How D’ya Like Them Apples?
Around 5 weeks ago, we had got the game to a level where we wanted to show it off to some people to see if they actually liked what we had created.
Our plan was to organise a few playtests with some of the people who share the building we work in. For most companies this would likely just be a bunch of office workers who have little or no interest in video games. Thankfully for us, Dundee has a thriving game development community with many game development studios all working within a controller’s throw of our office. In fact there are 3 game developers in our building with another 3 directly across the road.
So, on one hand we had the benefit of having experienced developers and avid games players on our doorstep, but at the same time there’s a little trepidation about showing your game off to your peers rather than some random people from the general public. Game developers can be overly harsh at times, but we’re pretty thick skinned at Ruffian, so we thought “balls to it” let’s show them our game.
We were lucky enough to get access to one of the unused Units in our building, so we had this entire 5,000+ square foot space with just a single couch, table, pc and monitor setup on it. Our humble setup looked a little exposed in that big room, but it was a pretty accurate reflection of how we were all feeling at that time too. Showing off your game for the first time feels like you’re baring your soul – well it does if you still give a fuck about making good games anyway, and we all do at Ruffian. It’s a somewhat unsettling mix of nervous excitement, ball crushing pressure and bum clenching anxiety. Regardless of the trepidation you feel, it needs to be done.
So, we sent out an email to all of the company owners of the businesses in the building and asked them if they might like to pop along and try out our game at lunchtime. We did this over two days and we had a constant flow of people coming into play the game. We didn’t ask any questions during these playtests, we simply wanted to see what the reaction would be to the game.
We were really pleased – and even more relieved – to find that the feedback was almost unanimously positive. There were some clear messaging issues we had to deal with, and there were a few people who simply couldn’t get the hang of a twin stick shooter setup – having independent character movement on the left stick and weapon aiming on the right stick was simply a bridge too far for some people. The general reaction we got was good though, people liked the game, they wanted to play more and the issues that people had were already on our radar anyway, so there were no surprises. All in all a pretty good first test of the game.
During the same week we were invited to show the game off at a regular event that is held in Dundee called The Collective – funnily enough this is actually ran out of one of the other Units in our building. It’s basically a group of creative types from the games dev community , as well as digital media in and around Dundee, who get together to show off what they’ve been working on. They play some games, watch some movies and generally just hang out and talk about the industry we’re all working in, where they think it’s going, where it might be going wrong; it’s a really laid back group. So, we accepted the invite, as we wanted to get as many people looking at the game and giving as honest and open feedback as we could get.
After a demo from one of the guys there showing off a Kinect based prototype that he had put together, we were up. The room had around 15 people in it, so it was a fairly cosy affair. I stood up, spoke to everyone about what we were about to show, why we were making it and why we wanted to show it off that night. Then we stepped back and let people play. I knew a few of the guys in the room, I had worked with some of them and I had been the design mentor at Dare to be Digital for some of the others. So even though we had good feedback from the previous playtest, I was personally more nervous about this one that the last. Thankfully within the first few minutes the room was full of the sounds that go hand in hand with a game of Fragmental – gunfire, explosions, laughter and fuckloads of swearing!. Basically the game had gone down a storm.
There were another few demos from some of the other devs there, and when they were all complete, the people who had played Fragmental came over to talk and told me they had a great time with the game. Many of them actually suggested getting the game onto Steam right then as an early access game, but we wanted to do more work before we even considered getting on to Steam. So, again it was really positive feedback and it cemented our opinion within Ruffian that we were making something that was genuinely fun to play, and from what we had heard there was most certainly an audience out there for this kind of game.
We did a much larger test than this next, we have some great connections at Abertay University that had agreed to ask if any of their students on the game design course would like to try out the game. The response we got was amazing. So, the following week we had an entire week of full afternoon playtest sessions with 10 to 16 different students – depending on the day – for each afternoon session. I think I’ve blethered on enough at this point though, so ll leave that for another blog post on another day.