Thursday, 28 January 2010

Further Grumbling

It seems like a lot of what I post on here is grumbling about various things. This isn't because I'm a particularly negative person, it's more because I don't post very much, and often what inspires me to do so is being in a bad mood and having something I want to moan about.

- My computer's broken.
- The courier who was supposed to pick it up today for repair didn't show up before the time I'd specified (when I had to leave to catch a train.. to go to a tutorial to which five students turned up, meaning my presence was hardly necessary, given there were three other tutors.. anyway) so I'll have to call them to arrange another time for pickup, which probably won't be until next week. So goodness knows when it'll be fixed.
- Also, I'm feeling a little down about Vertex Dispenser in general, largely because of some feedback from a few people I showed it to recently. I've spent way longer on this game than necessary, trying to make it accessible to people who aren't `maths people'. But maybe that's not possible, maybe it is just a niche game for people weird like me, and inevitably too hard for normal people to bother with.
- The time of year doesn't help. Winter in Britain always gets me a bit depressed. The snow was quite pretty, which made up for the cold, but now that's melted it's just stupid cold and rain and dark all the time when I should be at the beach in the sun.

When my computer's back in action, I'll continue working on the difficulty of the levels. There are two main problems to deal with:
1) I'm really good at my own game, so I'm completely unable to evaluate how hard a given level is. Playtest data is helping here.
2) The game itself has an inherent difficulty that can't be diminished without destroying what makes it (in my opinion) great. While I can make levels easier in fairly continuous ways by giving the player more territory, the enemy less territory, making the AI react more slowly, etc., the difficulty of the vertex-colouring 'puzzle' is fixed, and that's something players are just going to have to deal with. So I'm trying to help players deal with it, to explain things more clearly and provide explicit tutorials, but even with that it still has to be up to them to use it in the game, and that's going to be quite hard for most people. This isn't strictly a bad thing, I think it's a satisfying experience for those willing to put in the effort (which is also why I've tried to arrange things so that there's a possibility of working things out for yourself before getting to the tutorial; this is most satisfying).

I'm really feeling like this game just needs to be finished, it's been going on for far too long. It'll be worth it when I release it and some people love it.. I'm not 100% looking forward to that though, because there will inevitably be negative comments - from people who don't get it or didn't like it or think any price whatsoever is too much for an indie game (a topic of much discussion in comment threads for the reasonably priced games VVVVVV and Solium Infernum recently, and earlier Braid; no doubt others as well that I have not been following).. also there'll no doubt be some bugs left in that I'll need frantically to fix. I have other games I want to make, but I'm refusing to get into another big project before this one's finished (and tiny 3-hour toys don't satisfy me the same). But it's just not quite done yet - there are bugs to fix and I can definitely improve on the campaign difficulty - so I'll just have to keep slogging away at it once I get my computer fixed (I'll feel much better about it then too, because I'll play some Vertex Dispenser and remember that it really is worth the effort).

Monday, 11 January 2010

Water + Computer

So yesterday morning my wife spills a glass of water over my computer (a laptop). Turned it off immediately, wiped away the water, left it to dry. Today it turns on fine, so presumably nothing internal is destroyed, but keyboard doesn't work. Not much use to me if I can't give it any input.

It was not the best time for this. I'd just been making some really good progress on Vertex Dispenser, and motivation for that was high. I also had a report half-written that I need to get done, which now I can't access. And Tigjam is this weekend; service is usually pretty fast here, but I don't know if I'll have it back by then or not.

Not in a very good mood now.

Edit: I picked up a USB keyboard, it's working fine with that at the moment, so I'm getting stuff done.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

IGF Feedback

The IGF results are out (as of a few days ago); Vertex Dispenser didn't make it. But the feedback from the judges was for the most part quite positive and also useful. Here it is:

Vertex Dispenser scored best in: Game Design
And scored worst in: Audio
This is a fun little strategy action puzzler. I actually agree with the designer's comment about the color puzzle1. I enjoy the main campaign, and the active strategy required to battle, but really found the color puzzles quite enjoyable and relaxing to play.
This happens to have been the first game I judged, and it almost prevented me from judging anything else. It is such a refreshing, unique game experience, and addicting in the best possible way.

