GDX: What I Learned From Playtesting

GDX has come and gone. It was a stressful week leading up to it, but the trip and the event were fantastic and very humbling. I wasn’t able to finish all I wanted for the demo and had to make fairly drastic cuts as the event dawned, but what I was able to show was fairly focused, and the feedback I gained from observing and talking to people was absolutely essential.

From watching people play, I learned a lot of little things I need to improve. The spinners that are grabbed and moved with both hands don’t read or feel intuitive. Most people couldn’t figure out the puzzle boards could be moved up to reveal more than one question they needed to answer. Some players couldn’t see the reference boards in the schools to figure out the puzzle, at least in the first school. The world still feels too big at times and makes for a lot of walking downtime, even though it was reduced to 1/3 of the size it was before. Several bugs popped up during play, but I fortunately had backup hotkeys that reset certain parameters so the player could continue unaffected. There’s a notepad full of these little things I recorded while the demo was going on, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

Along with what didn’t work, I also learned what did work. Players seem to like using the character’s hands to interact with objects. Some people even used their hands expressively while they walked to make it appear that their character was jogging or punching a statue, which was amusing to see. Buttons come across as intuitive, and all players knew how to use pull switches even though it wasn’t taught to them. Most players also picked up what the gauntlet on their hand represents when they reach the later stage of the game, and that felt really good to know.

However, there’s one piece of feedback that stood out from the rest, and it came from another developer who was awesome enough to play the game all the way through. He said he wasn’t sure whether the game was meant to be an art game or for kids, and that a large part of this feeling were the educational puzzles in the school building which were very math focused and stood in stark contrast to the oppressive theme later on in the game. In summary, there is an inconsistent tone. It was a bit of a shock to here this, but in a really good way as it opened my eyes. And looking at the game now, he couldn’t have been more right. So one thing I really need to focus on is making the tone more consistent, and I plan on making that oppressive tone more apparent in the early game stage which then will lead up to a shock moment once the player enters the city area. I’m so fortunate and humbled that the developer was able to see this and report it to me despite being quite busy himself. I definitely want to emulate him and pay it forward in the future.

So, with the event being an emotional rollercoster of sorts, I came away with renewed spirit for my game. I have a lot of things to fix, refine, and hone, but I’m excited. Very very excited.

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