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Matthew Burns, Blogger

January 11, 2010

4 Min Read

 [This entry was crossposted from the Shadegrown Games blog.]

 

The Independent Games Festival 2010 finalists have been chosen, and although Planck v.0 was not selected (this year, at least), the IGF was overall a positive experience for us. The hard entry deadline forced us to get our demonstration level to as much of a polished place as we could (in case you missed this cautionary tale about a nightmare world without deadlines, it is recommended reading) and the feedback we got helped both to convince us we are on the right track and to gauge how much further we have yet to go.

 

Generally, the judges agreed that the concept of Planck– combining original music with two-dimensional shooter gameplay at a granular level– was an exciting one. In particular, Judge D (since the judges are kept anonymous throughout the process, I have dubbed our six evaluators A through F) felt that the basic concept was “brilliant,” while Judge B “love[d] the idea of the game” even though the experience we were able to provide did not come together for this evaluator in the end. 


We went into the festival knowing that being able to tell what is actually happening was one of Planck v.0’s biggest weaknesses, and this was by far the most prominent issue the judges had. Judge B found that the “correspondence between aliens and sounds is difficult to make sense of,” and Judge A found it “hard to understand whether (for instance) exploding enemies caused any audio or if it was just the shooting.”


Because we were not able to explain well enough how the game actually works through its own gameplay, we included a voluminous amount of supporting documentation with the submission; however, this was not enough and the lack of clarity on the game’s mechanics often led to a sense of not having much control over the music– Judge F felt “it lacked a level of interactivity. I didn’t get the feeling of having an influence on the music other than shoot or not shoot, music on and off.”


This issue speaks to a widespread design challenge: the balance between offering players lots of control and taking away certain choices in order to keep their experience high-quality at all times. This comes up in games of all genres (for example, if we let the player wander anywhere, he or she might decide to walk across a vast desert and get bored or lost).


In Planck, one of our earliest design decisions was that we would never make unwelcome or dissonant sounds if players messed up or lacked skill in the game; we did not want to go down the negative reinforcement route but instead push the idea of a musical experience anyone could enjoy but that skilled players could take in a further direction. However, this also limits our feedback mechanism: our audio feedback on how well the player is doing is based solely on the complexity of the music and the individual samples and elements being triggered at any given time. Unless players knew beforehand what elements are associated with what enemies, the distinction can be hard to make.


Judge C summed up the game’s promise versus its currently unintuitive mechanics succinctly by saying that “Planck is both confusing at first and fascinating,” a sentiment that we hope bodes well for the game once we are able to demystify and build upon its mechanics in its future iterations.


Finally, because we submitted only a single level with a bare-bones user interface (basically just a single button that started the level Mental Breakdown), some of the judges felt the game was just too far from being a finished product to really give it a full evaluation. Judge A observed that our submission “feels much more like a tech demo than an actual game” and that “as a game I see this in very early stages of development.” At the same time, Judge A also encouraged us by saying that “with further work and something more concrete this could turn out as something cool,” and Judge B said simply “I’m looking forward to seeing the finished result!” So are we!


There is more to the feedback than I have excerpted here as well, including helpful comments on control intuitiveness, art style, and the music, so I want to thank the judges for taking the time to play Planck v.0 and writing up their notes.

 

In the meantime, the Planck dev team’s next big task is to unlock the potential we hinted at in Version Zero. In order to do that, we’ve already begun rebuilding the game anew with a better technology base– and with luck, we’ll have something we can share with everyone– not just IGF judges– soon.

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