Monthly Archives: February 2011

Playtesting Knight to E7 ~ the Tower Defense

Our game was at one point a tower defense, not unlike the Zombie Bowling mode of Plants vs Zombies. You picked and sent out chess pieces instead of walnuts, and incoming enemy pieces streamed at you from across the field.

WHAT PLAYERS LIKED

Players enjoyed the chess theme, as before. They also enjoyed the fact that you picked one side, black or white, and stuck with it instead of switching sides.

Playtesters also enjoyed that each of the pieces had their own distinct movement patterns as they traveled across the board towards enemies.

WHAT THEY DIDN’T LIKE

Players didn’t like the speed of the game. With the chess theme came a preconception about slow-paced, or at least stilted paced, strategy and tactics. This type of game had neither.

WHAT WAS SUGGESTED

It was suggested that the enemy pieces be slowed down and move incrementally. The Knight movement pattern was also confusing to players. It was suggested that we put guide arrows out for all the pieces to show where they would go. This would help clear up and confusion about all pieces, not just the Knight.

Playtesting Knight to E7

For awhile the main concept of the title I was working on, Knight to E7, was thus; you, as a lone knight on neither the black or white sides, would go across a randomly generated board, hacking and slashing your way through a maze full of enemies Gauntlet style. You could attack both white and black pieces, and would gain benefits against a color by attacking it more, effectively making the other color your allies. There were special bonuses for attacking whatever color was your ally, giving an incentive to attack both colors instead of focusing on just one.

We asked a group of players (students at DigiPen) to test this concept.

WHAT THEY LIKED

Players enjoyed the Chess theme. It was more cohesive than the random shapes we’d had previously and added a lot of preconcepted depth to our enemies and world in the players’ minds.

Players really liked the ability to effectively pick a side, gaining bonuses against the opposing faction. It gave them motivation to help out allied pieces and attack enemies as they moved through the maze instead of just sneaking around. THey liked that the more you attacked your enemies, the better you got against them.

WHAT THEY DIDN’T LIKE

Players didn’t like the fact that you had to attack your allies to heal. One playtester went so far as to die on purpose when she found out that that was something you had to do to survive. She and two of the other 7 playtesters turned the demo into a survival mode competition; ‘how long can I survive before I die?’

While we implemented the chess theme for ease of model production and animation reasons, players came to the table with a lot of preconceptions about what the game would be about given the chess theme and were somewhat confused when these didn’t follow through.

WHAT THEY SUGGESTED

It was suggested that we incorporate the option to stick with a color and not have to switch and turn on your allies.

Playtesting Karma

Our original game for this term was a standard Diablo-style hack ‘n’ slash, but with a karma system that was implemented in a similar manner to the duel-color system of Ikaruga. The main character could switch between being black and white and would receive benefits and detriments against enemies of corresponding and opposing colors, again like Ikaruga, but applied to a Diablo-style game.

We set about playtesting this simple concept. We had the main character as a circle in our demo and all the enemies were squares of varying size. The player could click their way around a large flat map that had random enemies spawning at random points. We were, at this point, just testing the core click-to-attack and change karma alignment.

WHAT THEY LIKED

The players we tested this with (being my brother and a couple of his friends) liked the idea at first. They enjoyed clicking to attack things and got into the groove of meandering around the board killing things.  Enemies came in waves from random locations. Each wave was made of one solid color of enemy, so the players only had to switch karma every now and then and continue attacking.

They enjoyed the simple two button interface (left click to move/attack, right click to switch karma).

Some of them said that they would like more to be in the game world, but understood that we were just testing the mechanics at this point.

WHAT THEY DIDN’T LIKE

After a good couple rounds of feedback, we adjusted the demo to generate enemies of random color instead of waves of enemies of a solid color. The demo was now throwing black and white enemies randomly at all times.

Players grew frustrated as they continued to have to rapidly switch back and forth between karmas, which interrupted their hack ‘n’ slash enjoyment they had before.

