Desk job by day, game dev by night
About Casino Jack (twitter: @jayrob_in)
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This was my first Ludum Dare and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not only because I learned a lot in a short time, but also because I made (what I believe is) a pretty good first iteration of a game in just 48 hours. I have plenty of ideas for what I could do with the game, but I’d much rather find out what the players want and build that into my backlog. That is one of the great charms of Ludum Dare – building a prototype and getting guaranteed feedback from real players.
As of writing, my game has 34 comments. I could go through them one at a time and tick off each feature request, bug report, etc, but that would be long and stupid. So, here’s what I did instead:
1. Gather all feedback
I copied and pasted each comment from my entry page into Excel and cut out any that very clearly didn’t provide any useful feedback (e.g. “Awesome game!!!1″ or “I didn’t like it”)
2. Split feedback into negative and positive key points
The point of this step is to understand what each piece of feedback is actually telling you. I found it helped to make a list of negative and positive bullet points for each comment. Take this example:
“I like this, it has a lot of potential. Here are some of my random thoughts…
It’s rather slow paced. It feels less like action than “Line up with an enemy, start shooting, wait, dodge it, wait, wait, dodge it, aim at next enemy”. Also, because there are so few enemies in each stage, it feels empty.
It’s hard to keep track of where you are. It would be awesome if there were a minimap during the shooting bits.
I got frustrated with placing pieces, but then I figured out, you can’t place a piece if it doesn’t match up? That does make sense, but with a little work it could be better. How about if the game checks if there’s a valid path, and it won’t let you place a piece that makes the path invalid? Also, what happens if you run out of room? Perhaps you could place pieces over previously placed pieces to delete them.
I’ll be looking forward to later versions! ”
If we extract the key positives and negatives we get:
- Good concept
- Slow-paced ship section
- Too few enemies in a room
- No in-game map
- Difficult to figure out level building (tile placement)
- Unintuitive level building (e.g. just place junk pieces elsewhere until right piece appears, potential to run out of room)
- Build stage lets you proceed to ship stage even if a path doesn’t exist from start to goal
3. Group feedback points and sum totals to rank them
At this stage, you’re still left with a long ‘to do’ list of overlapping or contradicting items. You should group similar points together and rank them according to the totals
You can see below the tally of my groupings:
My interpretation is that people really enjoyed being able to create the levels before flying through them, but the level building could be better implemented, explained and introduced. The other major feedback points were around the ship sections being slow-paced but occasionally too difficult (green rooms are too easy and red rooms are too hard), and enemy ships starting too close to the door when entering a room.
4. Take the top negative items and determine how you can resolve/improve them
You should now have a list of items, ranked by the number of people who commented on that aspect of your game (I took anything that 2 or more people commented on). The idea is to remove the pain points by taking the most commented negatives and working out how you can turn them into positives. So, another example:
“I don’t fully understand the level building section”
- First level goes straight into ship section, second introduces level building with short tutorial
- Prevent level start until route exists between start and finish
- Remove restriction on tile placement (can place anywhere)
- Replace random tile selection with ability to choose which tile to place next
Note that you may occasionally need to refer back to some of the comments if your items are too general.
You should now have a pretty full to do list of changes that will make the biggest positive impact to players, which you could merge with your previous list of new features/fixes to cater for the few things that players may not have thought of.
(Yes, I realise I spelled Hollywood wrong, but I didn’t want to cheat and fix it after the deadline)
Link to my game (ratings and feedback appreciated!)
The finished product
Nineties Holywood Hacker has you hacking like in a cliched nineties Hollywood movie, i.e. with no resemblance to actual hacking in the real world. First, in the Pipeline-esque intro game you need to build a link between your computer and the target node. Then, you have to fly through the link cell-by-cell from the start to the exit in a top-down Smash TV style. Watch out for rogue security programs and collect coins to buy upgrades.
What went well
- Editing levels visually
- Build an MVP and iterate
- Made use of available libraries
- Tried to implement two mechanics
- Doing the graphics
- Chasing annoying bugs
The example earlier wasn’t the worst bug I came across – I spent over an hour trying to figure out why my sounds weren’t importing and it turned out that when exporting from as3fxr to Audacity and converting to mp3, I should have saved them with IDV1 tags rather than IDV2. One simple click and I could have had an extra hour to add another cool feature. But is there really a way to avoid this entirely?
- No time for balancing
What I’ll do differently next time
- Focus on a single mechanic
- Balance the gameplay as I go
- Use the theme to guide the project, not just the initial brainstorming
- Implement basic tracking
- Get a good night’s sleep ahead of the compo