Notes from the Slippery Slope, Part 2

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Notes from the Slippery Slope, Part 2

Postby Chris » Sun Sep 30, 2007 9:51 pm

Multiwinia is our most commercial game yet. I worry what this will mean for us. Darwinia was a huge hit with the press, more than it should have been in all fairness, and ever since then Introversion has been riding high on a wave of journalistic good will, essentially unable to put a foot wrong in the eyes of editors around the world. But I’d be willing to bet that Multiwinia will be thought of as the first Introversion game that was a sequel, and in breaking that promise of the indie ideal we may begin to see that journalistic good will fade away.

To say nothing of the gamer response of course – Introversion made a sequel? Scandalous! HOW DARE THEY?

In fact, I’d bet Multiwinia is simultaniously all of these things:
- Our most commercial game
- Our first sequel, therefore our least original game
- Our first console game
- Our largest game so far
- Our most accessable game
- Our worst reviewed game
- Our biggest selling game
- The most fun to play of all of our games

Mark summed it up best recently when he said Multiwinia wasn’t a “Chris Delay” game – it was an Introversion game. The first Introversion game. That’s exactly how it feels to me – this game is bigger than any one of us, with a list of participants including pretty much everyone who’s ever worked for us, going all the way back to the Future War tech demos myself and Andy Bainbridge put together in 2002.

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As part of making Multiwinia “Our most accessable game”, we’ve recently been doing some usability testing in the Omega Sektor in Birmingham - the same venue as the Defcon Grand Final event. A LAN centre as big as Omega is the ideal place to grab volunteers who are experienced gamers but who aren’t familiar with our own games, and aren’t Introversion fans (ie, they aren’t forgiving of mistakes and problems, which is what you want). The aim of a Usability Test is to watch those people try to play our games, and see how they get on, and from that make improvements. The very first usability test we ever participated in was dropped on us without warning by Valve while we were visiting them – they took the early build of Defcon that we’d supplied, and got one of their guys to play it while we watched on a big TV (and squirmed). You have to sit in silence while your test subject completely fails to comprehend your game, and totally fails to complete any significant objectives. Then you accept it’s your fault, not his. Interface designs that seem completely obvious during development often cause huge problems for new players, and you’re able to see very quickly what most peoples first ten minutes of the game experience will be like. You then make changes, redesign your interface and help and tutorials, and the game gets better, more accessable, and hence more fun and more popular.

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You also lose a lot of the quirks of your game. A system like gesture recognition to summon new units from Darwinia would _never_ have made it through usability testing – there’s no way we’d have been able to to watch as people squirmed and fought with it, many of whom would certainly have given up in disgust. I’ve no doubt Darwinia would have shipped with on-screen icons if we’d run usability tests before launch. And I don’t honestly know if that’s a good thing or not. In the end, Darwinia survives the removal of gesture recognition intact, meaning the gestures were not a crucial part of the game, but they were a part of its charm and quirkyness and originality. And it’s only a small step before Usability Testing becomes Gameplay Testing, in which quirky gameplay ideas are self-censored in favour of mainstream normality in order to widen the audience and deapen the pockets. It’s a slipperly slope, down which we all must eventually slide.

I’m only being semi-serious, of course. People have accused us of forfeiting our indie status since Darwinia, and that will continue for as long as we make games. The last bullet point on that list above pretty much makes all the previous ones irrelevent, so long as it turns out to be true. If Multiwinia does cause us to be thought of differently then that’s fine, and the total head-fuck that is Subversion will soon set any journalists straight about Introversion “Going Mainstream”.

Back at the Omega Sektor, we played through all of the existing game modes with our volunteer testers, and generally speaking the day was a big success. Most of the team was there in person – myself, Mark, Johnny, Gary and Leander. We split the test up into 2 player games and 4 player games, depending on how many people were waiting in line, and we had one Introversion guy watching each player, asking questions at key points like “What do you think your objective is?” and “How do you intend to win this game?”. After each game we’d ask “Why do you think you won/lost” and “What will you do differently next time”, then we got them to play the exact same game again on the exact same level, looking to see what they’d actually learnt. We also had a ton of very positive comments about the game, and watching four totally new players laughing and jeering at each other while they played was very rewarding. Some of our testers came back hours after their test with new friends, asking to play again so they could show the game to their mates. All good signs.

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I now have about 20 pages of notes from the six hour test, some good, some not so good, but all extremely useful stuff. The challenge now is to subtly redesign the game so people don’t get frustrated in the same ways – to make the game as easy to get into as possible, without changing the underlying gameplay. I’m confident it can be done.

