State of Play #7

In this ‘State of Play’ entry I’m going to talk about the release of Electro Bobble, some of the changes we’re going to be making to it over the next few days, and where we’re going from there.

Electro Bobble Release

So, Electro Bobble was released on Wednesday of last week! This was a big relief for us here, as the ‘crunch time’ up to the release was manic, not to mention that we had spent pretty much every day including weekends working on Electro Bobble for the last 8 months. So it was great to see it finally see the bright light of day and go out into the big wide world to spread it’s challenging, silly fun!

In the run up to release we spent a lot of time balancing Electro Bobble to get it to what we felt to be the right level of difficulty whilst still being lots of fun. We were happy with the results, and had no feedback from anyone who played it during testing to suggest that it might not be quite right for other people. Thinking that we had, therefore, got it right, we let it free into the wild and awaited the results.

We got lots of hits on the website and a great first review score of 8 / 10 from Indie Sniffer, but something didn’t seem quite right. We were getting lots of downloads of the demo, but no real feedback, positive or negative, from anyone, nor any sales. That didn’t quite add up.

Then we came across a review from IndieStatik.com. The reviewer seemed to like the idea of the game, but had some serious issues with it which led to him not enjoying playing it. The main issue seemed to be that the movement controls were too ‘floaty’, making it far too easy to miss landings on platforms and fall to your death. As a result of this, the whole game was marred for the reviewer, and things like power-ups had no positive impact because of that. If anything, they made it worse as he was chasing them in order to catch them before they fell off the screen, and then dying in the process because of the ‘floaty’ controls.

Now, when I read this I was understandably disheartened. We didn’t want to have got it wrong, and wanted everyone who played Electro Bobble to have lots of fun with it rather than getting frustrated to the point that they didn’t enjoy it. However, it was only one review (not to discount the reviewer’s opinion, of course, all feedback is very important to us!), and we’d had a great release review from someone who didn’t appear to find the controls much of an issue, so we decided that it was best to wait for further feedback before considering whether to spend time re-balancing the game.

Then we came across another review from Wraithkal. This review, whilst a little more flattering, brought up pretty much exactly the same issues as IndieStatik’s review did – controls were too floaty and power-ups were too often and too ineffective. Armed with this information we went back to our testers again and asked them for their opinions. Some still said that the controls were fine and they had no real problems with them, but a couple relented and agreed that the controls were too floaty and hard to get the hang of at first, which could lead to a snowballing effect.

Balance Changes (or how we’re going to fix it!)

It’s obvious to us now that Electro Bobble isn’t balanced correctly for the majority of players, and that people like the idea but aren’t having fun playing it because of that. So we’re going to fix it! Here’s what we’re planning to implement over the next few days:

  • Make the controls much snappier and more responsive (and make the jetpack easier to control as part of that)
  • Increase the number of platforms generated slightly to make it easier to jump between them
  • Reduce the number of power-ups dropped when Electro Meanies die, but make them have more of an impact
  • Remove the physics attributes from power-ups so that they hover where they are spawned instead of falling off the screen, making them easier to collect without dying
  • Increase the threat posed by Electro Meanies by increasing the damage they do (to bring the feel of the game back towards a ‘shmup’)

All of the above may need some experimentation to get right, but once we think that we have we’re going to go back to the reviewers mentioned above and ask for their feedback, as well as obviously asking anyone who has played the demo to have another go at it and let us know what they think. This is an evolutionary process, and it might take us a couple more rounds of tweaks, but we don’t see it taking more than a week, perhaps two.

Once we’ve found the combination that works best for everyone, we’ll update the demo and release versions available through the website, and release a patch to anyone who has already bought the game.

Moving Forward

The issues with Electro Bobble have reinforced something that we were already beginning to become aware of, and that is this: It is essential to get feedback from as many people, as early as possible.

Moving past Electro Bobble, we’re changing our development cycle substantially. With our next planned release, Equaliser, we’re going to release it as an alpha to the general public as soon as it is playable. We’re going to keep releasing alphas iteratively, and incorporating the feedback from each iteration into the next. This will hopefully result in a game that’s tailored specifically to the community that is going to play it.

On top of that, something that we mentioned briefly on Twitter at the end of last year – during the weekends of 2013 we’ll be working on smaller game prototypes and releasing them as free downloads. These will just be basic prototypes, and won’t be polished as such, but will be playable and will give a good idea of the potential of the finished product. Those prototypes that prove to be popular with the community will be made in to fully developed, polished games.

In this way we hope to become a game studio that actively engages with its community, building games interactively with and for the gamers that play them.

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