One. Last. Push.
It’s been 3 weeks since our last blog post, and you have every right to wonder why the hell we’ve been ignoring our blog post duties.
I agree, it’s practically unforgivable, but I promise you it will have been worth it, because we’ve spent all of that time playtesting the glowing, angular arse off Fragmental.
During that time we found a range of bugs, usability issues and aesthetic oddities, and we’ve been fixing as many of them as we possibly can before we finally release Fragmental on Steam Early Access.
Holy shit, just writing that down made my stomach flutter a wee bit there!
Playtest, Bug Fixing and Refinement
As I briefly mentioned in a previous blog post, we’re lucky enough to have the fantastic Abertay University just along the road from our studio, and it just so happens we know most of the lecturers on their Game Design & Production Management course. So they very kindly asked if anyone from the course would like to spend some time playing Fragmental for us, and then provide some feedback. The response was overwhelming, we had over 40 students come in to play the game over the course of 4 full afternoons, and we had to turn down more than double that number as we simply couldn’t handle that many people over the course of 4 days of planned playtesting.
Each afternoon, a different group of students played the game for a solid three and a half hours, constantly switching who was playing after each match. Their reaction to the game was great to see – even the fuckers who refuse to use their Right Stick to aim. Some of them were seeing the game for the second time, so it was really encouraging to hear that the usability and balance concerns they had experienced during their first playtest back in October, were all gone. For the students who were seeing Fragmental for the first time, it was every bit as gratifying to see them pick the game up and get right into the action with no explanation other than the controls of the game.
The last time the Abertay students gave us feedback, we spent the next 5 or 6 weeks of development, focused entirely on the most frequently reported usability and balance issues that they provided in their feedback. To say that their visit and the feedback that they supplied was useful, would be an enormous understatement. So, a massive thanks goes out to all of the students who came along and gave us their feedback.
This time around, their feedback was more directed towards requests for additional features that they might like to see, or minor subjective opinions that we’re not going to work on right now, but we will look into fixing if more players are of the same opinion. Basically there were no major issues with the game, which was a big difference to the previous playtest in October. Result!
All in all, we came out of that 4 days of playtesting feeling really positive about the current state of the build, as well as the work we had put in to solve all of the issues that they flagged after their first experience of playing the game.
We may not have revealed any new major issues during the playtest with the Abertay students, but over the past few months our two man QA team – Kev Black and Paul Conry – have been finding a lot of genuine bugs, and our team have been fixing them as fast as Kev and Paul could find them. Unfortunately as any dev knows, you can end up getting into a bit of a whack-a-mole situation where you end up fixing one bug which then leads to a new one being uncovered behind it. Rinse and bastard repeat.
We’ve been finding bugs and fixing them for the past 6 weeks or so, and we’re in a really good place with how the build looks and plays, it still has some rough edges, but it’s definitely ready for the gaming public to get their hands on the game through Steam’s Early Access.
During the bug fixing period, we were also adding a new Front End and replacing all of the placeholder in game HUD. We’ve gone through 3 or 4 iterations of these and we’re really happy with how it’s all turned out. We still have some more Front End work to do, to add more functionality to allow players to do things like enter their names, and customise their matches, but we think we’ve nailed a look and feel, and we think we’ve got the in game messaging working well for new players. The beauty of Early Access is that the people who buy and play the game, can tell us if we have got this stuff right, and if not, we will do everything we can to change things until we have.
We’ve also done final passes on the Maps as well as overhauling all of the audio and VFX in the game.
The game definitely looks, feels and sounds like a consistent and complete package now, which has been tricky due to our abstract style. Again, we think we’ve got the balance right, but only time and the feedback of the community will tell us if that’s true.
Are We Nearly There Yet?
“Pfff, yes of course we are, totally… well, kind of, we think so, christ on a wireframe bike we hope so!”
As I said, we think we’ve caught all of the major issues in the build, but without a huge amount of testers playing the build for thousands of hours, it’s hard to tell. So, while we’ve done everything we can to ensure that Fragmental is spot on, there’s always a chance that someone, somewhere will uncover something that we’ve simply not encountered. If that happens, we’ll get it fixed and updated as soon as we can. We plan to have regular updates every 2 or 3 weeks, so we’re quietly confident that we’ll be able to keep on top of any issues that the players discover.
Right now, we’re sending out Steam keys to a group of popular YouTubers who have very kindly agreed to spend some of their time, playing and broadcasting Fragmental for us on their channels. We’re hoping for some good reactions to the game, but you never can tell how people are going to take to the games you create and then release. Proper squeaky bum time.
From our point of view, we all love the game at Ruffian, it’s everything and more than what we had hoped it could be when we first started work on it last August. Fingers crossed the YouTubers agree.
We’ll share every Let’s Play video that is recorded when they’re made available to us.
I hope we won’t need it, but wish us luck anyway.
