - Nerf inbound!

Much like The Burning Crusade before it, it will eventually go into a Beta testing phase for several weeks prior to release when the content is deemed playable enough by mass audiences. The feedback they get from this stage of testing will determine the class balance and group mechanics (dungeons, raiding) which makes the game so popular today. The reason why Blizzard can so successfully and comprehensively perform these testing phases is partly because of the medium they have chosen and the platform with which they can update it: the PC and mass internet access. Feedback is prompt, if not live, with player testers able to communicate directly with developers while the content is being explored. It is a powerful development ability, especially concerning the varied demographics and interests associated with the game.

However, not all companies have such great success or resources for play testing. Auran's Fury was considered to be a flop primarily because of the limited play testing that the game received. Although the game did go through several open Beta phases, the game really only interested and addressed a niche community of avid MMO PvP fanatics. While the idea may have been brilliant and may have been enjoyable for the people who tested it, to the masses the game had a flavor that was not entirely appreciated. Another similar PvP MMO example Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR), also coming up, was not so recently returned to an Alpha stage of production (having gone through an open Beta testing phase). Opinion as to why this happened was rumored to stem from both the undesirable results that Fury brought as well as gameplay results when contrasted to its primary competition (i.e. WoW).

Below: WAR- Apparently coming...

Anyway, getting away from MMOs and computer games altogether, play testing in our game is definetly something we as a group have considered. We are completely aware that our involvement in the development of the game has severely enhanced our concept and understandings of it, which may not be comprehensible to other people. Inviting several uni friends to come and playtest the game has been raised, and may go ahead this week if time is not an issue. If the game is not easy to understand, it may be necessary to both simplify the gameplay and/or interface slightly to avoid confusion and misinterpretations. This sort of minimalistic reconfiguration may lead into such areas as the discernible rule set and game manual, however this is a topic best left to discussion after next week's lecture.

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