Something that we’ve heavily relied on as a new, independent developer is user feedback which we listened to every step of the way in order to improve upon our final product. There’s no doubt that some feedback is more useful than others. For every well thought out piece of criticism we’ve received there’s the guy who just offers “it’s mediocre” with no explanation. For every user that emails us with something they’d like to see, there’s another who leave one star ratings without leaving even a hint as to the reason. As Plato once observed “Out of every hundred a hater is born and without effort, a hater’s gonna hate.” For the others who continue to bring us feedback, you’ve all been a tremendous help in creating Itzy3d (now available on the Apple App store as well as the Android Marketplace, plug..plug..plug). I thought I’d take a moment to highlight how some of the feedback we received changed our game during development.
“It looks like a grave yard”
Itzy3D was always about creating from the beginning. The central idea that the entire game was based on was that users like to create things, they like to draw, they like to make patterns, and they like to feel like they have an impact on the game world they’re part of. In Itzy3D’s case we gave the player the opportunity to create spider webs of various shapes and sizes, enough to complete a level and advance in the game. However our core group is made up of programmers, not artists and as we looked at other indie games like Feist, Limbo and Pixeljunk Eden, we liked the idea of a muted or shades of grey color scheme and the plan was to bring color to the levels with multicolored fireflies and spinning multicolored webs. The webs were quickly ditched. They looked awful. Rainbow spider-webs seemed so good in my head, but in reality it just didn’t play out. Add to that, our 3D, shades of grey layout made it nearly impossible to distinguish the background from the foreground which made it hard for users to figure out just where they should be making their webs.
“Give me a way to kill those buggers”
Another idea we had from the onset was that Itzy3D should be a relaxed, casual and user-friendly title. We didn’t want users to feel they had failed playing the game. We wanted each play through to be fun, but relaxed fun rather than hectic fun. One of the main enemies in the game is the wasps which zoom around each level before spotting Itzy and attacking. Rather than take away a life or lead to a game over scenario, we simply had them knock Itzy down if he wasn’t hidden and remove a portion of his available web. So we threw in an enemy that could never be defeated, much like the old Qix arcade game that had inspired Itzy.
We had no idea just how frustrating gamers would find this decision until our demo was released and we started to receive feedback about the inability to mount any offense whatsoever. And it was from this feedback that Itzy received a system of power-ups based on the color of large fireflies caught. Now, aside from other power-ups such as improved speed and web stretch, Itzy could also freeze his enemies in place, listening to them buzz furiously or actually take the fight to the enemies for a limited time much like Pac-Man powering up, but instead of eating the wasps he incapacities them temporarily with his mighty, Kung-Fu Punch!
“Monkey Factor 5”
I had the opportunity to sit down for coffee with a game industry vet and ex-Bioware employee who offered up this piece of gaming wisdom that has stuck with me. When discussing game controls, ease of use is king. While we thought our controls were simple enough, he asked “Yes. But are they Monkey Factor 5 simple?” The answer was a resounding no. For the sake of variety we built-in a few different moves for the player to interact with Itzy’s world. One problem, that was pointed out to us more than once was that we had two different controls for web spinning. A swipe started Itzy spinning a web strand; a tap on Itzy anchored the web strand. Watching people play Itzy, what we thought was straight forward always seemed to trip up players. They would swipe to start and then swipe, expecting it to anchor the web to an object. Or they’d swipe, then figure out the tapping, but then try tapping again when starting a new web. There was no reason to have two separate motions for web spinning. The two moves seemed simple enough, but they certainly weren’t “Monkey Factor 5” simple. Now, spinning webs is easy. You simply tap Itzy to anchor the web strands, stretch them out and anchor by tapping again.
“I’ve been playing for a minute already and I haven’t even seen your main character”
We struggled with the tutorial. Like the controls, we thought our game was simple enough yet realized that we had a lot going on that needed to be explained somewhere. We originally weren’t even planning on including a tutorial, but no one would read our instructions included and ultimately would play the game without any idea as to what they were meant to do. So we included a small tutorial level that the player needed to complete to move on to the meat of the game. We included our instructions as slides within the tutorial and we felt the need to explain absolutely everything.
We realize now, there were so many things wrong with that idea. No one likes to read walls of text, first off. They just skip through so we might as well have not had anything. Secondly, it’s not a game at this point. As a helpful developer offered, when you begin the game you’re immediately hit with walls of text. Games should make an impact immediately and our game had you reading text before we were even introduced to the main character.
The tutorial never satisfied any of us but we just couldn’t put our fingers on what was wrong and through the feedback we revamped the tutorial to encourage the gamers to explore and learn the game mechanics through play, not through walls of text.
We’re indebted to our fans and to the developer community for their continued feedback on our games. Time is a valuable commodity for everyone, so it means a lot to us to those of you who have offered your time to help us create better products. Cheers!