Update on IndieCade and play-testing

I wanted to share my experience with IndieCade. This was my first time to submit a game so my expectations were very low. In addition, the build that I submitted was barely a demo. It was submitted just a month after I started on the game. I knew what I was submitting was not going to blow anyone away but I did think it captured the overall mood and concept of the game. To me it was worth it to submit for the feedback IndieCade provides and just to get my first big submission done so I didn’t have to stress about it.

I received my 3 jury responses last week, 2 positive, 1 negative. I’d share them in full but all 3 contain massive spoilers for the game. Overall, the thoughts of the 3 judges can be summed up as: “It’s an interesting setup but doesn’t seem to pay off.” The one negative review was a bit harsher.

It was hard to read that kind of feedback but I realized I agreed with almost every bit of it. What I decided to submit was not a full game, it was essentially the setup of the game and didn’t go anywhere. I knew that because I hadn’t created the rest of the game yet. Some of the ideas in it were a bit cliche and have already been changed. But the negative review still stuck with me. I got a bit demotivated.

So I did two things. First, I decided to actually go back and play my submission build and: Wow. 0_o I found that I had completely forgotten what was (and wasn’t) included in that build. It was not a great build. It was an OK demo but by no means great. When I compare it to what I have now it’s an amazing difference.

Second, I reminded myself why I submitted in the first place: To get feedback on the concept and get my first big submission done. I accomplished both. The feedback lined up perfectly with what I originally expected and my first submission is done. No more jitters about that.

As I’m getting close to wrapping the game up, I know I don’t have a perfect game. I could spend years working on it and it still won’t be a perfect game, it never would be. But no one else makes perfect games either. And the amount of progress I’ve made since I started is crazy and I’m glad I was reminded of that.

In addition to my feedback from IndieCade, I’ve also been doing some more play-testing the past week. Play-testing has become my go to example of a double-edged sword…I get some really great feedback but I also have to decide what feedback I should ignore. I’ve definitely gotten some really great ideas from people, things that I never would have thought of myself. But I have to remember what type of game I’m trying to make. It’s based around exploration, discovery, and mystery. You have to dig for a lot of the content. It’s a particular type of game for a specific player. This means that I have to completely ignore some suggestions to “help the player”.

One of my play-testers skipped almost half of the game’s content because he wasn’t forced to look at it. When he finished he was confused about what happened and why. He thought that was a negative but that’s exactly what I’m going for. Not only is the narrative of the game meant to be a little confusing, this is also a game where the more you put into it, the more you get out. He wanted actual flashing signs to tell him to look at something. That ruins the mystery that I’m trying to create. If I tell the player “Hey! Look over here!” it has way less impact than if you’re digging in “corners” and discover something yourself.

However, his feedback was still beneficial. He made me think about how to give the player a tiny bit more of a nudge in the right direction without ruining the mystery and actually improving the overall experience. I make that sound like it was easy. It was not. It took days of thinking about how he was playing, what type of player he is, and comparing all of that to what kind of a game I really want to make. It’s really tough, especially knowing that how much information I give players will directly impact how many people like the game.

However, I’ve also gotten to the point of accepting that some people aren’t going to like my game. Just look at the reviews of any “walking simulator” or narrative driven game that’s light on gameplay. Some people just hate these types of games and that’s perfectly fine. More and more I’m keeping that in mind. Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue to do so when I read my first negative review.

It’s definitely a bit of a roller coaster working on this game but it’s getting easier. And don’t take any of this as a complaint, I wouldn’t trade doing this for anything right now.