This past weekend, as Martin wrote last week, a bunch of Ruffians headed over to a great pub called Sloanes to show Fragmental off at GlesGames which is a bi-monthly event arranged for fans of multiplayer gaming in Glasgow. It was my first time demo’ing Fragmental in public and we were expecting in the region of 50-100 people to come and play, have a laugh and give us some feedback on the game. It had been a while since the team last put it in the hands of the public and we wanted to know if we’d done the right things in the eyes of players… But hold this thought because I’m about to go on a slight diversion.
Lots of happy faces on the way to setting up a Fragmental demo in sunny Glasgow
I had a scary alert from LinkedIn this week that I’ve been working at Ruffian for seven years. We’ve done some great things in that time and worked on lots of cool stuff that we don’t get to talk about. Conversely we’ve also had some disappointments and embarrassments but so it goes, gamedev has its highs and lows and we surf through them. Anyway! My point is that despite being a veteran Producer at Ruffian I’m a relative newcomer to the Fragmental team. This is my first Fragmental blog post (more to come!) as I’ve been working on other things *cough* Halo *cough* until we decided to put Fragmental into Greenlight. At which point I joined in to help pull some strings behind the scenes and help promote Fragmental by, err, spamming the shit out of every website that’d let us.
I got banned from Reddit. Seriously, man, fuck Reddit.
Anyway. When I joined Fragmental the project was on a bit of a high because we’d gone into Steam Greenlight, it was going well and we all felt that we had an exciting game on our hands. And that is pretty much exactly the worst point in time to bring everyone back down to earth and figure out how we can actually finish and ship the game. In general, game developers are massively ambitious and they try to do too much. Hands up, we’re no different. So the fist thing we had to do was figure out the long term plan and shape of the game, what content we’d release and how everything we wanted to do might fit into a reasonable timescale longer term.
Our first goal was that we wanted to capitalise on the success of Greenlight as quickly as possible and get the game ready for launch on Early Access and I’m glad to say we’re just a few weeks away from that happening in February.
(I was going to write a bit more about the production side of game development here but, by heck, it’s boring to read about spreadsheets. I’m going to talk more about our development roadmap in a future blog post so I’ll go into a bit more background then instead)
Now back to the GlesGames demo we just did. There’s never a good time for a demo. No matter what size your project is, someone will want a demo of your project at exactly the wrong point in time. It’ll be when your build is going backwards, just when that quickly-hacked-feature-that-never-had-any-right-to-work-in-the-first-place falls to bits and you need to refactor nearly every system just in order to do one trivial thing properly. On big games this usually happens about 2 months before E3.
On the smaller indie scale, things will start to go wrong 2 weeks before you setup in a pub ready to demo in front of some Glaswegian gamers. And, at risk of getting pulled too far into stereotypes, Glaswegians aren’t generally known for pulling their punches when it comes to opinion.
Now I’m going to blow the Ruffian trumpet for a bit. The typical scenario for a game being demo’d is that you’d be up late the night before trying to figure out a problem that is usually explained with the words “But it works on my machine”. Not this time. We had a demo build ready a whole three days before the day itself. This is actually amazing and it’s credit to a lot of hard work and experience in the team. To get to a point where, three whole days before a demo, you have build that is stable, shows approximately 95% of everything you wanted it to show and you’re playing it and everyone is laughing you just, well, you just can’t quite believe it’s happening. But it did happen. Everything was great, so we polished it a bit more. And then we broke it. Fixed it. Broke it again. Fixed it. And then it was Friday afternoon with a demo looming on Saturday and I started to worry and it was getting all dramatic and tight and… We spent the entire afternoon playing the game. It was great! We’d nailed it, the build was rock solid, played fantastically well and we were all really excited about showing the game. Hand on heart, this is the first time I’ve gone into a demo feeling confident that the game isn’t going to do something spectacularly stupid in front of a bunch of people. All I could think about was how much fun we were going to have playing it and that is a very rare feeling to have. I’m not suggesting everything else I’ve ever demo’d isn’t fun. It’s just that there’s always been situations where I’ve been stood in front of hundreds, thousands of people knowing with absolutely certainty that if A or B happens, the game will crash or turn itself inside out and make us look stupid, but not this time. Of course, I realise I’ve totally cursed the next demo by raving about all this. Oh well, you’ve got to ride the good waves when they show up.
The first few players of the evening get hands on with Fragmental. Hopefully, BIlly and Gary play nicely.
A good number of people played Fragmental through the evening and we had a nice crowd around our PC at all times which is always a nice feeling. We also got to see old chums and generally have a Good Time. There was a lot of positive feedback that we got and I think it’s best expressed in the way the evening’s Tournament came to a climax in a 79 round epic battle that pushed and pulled between the two players who remained at the end of the evening. You can see the winning moves under the effect of the slow motion modifier with a shotgun kill in the Vine below.
So that’s it for now. I’ll sign off my first Fragmental blog post with greets and thanks to the guys who made GlesGames possible, we had a great time and we had loads of really positive feedback about Fragmental. Watch out for news of our next demos as we’re aiming to be touring around the UK in the coming months to show Fragmental at various events and expos.