Indiecade East Feedback, Programmer Search, and Next Steps

MG_indiecade_east2

Indiecade East Feedback

I just got back from New York City. Manifold Garden was showing at Indiecade East, as part of the Sony PlayStation 4 section.

MG_indiecade_east

I received some really great feedback from this last showing, both in terms of how to refine world 001 and how to set up the pacing for the entire game.

There were two playtest sessions that really stood out to me.

(SPOILER ALERT)

In the first, the playtester had found her way outside in world 001 after solving the initial indoor puzzles. She had lit up one the first laser beam, and had more or less figured out that she needed to get to the other islands and light up the laser beams there.

However, even though she knew where they were, once she got to them, she wasn’t able to orient herself correctly to access the entrance. This was because she wasn’t approaching the island from the center tower, so she would land on the “side” of the island. Because she kept landing on the exit door, which didn’t have a surrounding ledge, there wasn’t a surface for her to orient herself correctly. As such, she kept falling off and getting frustrated.

entrance_exit_room_circled

ManifoldGarden_2016-05-03_20-22-28

This was unnecessary frustration. She had already solved the basics of the outside puzzle, in that she knew what she needed to do. The problem she was facing was an execution one, which is not in line with the goals of the game.

The solution is to simply add a ledge around the exit room. This provides a surface for the player to rotate onto to correctly orient themselves with the entrance room.

ManifoldGarden_2016-05-03_20-33-55ManifoldGarden_2016-05-03_20-34-09ManifoldGarden_2016-05-03_20-35-48

In the second playtest session, I had gone out to lunch, and had come back to see the playtester had made it to about the 4th world (which means he had been playing for about 1 hour). I asked if he had started from the beginning, and he said, yes, and then I asked him what he thought of the game. At this point, he didn’t know I was the developer. The gist of his feedback was: the puzzles were good (he was obviously engaged having played the game for about 1 hour), thought the architecture was cool, but was starting to wonder why he was solving the puzzles. What was the purpose?

He explained that he wasn’t a puzzle game player normally (he had played Portal only), so for a puzzle game to really grab his attention, it needs something more than puzzles.

This was very helpful information for me. While Manifold Garden doesn’t have an explicit narrative with characters or voiceover or text, there is an implied one. There is mystery to be discovered. What this playtest session informed me, is that I need to introduce this mystery within the first hour.

The puzzles and architecture are clearly engaging enough that even a non-puzzle game player will play for an hour. However, at that point, they are starting to wonder why they are spending their time doing this when they could be playing something else. The prospect of more puzzles as a reward is not enough. There needs to be a sense of purpose.

I had the beat where the mystery is introduced, but not until 1.5 or 2 hours in. Now I know I need to move it up and introduce it earlier.

Personnel Change

An update on the situation, since some people have been asking questions.

David Laskey is no longer working on Manifold Garden.

In the end, things just didn’t work out, and I decided to look for a new programmer.

New Programmer Search

The search for the new programmer is going well. It’s been very busy. So far, I’ve gotten about 60 applicants. This was quite surprising to me, as I only posted about the job on twitter for a few times, and didn’t put it on any job boards.

It has been incredibly time consuming going through all the emails and resumes, scheduling interviews, checking references, etc. Last week I got very little done in the way of actual work.

I hope to finalize everything within either this week or next week.

I’ve also learned a tremendous amount about the hiring and job application process. One day I will write a more detailed blog post about.

Moving Forward

This week I’ll be adding in the feedback I received from Indiecade East. I’m now at a point in the development of the game where I need to start thinking about launch. I need to start looking into logistics of releasing the game – setting up infrastructure for beta testing, setting up a steam page, etc.

To be honest, things have been quite difficult without a programmer. My estimate is that I’ve lost about 6 months of work-time (taking time away to do interviews, working with inefficient tools, legal overhead, the new programmer having to catch up on codebase, etc). It’s very possible this will push back my original planned release date, but I just have to make the best out of my situation.

I am still able to work with existing tools to create new levels and test out pacing in the game, so that is what I will be doing in the next few weeks. I’ll be meeting up with the design club here in Chicago soon to go over what I have planned.

This summer is going to be a super busy one, but I’m looking forward to getting into a cycle of iterating and playtesting.

 

 

Programmer Search, PS4 bug, Indiecade East, Twitch

A major part of the last several days has been the search for a programmer to help me finish Manifold Garden. It’s been very exhausting, but also really eye-opening. It has definitely been a learning experience.

