My apologies to anyone who visited the blog yesterday hoping for an update and instead got an error message. Apparently the Netherlands, or some very localised part of them, burst into flame and that briefly eliminated this corner of the internet. I'm told it doesn't happen often, so fingers crossed. Apparently everything is working again, so here's yesterdays post:
Working on game design full time is weird, everything moves much more quickly than I'm used to, but it's been possible to create prototypes and run almost a hundred playtests since starting this blog. Collecting all of the feedback together I feel that the project has reached a stage that I can pick which of the games I'm going to continue the development and testing cycle with, put through blind playtesting and eventually publish.
Three games enter, one game leaves.
Pulling all of the feedback together the first game to go is obviously Murder: TV. Practically everyone who played the various iterations of this game said the same thing "We love the premise, we love the theme, the gameplay is horrible". I kept adding things that individually worked, the items got more exciting, the betrayal mechanics became slicker, the director became better balanced, but ultimately the core gameplay was weak. The bottom line is that there is no amount of tinsel that turns a turd into a tree. I'd love to come back to the theme and take another shot at it someday, I think there's a lot of potential there, but it might be a long while.
The competition between the other two games was much tighter. Both Assassins and Wizard Academy had playtesters that loved them. Actually, in both cases at least one person said that I had to make the game or they wouldn't be friends with me anymore, so I guess in the interests of friendship I'll make the losing game at some later point. That's probably a good decision in it's own right, since they've both got a lot going for them, but in different ways.
In Assassins most of the love was heaped onto the characters. The most common reaction to finishing my first game with a new player was an enthusiastic "Can we play again with different characters?" I generally gave my playtesters a choice of games and the option to replay old ones or try something new, which served as a really rough barometer of how well a particular game was being received. This game got a lot of repeat plays.
Its main obstacle was that the level of depth to the game proved divisive. The behaviour of the guards and the results of their actions were entirely deterministic, building around a deckbuilding mechanic gave the players' actions a degree of consistency too. However the situations that the players were in changed on a regular basis and the randomised order of cards could sometimes be quite important. The result was a game that somehow simultaneously appeared to require a high level of strategic thought and also turns out to be completely arbitrary. Appearances can be deceiving, but I hold that the way a player experiences the game is more important to their experience of it than what the game actually is. Still, it's not a fatal flaw and it could be that the barrier to entry this produced could be addressed and result in a satisfyingly deep game.
The most common feedback for Wizard Academy remains "Everything is on fire, oh god why is everything on fire?" Following some trauma counselling, the feedback I get about the game itself is that everyone loves the spell system and how the elements of the game interact. Where Assassins got the most immediate repeat plays, Wizard Academy was the game that caused people from the first set of testers to show up with the second lot saying "I want another go at that; we can do it this time!" Some of my testers refused to even try anything else after they'd started on it, that's probably a good sign.
The main problem it faces is making sure the difficulty scales well. The first version that I exposed to external testing was punishingly difficult, every single game ended in failure. One player, once, managed to hit a position in which she made a move that had a one in seven chance of winning and a six in seven of instantly losing. That's the closest anyone got. The most recent version was much easier, every group except one won their games by various margins. A few bemoaned the loss of difficulty. I think the trick here will be allowing the players to set their own difficulty to suit their group; the challenge will be designing the core rules in such a way that they can support a wide range of difficulties. The goal is to make a game that a newbie can get addicted to, but that can still throw out an extreme challenge to those who crave it.
I could happily make both of these games, they both got some good feedback and both have a lot of room to develop in ways that emphasise their strengths and minimise their shortcomings. I've put some time into thinking about various technicalities of producing them and a variety of other factors and ultimately feel that I'm in agreement with my testers. While feedback was generally positive for both, it does significantly favour one over the other though. I asked thirteen people who'd tested both games which they thought I should develop and the answer was an almost unanimous 12-1.
I guess some people just like to watch the world themselves burn. Lets make this Wizard Academy thing then.