4. Feedback & User Testing Was Always Valuable and Considered
Even though there was never any question that Kat Games was the game's developer, there was a high level of creative collaboration on the project. When I needed feedback on a design idea or wanted to conduct a brainstorm to resolve a design challenge, the PlayFirst team was there to help with candidness and creativity.
Feedback came from many people in different forms, from game design, production or testing. Whenever there was a need to discuss the final solution, it was always clear that we, Kat Games, were the "author" of the game and our voices were given proper weight.
In addition, because we wanted more consumer feedback, PlayFirst commissioned a round of third party usability tests around alpha and invited the Kat Games team to attend the sessions. We've never had the resources to do this, but these sessions yielded feedback that was invaluable to the creation of the final game.
Seeing players experience the game that you are building for the first time was an eye-opening experience. Prior to this, we could only imagine and guess what first-time user reactions would be. Our attempts yielded nothing like the real thing.
The major learnings we got from the experience helped us with a several things. Among them, we were able to better adapt the learning ramp during the first scene. Since we did not have an official tutorial level, it was critical that the first scene accomplished the duty of teaching the player how to play the game while immersing them into the storyline at the same time.
We also learned how people reacted to gameplay elements, such as using the inventory or advancing levels, and smoothed out the areas where it was too difficult for the player to understand. In addition, user testing helped us gauge players' immersion level in the storyline and we were able to adjust and deepen it where necessary.
5. Iterative Design Process (part one)
We knew that an adventure game like Dream Chronicles was going to be unique for our team and unique for the casual games industry. In a world where swapping colored gems in a match 3 game, or juggling tasks in a time management game is the norm, the iterative nature of a story-based game like Dream Chronicles was going to require a much higher degree of flexibility throughout the game's design and development process. Each new scene involved unique graphics, puzzles, and story elements, so we knew that it wouldn't all be "figured out" up front.
I prefer to work more iteratively and put pieces together to try things out as we go along. PlayFirst's willingness to accept this fact was something that I appreciated in terms of my work style. Not only being able to work this way, but to also be supported in doing it was a great advantage for my team. We truly were able to "dream" as we went along.
There were some things that we discovered while developing the game in this way and the fact that we were able to be flexible and adapt to the needs of the project mid-stream made for a better game in the end.
For example, the collectible dream jewels were not included in the original prototype, but deemed essential soon thereafter, as a way to tie the gameplay and story to the larger metastructure of the game.
We also iterated at various times on the amount of "hints" that would be provided to the player in the game, trying to balance the need to let players explore the scene and look for clues, while not frustrating them to the point that they would quit the game. In the end, the iterative process that we agreed to up front paid dividends as we figured out how to solve some of the product's biggest design challenges.