Play-Testing

Play testing is a very important aspect of game development. Especially when you’re just 2 people making games, it’s incredibly easy to get so far into it that you unintentionally assume players are going to understand everything and feel engaged.

When should you play test?

A. After the game is 99%

B. Game Tutorials / On-boarding are implemented

C. After you’ve hit beta

D. After you’ve hit alpha

E. After you’ve implemented basic mechanics

F. ALL OF THE ABOVE

The answer is F. ALL OF THE ABOVE

You should basically be doing play testing from beginning to end. We’re being hypocritical though because that’s not what we did…. We ended up doing it when the game was about 90% done… We don’t advise you do that though.

You should be play testing to understand if

  • The game is engaging/fun
  • Players understand tutorials/on-boarding flow
  • Players understand how to play and what they’re supposed to do
  • Players are getting confused while playing
  • Players are playing in a way you didn’t expect
  • Players have feedback that can add a lot more to the game

The list goes on, but those are some basic things you should be finding out during your play tests.

 

Feedback

After doing a play test you should be getting as much feedback from the player as possible. Get them to fill out a survey , allow them to talk to you about their play test session.

Something that is also very valuable is watching players test the game. There’s a lot of feedback you can observe just by watching them, such as seeing how long it takes them to figure things out, where their attention is, if they struggle at all, if they do things you didn’t expect (this happens A LOT). Players might not write down or tell you everything after their play test even though some issues were obtusely noticeable from your point of view.

Something that also needs to be thought about is who is giving you the feedback. Are they a friend or family member? Are they incredibly biased and going to give you nothing but positive feedback? There’s usually a filter you should to put your feedback through. Some play testers might not actually enjoy your game genre at all. Is it one of the goals of the game to make players who usually dislike the genre, to enjoy it? Is the play tester a casual player or a hardcore gamer? Think about the value and effort of each feedback point. If someone gives you feedback that they hate the art style, is it worth re-doing the entire games art style? These are things that are better to figure out earlier than later as well.

 

After Our First Play Test Session

Our first play test session was about 1 hour of the player playing the game, and then another hour afterwards talking about their experience and their feedback. We came away with ~80 tasks between to two of us of things we need to polish/fix/add to Batter Up! It’s incredibly important to prioritize all of the feedback as some feedback is going to have a much bigger impact on the overall experience than others. While some of the feedback might be a lot more work than it’s worth.

We’ve already fixed and implemented the majority of the feedback from that play test session and the game definitely feels A LOT better now. It was actually really cool to see someone enjoying the game before we’re actually done. It felt a little validating of all of our hard work that we’ve put into Batter Up over the past 6 months (holy crap 6 months already!!!) We’re really excited to continue play testing and improving the last couple of things before we finally bring Batter Up to all of you!

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Designing for everyone

When making games people often forget there’s a ton of different languages that you should support (EFIGS – English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish used to be the norm, but it’s expanded much larger than that nowadays) The more languages you support, the larger the audience is that can experience your game. We don’t have a localization team so we have to do our best with using clear and easy to understand iconography to compensate.

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Main Menu basic implementation

Using the main menu above would mean that anyone that doesn’t speak English can’t even get into gameplay without trying every option, and probably accidentally exiting the game… To remedy this we added simple icons to guide the player to at least know which one that play button is.

IconsMainMenu

Now any player can easily understand which one is the play button. Everything looks pretty plain though… So we ended up adding some colour to it as well. Colour can also be used as a tool to help clarify designs.

ColourMainMenu

This simple concept should be applied to as much as possible to ensure as many players as possible can enjoy baking cakes in VR!

Tutorials

Tutorials in games are very difficult to get just right. You want to be able to teach the player without them getting confused, overwhelmed, or impatient. All the while making sure they completely understand everything so they don’t feel confused later on when certain game mechanics appear.

Everyone has their own preference for tutorials though. For example, in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild the game doesn’t do much tutorial hand holding at all. You are basically shown as a player that you’re completely free to figure out everything on your own. For some people this is the most amazing first time tutorial flow. For others it could be very confusing and frustrating as they need more guidance.

One thing that we both feel is that tutorials that hold your hand and force you to go through this long tutorial flow are especially painful…You know exactly what games we’re talking about…

We have quite a number of things to teach the player (though we’re sure if players skipped all the tutorial screens they would be able to figure out everything on their own). We have all the different tools to teach the player (3 different ovens, dispensers, frosting tools, and topping tools) as well as how to complete a customers cake order, and last but not least how to make money and what the point of it is.