One final note. Can anybody believe this was only a year ago?
Last edited by Chris on Wed Apr 09, 2008 3:47 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby shinygerbil » Sun Sep 30, 2007 10:07 pm

I'm insanely jealous of those testers.
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Postby OrR » Sun Sep 30, 2007 11:27 pm

Damn, this is looking good... 8) I'm not much of a multiplayer guy and Defcon was too hardcore for me but I'm really looking forward to Darwinian multiplayer battles...
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Postby brice » Mon Oct 01, 2007 2:19 am

Chris wrote:And it’s only a small step before Usability Testing becomes Gameplay Testing, in which quirky gameplay ideas are self-censored in favour of mainstream normality...


'cause I have a one track mind, here's another name idea:

Abnormal Wars : the sickest chaos is the most fun

Abnormal War : you have no idea how much fucking fun this is (ok you can't have a tagline like that. too bad)

Irregular War : anything goes, everything blows up (be sure you include that last "up")

Unnatural Wars : nothing like the real thing, only better

Freak'n WAR!


Have you picked a name yet?


P.S. the Darwinia universe is way too cool for you to let it die without a sequel or two or three. If at all possible, please put some time into making Multiwinia easier to mod. Make the system more regular with fewer quirks and quietly crashing gotchas. There were too few mods for Darwinia. Only the true believers persevered. You know this was your fault. Don't let Multiwinia be so unfriendly to modders. Let us make the sequels if you won't. Please please do "usability testing" on the mod system. You were lucky you got *any* mods from Darwinia.

I want you to help me continue my work. I'm transferring a profile to you that will give you access to every location in Darwinia. It is clear to me now that I am no longer capable of running Darwinia on my own. I want to give you the tools I used to build this world. I want you to help me finish it. I'm transferring permissions to the World Editor to your computer. That's the tool I used to build every location you've seen so far. You can access it from the Main Menu when you're up in Heaven.

...unfortunately the old mod system resided in Hell instead.
Last edited by brice on Mon Oct 01, 2007 5:30 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby KingAl » Mon Oct 01, 2007 3:01 am

Introversion made a SEQUEL? Scandalous! HOW DARE THEY?

brice: You might want a slight barrier to entry so that lots of really horrible mods don't turn up. However, if it's going to console then a shiny interface would definitely be a Good Thing™.

EDIT: Fix'd.
Last edited by KingAl on Mon Oct 01, 2007 3:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby NeoThermic » Mon Oct 01, 2007 3:08 am

KingAl wrote:Introversion made a sequel? Scandalous! HOW DARE THEY?


No, no. Like *this*:

Introversion made a sequel? Scandalous! HOW DARE THEY?

;)

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Re: Notes from the Slippery Slope

Postby brog » Mon Oct 01, 2007 6:00 am

Subversion is a brainfuck? Keen.

Sorry to hear you guys are selling out though. You shouldn't be trying to make games fun; make them obscure.
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Postby Wasgood » Mon Oct 01, 2007 6:13 am

I want Defcon to be made better.
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Postby The GoldFish » Mon Oct 01, 2007 6:42 am

Personally, I don't consider Multiwinia a sequel to Darwinia at all - Sort of like the way Quake 3 isn't that much of a sequel to quake 2, when you really think about it.

It's more like a paid for and seperate add on pack which adds new gameplay, and no additional old gameplay. This is because, as I understand it, there is nothing like the campaign support which Darwinia had in Multiwinia.

You had always said you wanted to go back and add Multiplayer back into Darwinia at no extra cost - but I suppose that, having made defcon and seen how making something so clean cut out of an idea which already worked on principal would take months, I can see why it's been converted to a seperate game.

I do have one question though...

As I saw it, the reason a Darwinia DEV CD was never on the cards for a long while is that, as such, it was considered an unfinished project - there was always a plan to revisit it and add multiplayer. Now that Multiwinia is a fundamentally seperate project, with effectively different code, although operating from the same base I'm sure, wouldn't it be reasonable to infer that the 1.5.x level of code for Darwinia is a different beast, and thus, since it has taken the relavent people months to get Multiwinia to the stage it's at, I can fairly confidently say no one is going to bother trying to remake it with the original game code.

I know it may seem pointless compared to the considerable non-success of the uplink DEV CD, and in reality, I think you might even sell fewer Darwinia ones. But look at what happened with the Uplink one. Eventaully, someone who really knew what they were doing came a long and gave it a new lease of life.

