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WayForward: How Real-Time Tweaking Helped A Boy And His Blob

In a new Gamasutra postmortem, A Boy And His Blob Wii remake developer WayForward discusses how real-time testing -- "changing the levels as [a tester] p
A Boy And His Blob remake developer WayForward says a 'real-time testing' methodology, with a level designer "changing the levels as [a tester] played through them", helped tune gameplay for the Wii update. As part of a larger postmortemm WayForward game designer and director Sean Velasco told Gamasutra user testing was one of the ways things went right in the development of the Majesco-published Wii title, which debuted late last year: "It seems obvious, but the more people you observe playing your game, the better it gets, provided you pay attention to their feedback. Every Friday, we brought the whole team together to watch the game being played by someone new. This may seem like a misallocation of valuable resources, but the benefit of having everyone gathered to discuss the goings-on was incalculable. Communication is key, and nothing gets the team talking more than someone playing through your game and getting frustrated." Velasco also emphasized the importance of getting a large range of people to play through the game -- and if the product targets younger players, they absolutely must be included in the focus group. He also talked up the concept of having a real-time play/tweak feedback loop: "In addition to having adults and friends play, we brought in kids from ages seven through 11 to test. They provided the best feedback of all. Watching them get excited or bored helped to shape what we added or cut from the game. After play tests, we asked some questions concerning the gameplay, their favorite transformations, and favorite levels. After every test, we had pages and pages of revision notes, which everyone feverishly began to work on. Near the end of production, we had a TV set up next to a workstation full time. One player played all day, and a level designer had the level tools open right next to him. We changed the levels as we played through them, then rebuilt and did it again, and again, and again. This made the levels, especially the first 10 forest levels, feel perfectly polished and balanced. Unfortunately, we ran short on time to tweak the rest of the levels to this quality bar. We compromised by focusing more on the first 10 levels and the final 10, because those would stick in the player's mind after playing." But there were some caveats, Velasco says. Play tests taught the team that "helper signs" were needed, but that design decision drew criticism: "The much-maligned painted helper signs that are all over the place in the early levels are a direct result of these play tests. Kids wouldn't know what to do early on, so we tossed in signs where they were getting confused. I also have the feeling that many adults wouldn't know what to do without these signs either. Nevertheless, they got slammed in reviews for being too leading. We would certainly have a "remove signs" option for Blob 2!" The full postmortem is now available at Gamasutra.

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