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.

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