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The Simplest Design Problem

November 25, 2012

So the bug that was stopping me finishing Atomic Test Pilot got fixed (hurrah!) but now there is another one…but hopefully everything to submit will be ready very soon.

if you know nothing about this game, go back and check out the dev blog and see how this “game in 2 days” project ballooned out to one week (well probably over two at this point):

I plan to launch the game to little fanfare at $1…then after a couple of weeks drop it to free where it will stay forever. So – if I was you I wouldn’t buy it, just wait a bit! It’s a marketing test to see how price drops affect downloads over releasing for free in the first place.

Over the last few days whenever I have found a spare minute I have been tidying the game up for release, doing stuff like getting screen shots writing the description…but most importantly trying to make it clearer for people to play. Pretty much everyone who tried it found the complete lack of clues confusing to the point that they couldn’t figure out what was going on. Hopefully I have (mostly) fixed it now!

What did I do wrong? Well I kind of knew I wasn’t following the right design rules, but was just being a bit lazy. I was trying to take the approach that the game is so simple that people couldn’t possibly fail to figure it out for themselves. If we go back to Canabalt, if you don’t tap you die…if you do tap, but at the wrong time you die…it’s pretty easy to figure the game out.

With my game, you tap the screen, and the bomb blows up…you don’t tap and…ahh, well here begin the problems, if you don’t tap for long enough the bomb also blows up (confusing feedback for a self-discovery game mechanic). The other issue is that even though the game is telling the user that they are doing the wrong thing, the game carries on. People can miss this. When doing the wrong thing players are instantly aware something isn’t right, but what that is eludes them. So in Canabalt you make a mistake and the game stops. In mine, it just carries on for another 30 seconds allowing you to mess up over and over again. This lack of binary feedback makes the game‘s simple mechanic more confusing to figure out…so to fix it I had to add some more stuff here and there (too early / too late text, bigger markers, colour hints, and even a very short tutorial type thing at the start). Is it solved? Well about 80% solved I still think some people won’t understand. I think I could fix it by making the game more binary and showing a demo of what you should have done after you do it wrong, however for a free game I think I will just leave it as it is and get on to the next thing…it is hardly the most revolutionary game I have made and I haven’t released anything in what feels like forever.
Here are the iTunese images….As you can guess, with any new game coming out, I try to accompany it with a slew of update to my other titles….seeing as I hope to submit 2 games this side of Xmas, I have also started poking around in some other titles…more on that next time.

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