Earlier last week, I met up with the Young Horses, the creators of Octodad. They’ve been looking for an environment artist to joined the team, so I talked to them about how they’re going about searching for someone and what their interview process is. It was very informative.

I tweeted about the job post daily for about a week and also sent it to a few mailing lists that I’m on. I got quite a lot of applicants, and it’s actually taking me quite a while to go through all the emails and respond to everyone. (If you sent it in and haven’t heard from me, I will be responding soon.)

Anyway, it’s my first time interviewing people for a position, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount. One day I would like to write a full blog post about this.

PS4 bug where everything is rendered on top of each other

Due to a null reference bug, on the PS4 build, all the renderers for the different levels were getting loaded in simultaneously. It actually made for a really cool looking level. It was unplayable, mostly because you couldn’t tell which things had colliders, but it definitely gave me a lot of ideas for some new levels.

10.0.0.90-20160418-0029 10.0.0.90-20160418-0030 10.0.0.90-20160418-0033 10.0.0.90-20160418-0034 10.0.0.90-20160418-0037 10.0.0.90-20160418-0039

Indiecade East

I’ll be at Indiecade East this weekend. Manifold Garden will be playable at the Sony booth. Need to submit a build to Sony by Wednesday. It’s looking pretty good so far so I’m not too worried.

Twitch Front page of creative

twitch_devstream

Starting last week, Twitch has been featuring my channel on the front page of the creative channel! It’s been really amazing. The concurrent number of viewers went from 20 to over 100! The most I had at once was 150, which was pretty awesome. Also really positive feedback. Lots of people learning about the game and getting excited about the art style.

My stream schedule now is basically every weekday at 3pm CT / 20:00 UTC.

Pacing Across Levels

Starting to spend time thinking about pacing across levels. It’s a very different challenge than pacing within level, especially because everything in the game is seamlessly connected via portals.

I’m still figuring out the proper workflow and what works and what doesn’t. Will aim to keep updates about that process here.

Development Update – Midwest Game Developers Summit

This past weekend, I attended the Midwest Game Developers Summit in Wisconsin. Drove up from Chicago with a couple of other local developers.

I was exhibiting Relativity there, so didn’t get to go to too many of the talks. On a side note, Lemma, another game with a devlog here on TIGForums was there as well, and I got to try it out. Very fun.

The response overall for Relativity was quite positive and I got some very useful feedback. The most important is that I finally figured out how to deal with a problem that had been bothering me for quite some time, specifically, how to guide the player once they’re in the “exterior” area. While this part looked extremely cool, with all the architecture twisting and turning, and staircases in every direction, it was extremely easy to get lost. Some players, usually the ones more experienced with puzzles games and first-person perspective, would be fine, but far too many would get stuck here. This was very evident especially when playtesting during conventions and festivals, because it’s at this point that players would stop and leave.

Before:

relativity_01

After:

relativity_02

Notice that in the first picture, it is much more cluttered: the green box on the right side pushes into the frame, and the tree (w/ the translucent grey leaves) is blocking a good portion of the view. Also notice that there are more things in the center in the upper area. Having things directly above the player in this area was problematic, because some players would fall off, and proceed to land in the area directly above where they fell. Instead of realizing that the world repeats itself, players would think they had landed in a different ‘world’ altogether. By moving the above area off to the side, now when players fall, they’re much more likely to land near where they fell off, thus realizing that the world they’ve landed on is a replica or the same world as the one they fell from.

Here’s a comparison of another area:

Before:

relativity_03

After:relativity_04

DevLog Update – Big Picture, Audio, and Trees

For the last few days, I’ve been working mostly on high-level design stuff such as back story and game progression structure. The game is definitely coming together, and it’s really helpful to see the big picture, but it’s also overwhelming at the same time to see how much there is still to do.

Also met with my friend Kiku Hibino, who will be doing the audio and music for the game. We’ll do a proper intro for Kiku in a few weeks, when I can get him to write something up about himself. Looking forward to using original sounds and music in the game instead of placeholders.

I spent today listening to the Tron: Legacy soundtrack and designing trees. I have 5 different types now, which should be enough for the moment:
Relativity_Game_Screenshot-2013-12-05_18-15-48

Here’s an attempt at a tree-lined street:
Relativity_Game_Screenshot-2013-12-05_18-31-45