Saturday, May 23, 2015

On Feedback

Above: some rejected idea for showing the player's inventory in a pop-up menu.

I’ve slowly and too-carefully been showing Noodles to a handful of people, which probably I should have done way sooner, to test out the mechanics/interaction on an audience; I wanted so much more to show and more to explore! So the past weeks I’ve been so focussed on making content and re- re-writing hideous-looking old code, that I lost sight of one crucial element: how to convey to the player what their options are. Oops.

Two things that need an overhaul: the display system of the items the player has picked up, and the moment(s) where the player is told they can use typed commands to do certain crucial actions.

Somewhere along the line of developing Noodles I began to steer to a more menu-free game, as I wanted to make the whole experience locked within an uninterrupted game world. Having menus, hovering boxes, etc didn’t really work with the idea I wanted of trying to keep things physical and close to the player’s avatar.

Up to two months ago there was a computer/web browser in the game that contained diary entries of sorts, where the player could read back on the items that had been collected and where some hints/tips were written into. But I wanted less text! It felt too much like a grocery list, which ironically I didn’t want, in spite of the game’s main goal being about collecting ingredients to make noodles. I wanted to go for a more organic game flow with room for discovery and figuring things out, rather than organized and systematically listing objectives for the player to complete and tick off. So the diary/browser/computer/terminal went out and I used the dream states to place hints for the player to figure out.

Now, the inventory is visible in the dream state of the House level, where ghost-like versions of the ingredients hover over the stove. The idea is that every time you pick up an ingredient, their ghost form turns into a solid one, indicating you now have this item. But then, because players don’t know what goes into the noodle soup, they can barely grasp what these objects even mean. The soy sauce flask was mistaken for gasoline, the jar of chicken stock was often mistaken for a lampion, and my carefully low-poly modeled pieces of vegetable was seen as a weird football. Not to mention, it was hard enough for players to even figure out they had to use typed words in order to access the dream states of the levels. So, back to the drawing board then!

The new inventory display turned out to be quite easy to implement and works even better with some of the other game elements than the previous versions. To access it the player can sit at the table in the House, which will transport him/her to a portrait of sorts, with the picked up items laid out on the table, and the avatar holding whatever tools they’ve picked up. The giant head, that has been giving hints from the dream worlds, now basically lists your inventory, but it feels less of a break from the game world, compared to menus.

Also, it reinforces the concept of the giant head as a keeper of knowledge, so I’m going to use a similar system to tell the player, more directly, that typed commands are part of the game play. Because that was actually a more pressing issue; most players didn’t follow through on the cryptic hints I had put in the game and thus didn’t understand there was so much more to explore and to work with.

Above: cryptic hints and more cryptic hints! Might have been pushing it. Darling killed.

Above: sketches for new & better information points.

With Noodles I want to work with dream realms that somehow reflect the player’s current environment so (hopefully!) with the new system in place this will become much easier to understand, without spelling it out too much.
Thankfully, actually making noodles isn't this involved!

Above: People on the street can be so rude! The dream state of this level shows which ones are in a bad mood and are best avoided.


Sal said...

I'd be happy to give you some feedback. I came across your work today while looking for inspiration for my own game's visual design. Thrilled to see that you're into game development!

Erwin said...

@Sal: hi, thanx for the offer! Srry for the extremely late reply. You can see how often I keep an eye on this blog :/
For the moment I've finished a first version of Noodles and am talking with a musician for some audiotracks. Once that's finished I'll post a version and see where it goes from there.
Hope your game is going well!

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