"Your main gameplay mechanic is clever, but you're obviously biting more than you can chew here."
When we presented Lune to a visiting game industry professional, his opinion didn't exactly come as a surprise. Lune has been an ambitious project from day one. We often make jokes about aiming for the Moon. It is our biggest challenge, a step forward for every one of us both technically and gameplay-wise.
Along the way we decided to cut a huge part of the game we knew we couldn't deliver for the first prototype, but we kept adding content to the other parts of the level. On the eve of the Alpha public release, we still believe we did what had to be done to deliver a high quality prototype in time.
It wasn't always easy. Not so long ago, when we made our first playable prototype, we had a few playtest sessions. The idea behind a playtest is to have a real player try the game in front of you, so you can study their behavior. In case of Lune, playtesting allowed us to identify a few major usability issues. Players had a hard time understanding the controls. The object-pushing mechanic, specifically, took some players eleven minutes to figure out. We thought they would have needed 11 seconds.
It’s easy, as a game developer, to be in denial about feedback: the player was probably tired; they don’t know how to play a point-n-click; it’s just bad luck, the next one will do better. It’s really important to cross-reference test results and draw conclusions from them. It took us four days to make object-pushing as natural as possible.
We also reinforced the learning phase of the game, adding a real tutorial before the original start sequence and a series of high affordance mouse-handling tips. Learning all controls at the simultaneously just didn't work the way we expected.
The harshest part was still to come. We decided to release Lune as an alpha prototype to indie enthusiasts in order to get feedback on a larger scale. Opinions were undivided: the game was way too slow. Several factors are to blame and came up regularly: the cameras, while praised for their cinematographic positions, were moving too slowly; the character was also quite slow, and walking became painful quite quickly.
Slow pace is part of what Lune is. We wanted the game to be slow and contemplative. That being said, we needed to take in account our players’ feedback. It seems obvious today that we went too far and need to find the middle ground if we want to offer a pleasant experience. As developers, we know exactly where and how to click, finishing the game way faster than any first-timer. When we take our time to play, it’s usually to look for bugs, and we don’t really feel how it actually plays, so focused we are on other things. A large scale public test was exactly what we needed.
Starting today, we are entering the open alpha stage and hoping for more feedback that will help us figure out what can be done better in Lune.