We could have had a giant “how to use” screen with EVERYTHING on it, but that would take up the players entire vision as well as be incredibly overwhelming.. We could have pop ups that appear every time the player hits a point that we haven’t taught them yet.. But that sounds annoying and could interrupt the flow of gameplay..

We also need to take into consideration, what if the player is playing with friends and they’re taking turns in between rounds? How would that player know how to play and use the current tools if they haven’t been taught anything previous?

Our Solution

We came up with a solution that we think does a good job of covering all of the questions above. The order board slides towards the player (for readability sake) and displays diagrams and descriptions according to the following parameters.

  • We must figure out which tools / equipment the player is using and only show that specific tools instructions. (For example, if you’re using a level 2 upgraded dispenser, only that tutorial info will appear for that tool)
  • If the player hasn’t unlocked a frosting or topping tool yet, tell them what those tools are.
  • At the beginning of the game, the player won’t have a frosting or topping tool, so explain how to complete a cake order, as well as explain what money is and can be used for.

TutorialLevel1

The order board shows them all this information after 1 of 2 things.

  • The player has selected their save file and is going into game, the order board will then appear with the tutorial information before starting gameplay.
  • The player has completed a day of baking, the player has chosen which items they would like to upgrade (perhaps a new tool which would need some “how to use” information). Then before the next day begins, the order board will have all the appropriate tutorial text on it.

TutorialLevel3

One of the most important things to note here is that Continue button at the bottom. This button is here as soon as the tutorial screen pops up. That means that if you’ve already seen how to use all the tools then you don’t have to wait, you can just grab the continue button and get into game right away.

Customers

In Batter Up, the object of the game is to bake cakes for your customers as fast as you can so you can earn more money and tips in order to upgrade your bakery and the tools that you use.

The bakery resides in a town full of donut people. They’re a nice people, calm, sweet, and hungry for cake. Some might see this as cannibalism, maybe it is, or maybe it’s just a nasty sweet tooth. Either way, they’re paying you to bake them cakes, so cakes we shall bake.

CustomerWalksIn.gif
So, this customer walks in and is like “HEY, MY SWEET TOOTH IS KILLIN’ ME RIGHT NOW, I NEED A CAKE STAT!”

If you take a long time to bake the customers cake, the order board begins to fill up. While the customer is waiting, the tip (the stack of cash on the orderboard) begins slowly decreasing. After the customer has waited for too long, the tip eventually dissapears and the price of the cake begins to slowly decrease.

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Customers patiently waiting for their cakes

Be sure you make as many cakes as fast as possible so you’re able to maximize your profits and buy upgrades to tools or buy some decorations for your bakery. Buying tool upgrades allows you to bake cakes faster, while buying decorations will increase the uniqueness of the cakes customers order. The more unique they are, the more the customer is willing to pay for it.

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Chocolate fountain decoration on the left | donut machine decoration on the right

 

Some bugs along the way…

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whatisthisidonteven
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Donut Swagger

Small changes, big rewards

The thing about game development is there’s a MASSIVE ton of work even for something small.

For example, imagine the player opening a door. The amount of work involved could be

  • Concept art for the door
  • 3D modeling the door
  • Unwrapping/Texturing the door
  • Animating the door to open/close
  • Importing the door into the game and ensureing it fits and is scaled correctly
  • Programming functionality for the player to be able to grab the door handle
  • Programming functionality for the player to be able to move the door back and forth realistically
  • Audio for when the door knob turns
  • Audio for when the door opens
  • Audio for when the door closes
  • Particle effects to be created and played once the player has successfully opened the door

That’s just for a door… We have a whole game to create in VR.. We need to find as many optimal ways possible to make the game better.

Small changes, big rewards

Sometimes you’re able to find things that with just one small change, it makes a huge difference. For example, we’re using the Unity Standard Asset Toon Shader. Initially we were just using the default UtilToonGradient (which is just a gradient on the toon shaded object that goes from white to black) It didn’t look bad, but it wasn’t quite right, everything was a little too dark. After completing what was set out for the day, I had a few moments to work on whatever I wanted. So quickly taking 3 seconds and making a new gradient that just went from white to light grey made a huge difference to the game visuals.

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Left side is what it is currently – Right side is what it was initially

 

Even something as small as adding a simple particle effect to something suddenly brings so much more life to the game. Once you get enough of these little changes into the game, everything starts to really come together and that polish you’re expecting slowly gets closer and closer with not as much effort as everything else.

Below is an example where we were initially just showing a stack of money disappearing when the tip amount goes down.

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Tip reduction, no particle effect

But I had already made a “make it rain” particle effect that took 30 seconds to modify in order to create a particle effect that makes sense being played when the tip amount goes down

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Tip reduction + particle effect