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Travelling About

“It's a dangerous business...going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” 
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Lord of the Rings

Okay, so the above quote doesn't really have much to do with the ocean, but it is applicable nonetheless.  Sail out of the harbour, and who knows what you will find lurking within the depths of the sea, or beyond the reach of the horizon.  A current less traveled by, and you may find yourself staring down the throat of the kraken, or with the Scourge's swords at your throat.

Travel mechanics within video games serve a number of purposes from satisfying the player's need for exploration to providing a chance for random encounters with enemies. So what exactly is travel?  Simply put, travel is getting from point A to point B.  Take a closer look at it,  however, and it is not merely A to B, but also how the player does this.  Is it by boat?  Are they walking? Is there a car?

The next factor involved is distance, and by proxy, time. How far away is the objective, and how does the player get there?  Is there a risk in deviating from the quickest route, is there reward?  In games like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Final Fantasy, the mechanics allow the player to pick a destination or point of interest and follow their map to the objective.  These two games may seem similar when it comes to travelling, but there is a very big distinction between the two. 

Open world or linear?

Above we see a screenshot of Final Fantasy X, courtesy of Google Images.  While the game itself may seem like an open world game, the story for Final Fantasy X, and its priors, is in fact very linear.  In the game the player must get to point B, and they have very little choice in terms of plot progression, thus making it a linear experience without room for real exploration. 

Take Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, and you are given an entirely open world experience, where the player can choose their destiny, so to speak.  If they wish to deviate from the main story line, they are more than welcome to do so, and they can return to it when they have satisfied their need for exploration. 

Sailing the Waters

When it comes to travel in Iron Tides, we put a lot of thought into checkpoints, points of interest, and a randomly generated map to provide chance encounters. We have also paid close attention to starting points and different hurdles the player has to conquer.  Travel within the tides is not necessarily linear, because of the randomly generated world feature. The player is not following any set guidelines and is instead left to their whims, however there is strong incentive for the player to follow the game in a linear manner.  This brings together the two mechanics - linear and open world - into a single game.  

We are still working on our travel feature, testing the waters if you will, and so we cannot clearly define travel within our game. We look forward to working hard on this feature, and will have more to say about it in our next post!  Stay tuned! 

FOR GLORY!

Play Testing The Seas.

You know that saying, "two sides of the same coin"? No, not Harvey Dent, get your mind out of the Batman gutter.  This metaphor can be applied to a variety of things, including play testing.

Heads (or tails)

When a user makes the choice to test a game, they have made a commitment to analyze it to its fullest, and identify flaws, strengths, bugs, and many other components that will help the developer improve their game.  It is a chance for the individual to give constructive criticism for the developers so that they can change aspects of their game to suit the market.  In short, the tester is saying "this game is no good because of reasons A, B, and C.  To improve it, I would like to see 1, 2, and 3."  Is there a proper way to format a critique?  Yes.  Yes there is.  Outlined on the website "personalbrandingblog.com," the steps listed below can help someone form a critique to properly aid a developer. 

  1. Credibility-building introduction. Who are you and why does your opinion matter?  Why should you be taken seriously?
  2. Compliment. Find something you really enjoyed about the game and be sure to compliment them for it, emphasize the strength.
  3. Criticism. What needs improvement?  What is your opinion?  Are their facts to back up your claims? Do not judge the person, only the product. 
  4. Suggested improvement. Offer a solution that the developer can implement. 
  5. Follow up. eep in touch.  If your criticism has benefited the developer, they may want your feedback in the future. 

Critiquing something is not rocket science, and will aid a developer tremendously.  The next step in play testing a game is knowing what to look for.  An example of this is controls.  The player may ask themselves the questions: what do the controls feel like?  Are the controls intuitive?  Having controls is one thing, having them work in a manner that flows with the game and gives the player an interactive, immersive experience is another.  In being able to analyze things like controls, the player may provide feedback that will give the developer a chance to redesign the user interface and make the game more fun to play. 

That's one side of the coin. 

The Flip Side

On the other side, there are the developers.  

When the developer watches someone play their game, they are doing so from a position of experience and complete familiarity with their product (they have spent all that time with it, after all).  For a developer it may be hard to step back from that position of complete knowledge of their game, and allow the play tester to approach the game from a completely fresh perspective. As such, the developer must not interfere with the gamer.  They must sit back and let the fresh meat figure it out for themselves.  By doing this, they gain valuable insight into the strengths of their game, and where they game falls sort.  For example, if a player is unable to figure out how to move a character, then it is something that obviously needs improvement, and perhaps the developer did not recognize that before, having been so familiarized with their own product already. 

As developers, we want our players to get to the end of the game.  If there are problems on the way, we need to know about it so we can update it, improve it, make it glorious.  This is why developers have players test their game, so that we can optimize it to the user experience and provide a gamer with a fun, interactive world that they want to keep stepping into. 

How does a developer go about finding play testers?  For us, on a bi-monthly basis, we take the time to focus on play testing by pin-pointing local events, and setting up a visible demo at places hosted by meet-ups like Full Indie. By doing this on a regular basis, we give ourselves an opportunity to directly meet new players, and we have a chance to interact with fans and developers within our direct community.