WHAT THEY SUGGESTED

They suggested sticking with the waves of enemies, or at the very least having a ‘less random’ dispersement of enemy coloration. Otherwise, they thought the concept was pretty solid.

Review ~ God of War : Ghost of Sparta

Game Name

God of War : Ghost of Sparta

Game Platform

PSP

Game Overview

Kratos has recently become the God of War, but is still haunted by visions, this time of a prophetic nature instead of horrific memories. He follows these visions on a trail that lead him to discover the god’s manipulations of his life and that his brother, taken from him as a child, is still alive, trapped in the realm of death. Kratos embarks on another epic journey to free his sibling and kill everything that gets in his way.

What Did This Game Do That Was Different From Its Predecessors?

The previous PSP God of War, Chains of Olympus, had a very disjointed series of events, and felt more like a set of happenstances than a big overarching story. Ghost of Sparta has a nice, smooth, tale that incorporates all elements in the game. Nothing that happens feels like it’s disconnected from the bigger picture. Chains of Olympus also had a hodge-podge of different types of items that all required different controls, making using any given thing a bit of a hassle as you had to remember how to first. Ghost of Sparta has a nice, consolidated control set with items that work well within in it. The overall experience of Ghost of Sparta is much smoother, more polished, and more enjoyable than that of its predecessor.

Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

Most of the God of War games have Kratos going in a straight line on a killing spree without much growth on his part as a character. Ghost of Sparta actually has our godly anti-hero develop, with him realizing over the course of the game that he has become that which sought so much to destroy, the God of War. The game also delves a bit into his past, providing some explanation for what drove him as a Spartan warrior before he became Aries’ minion in the previous game. All this adds a lot of depth to Kratos’ character, making him a more complex character than previously seen.

Least Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

The difficulty does not seem consistent. I would constantly mow down everything in my path, but when I came to a boss or in later cases mini-bosses I would suddenly find myself dying numerous times until I became accustomed enough to the boss’ attack patterns to get hit few enough times while still dealing enough damage to defeat it. Most of the console GoW titles have a scale of enemy difficulty, with peons not requiring any skill, the next level up requiring a little, and so on and so forth up to the gigantic bosses, a nice learning curve. Ghost of Sparta doesn’t have much of that.

How would you change the game to make it better?

I would adjust the curve of enemies needing strategy to defeat, making the boss encounter less of a death fest and making the player actually need a bit of strategy to overcome the non-boss enemies.

Review ~ Donkey Kong Country Returns

Game Name

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Game Platform

Wii

Game Overview

An evil tribe of Tikis has emerged from the volcano atop the island, descending down into the jungles, hypnotizing all of the Kongs’ animal friends, and using them to steal all the bananas on the island. Now Donkey and Diddy set off on an epic adventure to reclaim their banana hoard and defeat the evil tikis before they can wreak more mischief upon the land!

What Did This Game Do That Was Different From Its Predecessors?

Instead of the common tag team mechanic, where players can switch between Donkey or Diddy, using their abilities individually, this game has Diddy ride on Donkey’s back, providing him with enhancements to his existing abilities and some new ones as well. Players can also choose to co-op controlling Donkey and Diddy with separate players at the same time. The game also introduces some natural extensions to existing mechanics, like clingable walls and ceilings to go along with clingable vines.

Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

I love the nostalgia factor of the game. Playing this game is like I’m 11 again, getting my first video game system and popping Donkey Kong Country into the Super Nintendo. It elicits those feeling of pure delight and giddiness, allowing me to play the game without thinking about how it was programmed or what thought went into the level design, which is something I find harder and harder to do these days.

Least Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

In co-op mode, pressing the grab button automatically puts Diddy on Donkey’s back, meaning the second player has to wait until a convenient time to dismount and be able to play again. This gets a bit frustrating when you are trying to do different things and someone needs to pick up a barrel or grab a vine.

How would you change the game to make it better?

Add a Diddy only mode. There are modes where you can play as Donkey and Diddy, and modes where you can play as just Donkey, but there is no easy way to play with just Diddy, short of starting a co-op game and killing off the first player.