Friday, August 6, 2010

StarCluster 3 - Dealing with Feedback and the Playtest Process

This is one of my favorite parts of being a game designer, and a part I hate as well. The hate part is easy. I finished the game, so now I have to wait until the feedback is in before I put it on sale, and I hate waiting. I'm very patient, but that doesn't mean I like it. Luckily, the fun part more than compensates! :D

I'm getting feedback from a horde of playtesters, some of whom are very familiar with my games, others who have never heard of my games before, some old hands, and some neophytes. A cross section of people, which is just great! The proportion of playtesters actually giving me feedback is much higher than usual - more than half as opposed to about one in four to five.

The part I love is making the game better. This process knocks off the rough edges. I don't read a game rulebook from front to back. To me it's a reference work, a thing to be consulted in any order as needed. Ufortunately, that shows up in my writing. I write in order of interest - as I get interested in some aspect, I write it. One of the hardest things for me is putting the stuff in order, because most people read a game book like they would a non-fiction book or novel, and that requires a different mode of thinking for me. Playtest feedback *really* helps on putting things in the right order.

A problem for any game writer is determining how much explanation is enough - when you're the guy who designed the thing, you understand the core concepts in a way someone coming in cold just can't. It's really difficult to look at what you have written with fresh eyes, divorced from your personal ideosyncracies and prejudices. This is why a Beta phase of testing - that is blind testing by outsiders, using only the book - is absolutely essential, and cannot be replaced by any amount of Alpha - or inside - testing. Alpha testing tests the rules, but Beta testing tests the explanation of the rules.

Another thing that happens is sometimes when you are designing a game, you find a solution that works, and you go with it, not thinking about it after that. Sometimes Beta testers see this and can suggest a different and simpler way of approaching the solution. That is a pure and holy joy! When this happens, it makes my heart sing! A Beta tester for SC 3 noticed that I had people doing an unnecessary step is Chargen, and suggested I integrate two steps. Elegant! That was wonderful! :D

In this process, the beta tester supplies you with information two ways - both directly, as in "I found this bit and it's weird" or indirectly by asking weird questions that show they misunderstood something. That's when you have to keep your head as a designer. If they are asking these questions, then you need to look at that part and write it better. They are doing their job and finding problem bits. Now you need to do yours and fix them. I love this!

Anyway, enough rambling for today. I am accumulating enough changes to warrant a third Beta document. Awesome! This game is gonna rock! :D


No comments:

Post a Comment