My only criticism is that the difficulty curve is too punishing. Playing with the AI on Easy should be an experience where I might only have to replay a level once in order to finish it. And then only in rare cases, it should mostly be a cakewalk on Easy! I find myself replaying up to ten times on some levels to beat them. It's fine to ship a game that is punishingly hard, but if you're offering an "Easy" difficulty level it really ought to be easy.

Maybe instead of just changing the difficulty on the AI there should be an option to have, for example, faster recharge on powers or something.2

But yes, you've done a brilliant job on this game and I've given it a 100 in Overall Experience because it is a solid, innovative game that I would be incredibly happy to see win the Grand Prize.
While I did find this game interesting to play, I did find it too difficult to advance past the first few levels to enjoy. This almost seems like a computer science teaching tutorial more than a game.3
A very unique and clever action-strategy-puzzle game! My only major "complaint" is that it's incredibly niche. You really need a very particular set of skills/tastes to enjoy this properly.

This also isn't helped by having virtually no tutorial for how the color stuff works. This is by far the hardest part of the game to wrap your head around, and a slow introduction would have been nice. It looks like you're aware of this issue since you give some tips in the submission notes, but the game itself really needs to provide some additional help for players.

Zooming around on the surface of a sphere is fun.

But I found the gameplay very obtuse and kind of cold. I really wish the confrontation with the other player was clearer -- generally I rarely saw them and it felt like we were each playing separate games4.

Capturing specific types of nodes to aquire power boosts is interesting, but the color-to-power mapping was arbitrary and confusing5. I would have preferred to have icons6, and a more expressive UI in general.

The battlefield felt very large and empty. I never really got the hang of combat -- I felt like I probably should have been using the powerups, but combat just went by in a blur and dying didn't seem to have much of a cost, so I just muddled my way through it.
Amazing premise for a game and clever design. While the graphics are a bit rough7 the gameplay more than makes up for it.

This is one of the few IGF games I've judged that I plan to carry around with me to play for quite a bit longer.

1 This comment was "Some people like this more than the game proper."
2 I implemented this as soon as I read it.
3 I'm fairly certain that this is meant as a positive comment.
4 This made me smile, because it's a complaint I see made a lot about Race for the Galaxy (a card game I play quite a bit of); people throw around phrases like "multiplayer solitaire".. and it's really not true, there's a lot of player interaction, it's just subtle and parasitic rather than directly confrontational (although, a double-develop when your hand is empty does like a punch in the face), and it takes a bit of play to get to see how your actions affect the other players. But that's not the problem in Vertex Dispenser, which is very confrontational, I think he just hadn't gotten very far in. Probably I need to make it clearer that the first few levels are all fairly 'tutorial' in nature and the reason there's not much confrontation is that I'm holding back to ease you into it (not very well though, see earlier comments about difficulty - the first three levels were possibly even too easy, then the fourth was seriously tripping people up and taking multiple attempts).
5 He's right that the mapping of colours to powers is fairly arbitrary (not completely though - obviously I've tried to arrange them in order of power), but I'm not sure how it could be anything else without going all 'Magic: The Gathering' on it and assigning philosophies to the different colours, giving it a setting and theme, etc.
6 Someone else suggested this to me recently.. I found it interesting that this judge who is largely negative and not really getting it said the same thing as someone who's quite positive about the game. I think some kind of minor UI improvement is in order.
7 I was surprised by this comment, because I'd thought things were looking quite pretty. Sure, it doesn't have textures or shaders or whatever the latest thing is, but.. I don't know, I'm not going to worry about this anyway.

Anyway, the main things I've learnt from this were that the difficulty is too high in parts, and that the tutorial I have for colouring is completely inadequate - most people aren't used to reading statements like "when you capture a vertex, it is given the lowest colour not on any adjacent vertex", and so they don't immediately grasp what they mean and what their implications are.. I need to walk people through it more; do more showing and less telling.

So yeah, while I'm certainly disappointed that I didn't get in, I can see how my game could have been better explained and thus sold itself to some of the judges better. And I've been really encouraged by the positive comments that most of them gave, it's given me motivation to hurry up and get this game finished.