Without regular playtesting, any game you work on runs the risk of becoming functionally fine, but playing poorly. Or worse, simply not being much fun at all. Now, there is an argument for games that can be considered as a piece of art, which by definition doesn’t require an element of ‘fun’, simply that it should evoke an emotion.
Fragmental is not a piece of art, we are trying to make it as pure a multiplayer game experience as possible. However it most certainly provokes emotion in the players, just a slightly different kind. I have no statistical evidence to hand, but if I had a farm, I‘d be willing to bet it on the fact that nobody has ever gazed on Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel, or listened to Beethoven’s 9th symphony, only to explode into laughter or a torrent of verbal abuse that would make any South Park character blush – interesting aside here: Turns out that our game is a creative goldmine when it comes to the creation of accidental new profanities. Currently the choice expletives are “Shitehawks” and ”Triplefucker”
More than any other game I’ve worked on, playtesting of Fragmental feels much more like I’m playing rather than testing.
Now, with that thinly veiled attempt at coming across as intelligent and/or deep out of the way, onto the main point of this article.
WINNING IS EVERYTHING!
Well, not everything, but I’ll come back to that point later…
With a few of us here at Ruffian working on the creation of levels, a lot can change in a day, so we are regularly getting 4 players together to play, evaluate, and tweak all of the new content in the game. What can seem like a great idea in your head on the commute into work in the rush hour traffic – driving from Edinburgh to Dundee every day gives you a lot of thinking time! – may end up a confusing mess once actually knocked up in game. Likewise, a throwaway comment from someone, can spark off an idea that may end up as one of the best levels in the game. On top of this ad-hoc testing, we usually have a few less directed playtests at the end of the day, partially to shake out any knock on effects our new content has created in the wider context of the game, and partly because, well, we genuinely enjoy playing this game. We’ve all worked on projects we’ve not enjoyed, so make the most of those times when you find a project everyone feels good about.
Now, we’re all competitive sorts here, even with a game that is not finished. For every jubilant victor, there are 3 losers. And the longer a losing streak goes on, the more of a mental block winning actually becomes. Add to this the fact that Fragmental has this unerring ability to allow someone to get to within 1 frag of victory, only to see them go on a suicide streak, or have someone else go on a glorious frag streak to pass them at the 11th hour.
I said earlier that winning is everything, and when it comes to our playtests, that’s 100% true. Once I figure out the best way to do it, I’m going to make it so that there is no hiding place for any of us, and publish & update a league table of all of our results, with the names changed in classic Sensible Soccer fashion to protect the innocent. With the growing tension, it’s possible not all of the team will still be alive by the time we actually launch this sucker.
Full disclosure: I hold the – admittedly embarrassing – honour of having received the first granny of the project – 0 kills for a game.