We’re about 3 sprints away from those two momentous nights where we get to show off all of the hard work we’ve done over the course of this semester. That time is coming up really fast on us here at Action Cactus, but I personally am extremely happy with where the game currently is. It’s a very fun game, and we’re pretty feature complete at this point, so we’re moving into these last weeks with time to make every part of the game feel as good as possible. We’ve closed out Step 3 with our game becoming feature-complete, so let’s discuss how we’ve gotten to where we are today, as well as what we’ve started thinking about as we move into the final countdown.
Let’s just start with what we’ve got so far. The show objective system is in, meaning that future show objectives should be easier to implement. In addition, a basic unlockables system has been implemented as a way to exemplify our plan for the Stardom System moving forward. Michelle’s art has been hugely successful at immersing the player in this theatre experience with its handcrafted look. The curtain comes up and down between the rounds, which usually end within 15-30 seconds of starting, and it all flows really quickly to make the gameplay feel frenetic and fast-paced. Up to four players can play now, as well, which adds a lot to the chaos. Finally, we’ve added some particle effects to show the player all of the information related to gaining buffs/debuffs/Crowd Favor. All of this comes together into a game that really feels unique, especially as the player has to undo a lot of standard combat maneuvers in their head in interesting ways.
Now, for some of the decisions I’ve had to make. First off, I think it’s important to note that I ended up getting Scrum Master certified during this two week period, and while a lot of the information was things I’d already learned from production and my internship, there were many things that were reinforced, especially around the Product Owner role. As I have that role with the project, I hadn’t really thought about how much clarity I needed to give to team members for their tasks. However, once I started including detailed acceptance criteria in all of the user stories, the team was better understanding the tasks they were taking, so we were getting things into the game in the correct way. I’ve also been doing a lot better job at backlog refinement to make sure our game remains on track with the most pressing matters, as before I’d often reorder things in my head and just confuse myself and the whole team.
On the design side of things, I made two major decisions/iterations that were extremely necessary to getting to that core experience of making the game easy to jump into for a bunch of friends. The first involves the crowd favor system. Originally, we thought that having crowd favor deplete would force players to interact with this system of playing theatrically by giving them buffs to work for and debuffs to fear. However, when we brought the system to testing, we found that it was really difficult to explain that system to a player who is just picking the game up so they would get in the game and their experience would immediately become hampered by debuffs that they had no clue how to solve. This was a fairly easy decision to make, as I’d seen a very helpful video by Mark Brown (linked here) about why it’s better to incentivize a playstyle you want instead of discouraging players into that playstyle. So now, we have the Crowd Favor as a bar that the player fills in return for a buff to themselves or a debuff to everyone else. It’s in the player’s best interest to use the system, but we’ve simply lowered the skill floor to allow for players who are new to the game to still succeed without messing with favor.
The other major choice involves the complexity of the player’s interactions. This came through a discussion with Ben Throop, another capstone professor and a designer/programmer on the VR game Headmaster. Ben really enjoyed the concept and saw its clear roots in the fencing “fighting game” Nidhogg, and we discussed how the limits of the inputs in that game really help make it something easy to pick up while maintaining depth. This made me think of how we could reduce input complexity in Showstopper, and it led me to limiting the controller input to the two sticks and the two bumpers so that players only have to focus on what those inputs do, where most of them are tied together in some way such as the dash and player movement. This has definitely, in tandem with the show objective changes, made it easier to get new players into the game.
Throughout these weeks, I have been trying to gauge a variety of opinions about our game. I’ve taken it to QA and to various professors, and it’s been extremely awesome to hear that so many people are interested in our concept and have been giving very helpful constructive criticism towards the experience. First and foremost, our focus on this project is to make the game fun above all else, and we have been getting consistent numbers to say that we’re hitting that mark.
This is why it was extremely jarring when we presented the game to our class and got a lot of negative opinions about various aspects of the game. It was extremely frustrating, to be honest, because it felt like many of the students were phrasing their feedback as if they did not understand that the game was being developed progressively in a different way than they may make it. Many aspects such as sound and specific feedback instances are in our pipeline, but because it wasn’t seen in our demo yet, what people said seemed more like someone assuming we hadn’t thought of it, rather than suggesting that it should be a higher priority task. A lot of feedback also seemed to ignore that we only had 3 weeks until midmortems, which left many suggestions feeling pointless due to how time consuming they’d be.
However, we did get a lot of really interesting feedback that is making the design shift gears a bit. A big thing I have to do as a designer and Product Owner is take the feedback we get and figure out what people are saying with it, so I calmed down and took a step back. Most of the awesome feedback we got was centered around things people see from watching the game. While Showstopper might be extremely fun and make sense once you get your hands on it, someone just watching it might get confused or concerned for various reasons. That’s the core of our class’ issues with our game, and it had frustrated me initially because those complaints are from the viewer perspective instead of the player perspective. This is an area I hadn’t been considering enough even though our game is meant to be as fun to watch as it is to play.
So, what’s the plan for these last few weeks, then? Well, the major area we need to improve in is making the theatre feel both alive and core to the experience. Most players of these types of game don’t care if some parts of the context don’t make sense, but it definitely can only help the game to make that theatre context absolutely core to the experience, rather than window dressing and mechanical inspiration. A lot of the plans to make the theatre feel alive were already in our pipeline for these upcoming weeks, but now we have a clearer vision behind it all, so that we include visuals, lighting, and sound effects that really immerse the player. The game is a blast to play… now let’s just make it seem that way!