Icepick attempted to use his free time to improve the modibility of Darwinia, and he made considerable progress in a relatively short time. However, it's easy to assume that he no longer has either the free time or, after having worked on Multiwinia all day, the interest to spend time working on it. The thread from this received plenty of attention from the interested parties, while the project was alive at least, and I for one was very sad to see it die.

I was sad because there isn't anything I can possibly do about it, and I've got to say, I really want to do something about it.

I really want to continue that project, add in further support for things that were never invisaged before, fix the bugs you don't have the time or application to crack down on, (and basically don't matter to you anyway) and allow Darwinia to be what it always could have been; a fantastic means by which many stories could be told. And you have the story tellers right here in your community. I do'nt know about other people, but I have 2 drafts for long campagns I really want to make but which are impossible to impliment at current. The majority of Icepicks unreleased work could have facilitated one of them (point here is that it's really not that complicated to add in a few tiny little things which offer so much)

I'm apparently unendingly enthusiastic on this issue, Darwinia has been around for years and I simply can't lose interest. I have a degree in Electronic and Computer engineering, so I have at least some coding experience, I've probably been involved in more Darwinia mods that anyone else, and continue to try and help people with problems, demostrate bugs, have written several guides on modding and did my best to work with Icepick to identify funcitonally useful changes that everyone could take advantage of. I'm the person who made that first big mod. I'm the person who sews those fluffy toys. The point of this paragraph is to indicate that I am someone, not some nobody asking you for your code, I really don't want to sound arrogent, but that's probably how this will come off; there's probably no one better in the community (or maybe even at IV) to spearhead this than me - mainly because I want to so bad.

I want to see Darwinia be developed into a means for those amongst us in the community to create very strong new mods, and see new people join the community with this intent - hopefully the release of Multiwinia will respark interest in Darwinia and possibly new customers would become interested in purchasing it, playing it and then playing it's mods - unless of course it's left as the dinosaur it currently is, in which case, I just don't know how it will go. There is still a lot wrong with the way Darwinia works with mods and settings and when things go wrong - as you say, usability testing is important and it's plain to see where this wasn't done.

The best part of all of this is that I want the opporunity to do this, and would go so far as to PAY you for that opportunity, the price of a Dev CD. I want to work at Darwinia and make it better, and I want to work with other leading community members in order to impliment useful features for modders to use. And, in fact, given that you're probably working your asses off on Multiwinia and Subversion, I'd even volunteer myself to help you release a Dev CD, at no cost to yourselves, and run everything about it, because I really, really want to see this happen.

Unless of course you don't want to, in which case I will just. keep. waiting.

So, given the above, my one question is this; are you remotely interested in any of that?
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Postby martin » Mon Oct 01, 2007 9:57 am

shinygerbil wrote:I'm insanely jealous of those testers.


me to, the bastards! ;)
You *ARE* still going to have a community beta test *AREN'T YOU CHRIS*?

@TGF, I'd agree that you're the best person to lead the project - and while I'd like a DevCD myself I think that even if they don't want to make a full blown DevCD for everyone then they should consider just releasing the code to you.

in fact the more I think about it the better the choice of you seems to be as a leader for 'indie' darwinia development
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Postby kikinchaz » Mon Oct 01, 2007 10:50 am

First post in a long long time....

Anyway - you say Multiwinia is going to be your first console game :O Which console is this? I must have been asleep for the past few months when info has been seeping out about this game.
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Postby shinygerbil » Mon Oct 01, 2007 11:09 am

Judging from previous blog posts about XBOX 360 games, and also various business with XBOX 360 contoller compatibility, I would guess....XBOX 360. ;)
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Re: Notes from the Slippery Slope

Postby ynbniar » Mon Oct 01, 2007 11:40 am

Chris wrote:One final note. Can anybody believe this was only a year ago?


A year you say...wow...and I'm still rubbish at it... :wink:
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Postby Rkiver » Mon Oct 01, 2007 12:33 pm

I remember a year ago, being in London, wearing a military uniform. Was fun. Buy my doesn't a year fly.

I'd love to get to have a look at multiwinia once the beta testing begins, should be interesting to say the least (remember the hacked together multiplayer from the beta of Darwinia?).

Subversion, I am still clueless to what the hell it is going to end up as.
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Postby Tricycle21 » Mon Oct 01, 2007 1:06 pm

Multiwinia!
I'm nearly impossible to wait...
I'd really like to beta test, too.
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