First off, I've got a pre-release of VtV 1.1.5 ready, and if some of you lucky readers could just give it a test run and let me know if it works, that would be luscious! Forum post is here:
My friend Kevin came to stay for awhile and while he was here I held his bicycle hostage and made him play Texas. Here's what happened:
- There were some simple bugs that I fixed; I hadn't played the very first part of the game through for awhile. Blah blah boring blah.
- The first, "tutorial" area, in spite of all the bugs that popped up, went swimmingly. This is victory with a capital V for my special GraphViz-based game design technique.
- The user interface also went swimmingly. There were a few bugs, and a few "false starts" (he tried to click the player picture to remove the pants instead of the draggable icon, but I can't fix that too easily... I might though). The worst had to do with walking. Awhile ago, to make the game work with only one mouse button (because It's twice as simple as with two mice bittins) I changed the walk interface slightly from "click" to "click drag". I need to make it work with "click" again, because even after an hour or so he still kept running into that one.
There is too much dialogue in the game. Kevin kept getting confused and didn't pick up on hardly any of the given clues. I had to give him hints to get to the end.
This isn't a big problem, but it was majorly useful feedback to get at this point, when I'm just about to rewrite all the in-game dialog. The problem is that in an effort to create some "backstory" I sort of drowned out the main flow, so the hints and so forth just get lost in background noise.
Instead, the dialog needs to be as focused as the rest of the gameplay. Backstory is good, but if an NPC references something backstory-related it should have a counterpart in the game world.
Is an NPC good with trivia? Then it has to have a relevance to the game.
Is an NPC seen carrying an item? Then it should have some use, the player should be able to get it.
Does an NPC mention some event, or person, or personality quirk? Then it should relate to the main story or a side quest, in that it's something the player can explore in the game world.
This seems obvious in retrospect but this is the #1 thing I am glad to get out of this playtesting, because it's something I somehow overlooked entirely.
Games like Ultima 6 that have a lot of dialog work because all the dialog is relevant. You can explore many situations in-depth by discussing them with NPCs, but if you explore it outside the context of NPC conversations, it relates and proves real.
Lesson lern't, and just in time!
This was something I knew beforehand, there are large areas of the map where you do really nothing but wander and admire the scenery. This is compounded by the fact that sometimes you need to find a certain NPC, who are normally in the (comparatively small) bounds of the castle but sometimes are out-of-doors.
Even before playtesting, I realized that I had a problem in that the player won't have any experience smashing things for a long time. I'd like the game to have a simple, tried-tested-and-true "smash it with a stick" mechanic in addition to the "shoot it with your gun" mechanic.
To remedy these two things, I'm going to put some monsters (that fit with the storyline) around the field, and give the player a stick first-thing. As well, all NPCs will be inside the castle walls. Entering the castle grounds will be made evident by a change in music, perhaps, and if you ask an NPC about another NPC they will tell you where they probably are.
The game has a nice "try sum'm" feature, where you can type in an action to try on a given object. Kevin, it so happens, is an avid IF-er and so he knows what the logical things are to try.
If I'm going to have a feature where you can try anything, then I need to either have it work in a much wider context than it presently does, and/or I need to put some default responses in.
I'm toying with the idea of taking it out altogether, but I don't know. I really like the core idea, of most of the time just using a menu but sometimes when you gain some insight you can try a certain action.
Of course, we could have those actions added to the menu automatically once we've learned the relevant clue, but I don't know how I feel about that in the long run. Further, it wouldn't be too hard to add default actions to objects, based on a simple property system, that could really improve the flexibility of the gameplay a lot.
Now that I've got VtV 1.1.5 just about out the door, I'm glad to be able to next week get back to Texas. I am excited to do some more playtesting after I can make these changes, and the game is just about ready for a private playtesting release where I can test out the first part of the game.
Until then, happy playtesting fellow game devs!