• Week 33

    3 June 2013

    A short week, thanks to a pleasant and much-needed sunny Bank Holiday Monday.

    This week involved a bunch of travel. Tuesday was a day in Brighton to discuss a potential art commission, currently referred to as Sore. Lots of interesting thoughts and discussion, but I need to sit down and process it offline a bit. So that’s going to be a focus of early Week 34.

    Thursday was a trip to Bristol for the next tests and demonstrations of Hello Lamppost, our Playable City commission.

    A secret: I find playtesting painful.

    It’s a similar pain – but not identical – to user-testing. If you’ve ever stood on the dark side of a two-way mirror, and watched someone stab with a mouse at a product you’ve designed, failing to achieve a task you were sure was straightforward… you’ll have a glimpse of that pain.

    But the element of testing games that I find uniquely painful is what we’re testing for. I’ve watched users fail to complete tasks, which was annoying, because we were designing for utility, for functionality: helping people achieve goals swiftly and simply.

    When I test a game, I’m testing to see if it’s fun. Well, and many other things: is it balanced? Is there a skill curve? Would you come back to it? How do experienced and new players work together?

    At the bottom of that, though, is a summation of all those questions: is it fun? Did it entertain?

    Watching somebody explicitly not have fun with something that’s only purpose is (in one way or another) to entertain – well, that’s more awkward than any transactional website test I’ve done.

    So for the duration of playtests, I’m pretty on edge.

    First tests are always particularly tough – they should be; they indicate what’s going to need work. I’d be worried if they weren’t. And our first test, a few weeks ago, showed up lots of edges and holes.

    Thursday was our second playtest in Bristol, and it was a notable improvement on the first – and satisfying and insightful in its own right. Lots of the rough edges from the first test were sanded away; the new elements of charm were all picked up on; and whilst it may have failed or had obvious holes, they didn’t seem to have the disarming effect of the first test, where players would be jolted out of the experience quite hard.

    Also, the 12-year-olds we tested it with definitely enjoyed it, which was a really positive sign. (As was the enthusiasm of the project sponsors, who saw it later that night).

    A good day, then: all the work of the previous week, and of some of this, paid off, and we’ve got a much clearer sight of the critical path for the final month. And, slowly, I began to get over my hatred of how playtesting makes me feel.

    The week ended with a bit of maintenance work on Concert Club, filing down some rough edges and fixing some bugs that our early users have caught.