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Feedback, controls and level design

In this post I talk about how we try to fix an issue with our controls. Feedback from testers all say that they cant figure it out, even though the player has very few actions.

This blog was originally posted at our website www.touchscreendev.com where we blog about our current game in production, and game design in general.

Hi and thank you for returning for yet another blog post :)

As mentioned in earlier posts we are getting closer to a stage where we want to show the game and have different people test it.
Before we enter this phase, we want to get all the bugs out of the way and correct as many things as we can on our own.
I mentioned in the last post that we had removed all bugs and had begun more focus on level design and the general fun.

I will elaborate on that in this post.

As all the bugs got fixed in the game, it did not take more than one day for new ones to appear, I guess that is how it is :) But fortunately they are small and are not gameplay related, so it is not affecting our testing of the game.

Before adding anything new to the game, we decided to have a few friends try it out. At this point we had one finished level, which we considered not to easy, but okay for a beginner.
When we played through the level our self we could do it fast and at the same time collect everything within. Our biggest worry was that the three people we wanted to try it would find it to easy and therefor to boring.

As you may have guessed, this was not the case.
It turns out that the level was way to hard for a beginner, even though all of our three testers own iPhones and have played games before, they struggled greatly with even the first few jumps.
We sat with them and watched them play and get frustrated, and we got the same response from them all. It was the controls that was causing them the problems.

Even after we told them specifically  that they needed to hold down the jump button in order to make the bigger and higher jumps, they still failed.

So there we were, we clearly had some issues with our controls and a big challenge as to how we should communicate these controls to the player.

We decided to go about it in different ways. A suggestion we got from all three testers was to make the jump button bigger. This was an easy fix and we went ahead and did it right away.

So now hitting the button is no longer a problem, but how do we make the player understand that he/she has to hold the button for bigger jumps.

The first thing we tried was to make the phone vibrate every time the player would touch the  jump button, in order to provide some feedback to the player and make them realise when they had let the button go again.
This failed for more than one reason. First of, on the iPhone it is not possible to control how long the phone vibrates, so you only have vibrate or dont vibrate, and what we needed was "vibrate as long as the button is held". Secondly you jump so often in the game that it actually became annoying that the phone vibrated all the time.

We decided to try a different approach to the problem, we decided that since telling the player what to do was unsuccessful, we needed to make the player realise it for them self.

That meant it was back to the drawing board on the level design. How could we design our levels so they would encourage certain actions without leading to frustration when failing the first few times.

The answer may seem obvious to some, but we needed a few training levels. Not just one tutorial level made up of sign posts or explanatory cutscenes, but we needed some actual training levels, where the player would feel their skill improving.

As of now, I just finished putting together two training levels, which I hope will serve our purpose. They are designed in consistency with our overlaying design goal for the levels, which is, there is always an easy and a hard way to get through.
So when you complete the first level and get to the post game screen, among other things you are told your score and also how many items you collected and if you found the secret item in the level.
Taking the first level again, it should be very easy accomplished to get all the items and the secret item without trouble, there aren't even any super long jumps for the player to bypass.
Moving on to the second level the player can again complete it relatively easy and without making any long jumps. But this time, if the player wants all the items in the level, then he will have to challenge himself to find out how to make these jumps.


There is more to it though. The items to collect are placed at a certain height over pitfalls or at a certain height between platforms. That means, you can bypass these pitfalls and gaps with normal jumps, but if you want the special items, you gotta hold down that jump button.
It is my hope that this will be such an intuitive thing for the player, that they will realise it as they play, without being told.

All this being said, I also believe that there is no harm in telling the player of the possibility of jumping longer with a simple picture before the training starts.
This way it should be even easier for the player to put 2 and 2 together.

This ended up being a rather long post, but it was also a serious issue for our game. I am excited to have a few people (new to the game ofcourse) have a go at the training levels, to see their reaction, before we move any further with the level design.
I will be sure to let you know how it goes in my next post.

Thank you for following our project, any and all comments are welcome below

regards
-Peter

This blog was originally posted at our website www.touchscreendev.com where we blog about our current game in production, and game design in general.

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